WASHINGTON -- I was going to put the word "hapless" in the headline before "Nationals" but that would have just been too easy, don't you think?
The Cubs did nearly everything right in last night's 6-2 win over the Nats. Even Alfonso Soriano's baserunning blunder in the fourth inning, in which he ran a bit too far off first base, getting caught in a rundown (and apparently jamming a finger sliding back into first base as a result, likely the reason he was finally pulled from the game in the ninth inning) didn't matter.
It spoiled the Washington managerial debut of ex-Cub manager Jim Riggleman, who is making a career out of becoming the interim boss of teams headed for 100-loss seasons (he did it last year in Seattle, "guiding" the Mariners to a 36-54 mark as they lost 101 games overall). The Nationals aren't going to be lucky enough to lose "only" 101 games; with a 26-65 record after last night's game they are on pace to lose 114 and win only 48. That would be the third-worst record in the expansion era; only the 1962 Mets (40-120) and 2003 Tigers (43-119) lost more.
The Nationals made two errors, making three of the Cubs' six runs unearned, and that was with their best starting pitcher, John Lannan, on the mound. Lannan's a lefty sinkerballer and those guys often tie Cubs bats in knots. Lannan made it into the seventh inning and pitched pretty well, giving up seven hits and leaving to a round of polite applause from the mostly bored Nats fans (who were nearly outnumbered by Cubs fans last night and I expect they will be outnumbered the rest of the weekend). Derrek Lee had two of those hits off Lannan and another off Jason Bergmann, including his 18th homer of the season.
The other real good story of the game was Rich Harden, who looked like the Harden we had the second half of 2008 -- he threw strikes (61 in 99 pitches), walking no one and striking out seven and giving up only an unearned run due to Koyie Hill's overthrow and error when Nyjer Morgan tried to steal second after bunting his way on in the sixth. Two groundouts later, he scored, and apart from a meaningless Ryan Zimmerman homer in the ninth off Kevin Gregg, that was it for any excitement for the Nats fans, most of whom had left by the time Zimmerman homered. I was a bit surprised, after the Cubs scored three runs in the ninth off what seemed like 15 Nats relievers that someone like Aaron Heilman didn't get up and start throwing, because once the save situation was removed, I figured Gregg wouldn't be as sharp as usual. It may be that he was working on some pitches, spring-training style, when he left a ball in the zone for Zimmerman.
(Yes, I know it was only three Nats bullpen pitchers, in reality, including ex-Cub Julian Tavarez, who reminded Cubs fans why we were glad he left after he had some histrionics in the dugout after Riggleman pulled him.)
Last night I was the guest of SB Nation, headquartered here in Washington, at the game (and thanks to Frank, a BCB reader, and his son, for taking the two extra tickets I had and also for the ride into DC -- glad you enjoyed the game!), got to meet some of the people in charge and also the tech team who are responsible for the great SBN platform that you all use every day. We got stuck in traffic coming to the game so arrived too late for me to take the usual walk-around I make of a ballpark I haven't been to before; I'll try to do that today. The impressions I got were decent, at first glance, though the park does seem a bit shopping-mall-like and from my seat in the Diamond Club seats behind the plate looking out toward the massive Jumbotron (I'll try to get a photo I took of that posted later today as a FanShot), you have absolutely no sense that you're in the nation's capital. The park felt so generic, I might as well have been in Cleveland. (No slam meant on Cleveland, either, in fact I enjoyed my trip to what was then the Jake in 1997.) I will say that the Nats employees working the area were very conscientious; they wiped down the seats not just with a cloth, but also with a bottle of some sort of spray cleaner, and made sure they stayed clean by asking a few people who attempted to put their feet on the empty seats in front of them to take them down.
So all told, this game was a really nice start to the first half; the ten hits got contributions from nearly everyone. I'm still a bit worried about Aramis Ramirez, who you can tell is still very tentative about really going all-out with his swing. But with the Cubs facing lesser pitchers than Lannan the rest of the weekend, good things can definitely happen by Sunday.