WASHINGTON -- I almost feel sorry for them. Almost. The Nationals are so far from being a good team that the fans there -- outnumbered again by blue-shirted Cubs fans -- have to have faith almost beyond any that the fans of a modern baseball team need. In talking to a few people today, I heard that Manny Acta had been promised by ownership that they'd spend money to become a winner.
Hmmm. Sounds like the reason Lou Piniella left Tampa Bay. Manny Acta is a good baseball man and will probably find another managerial job. Meanwhile, every time Jim Riggleman trudges out to the mound to make another pitching change, his body language cries out, "What the heck am I doing here?"
Today, the Cubs rested Aramis Ramirez and Milton Bradley, and the taped-fingered Alfonso Soriano hit his second homer in two days along with a double. Jake Fox added a three-run blast and drove in four runs, and Mike Fontenot and Micah Hoffpauir chimed in with three hits each and the Cubs crushed the Nationals 11-3, sweeping the four-game series (something they did twice last year, against the Rockies at home and Brewers on the road) and moving into second place by themselves as the Brewers lost to the Reds.
Just in case you think this was as easy as it looked -- keep in mind that the Nationals have won series vs. the Diamondbacks (OK, that's not such a big deal), the Blue Jays (a bit harder degree of difficulty), and the Yankees -- in Yankee Stadium. They do have some talented hitters; Adam Dunn usually feasts on Cub pitching but this weekend, he was limited to a single homer this afternoon when the Nats were down by nine runs. The next series in Philadelphia won't be this easy, obviously, but winning four in a row -- no matter how you do it or who it's against -- is something that I think can breed confidence through the Cubs clubhouse and keep winning going. In addition to four in a row, it's now six of eight. The Cubs are also four games over .500 for the first time since May 20, when they were 21-17 and in the middle of their eight-game losing streak.
Kevin Hart again walked far too many hitters -- five in five innings, which now gives him a ridiculous 15 walks in 15.2 innings in the major leagues this year. Still, he kept squeezing out of jams, even while giving the Nats a pair of runs in the first three innings, helped in part by a slick double play in the third. After the Cubs exploded for their seven-run fourth inning that pretty much put the game away, Hart got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth -- Fox dropped an easy grounder but got the force at the plate anyway, and after he qualified for his first win of the season, Jeff Samardzija threw three effective innings, striking out three and giving up just a single to Cristian Guzman and the homer to Dunn. Jeff Stevens -- who hadn't pitched in nine days -- finished up with a scoreless ninth. So Lou got his wish -- rested some regulars and pitched the two relievers who hadn't worked at all this weekend, thus having a rested bullpen for the series in Philadelphia.
Today I tried the "NY Meatball Sandwich" from "Taste of the Majors" which should more accurately be called "Taste of the NL East". It was close to my seat -- what can I say -- I didn't feel like scouting the entire concourse for other divisions. While I was eating the very good sandwich, the late-arriving crowd was "treated" to an incredibly lame "pregame show" on the Jumbotron. I know other teams do this but it feels very strange to have a live baseball game treated like a television show. Today, the feature was some chefs grilling some random food selections and then having a "taste-off". Let me tell you, there is nothing more boring than watching other people eat on a Jumbotron -- especially when all the Nats vendors wear shirts that read, on the back, "EATING IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT".
All of this was after I went up to the upper deck near the press box to see the tiny little view of the Capitol you can get from certain portions of the 400-level seats. It's the only DC landmark you can see from there, and it's nearly lost in some of the new-construction high rises going up between the stadium and downtown Washington.
Hey, like I said: they try hard. They need to improve the act both on and off the field. The employees are friendly and courteous; leaving the park one of them said, "Thanks for coming!" I responded, "Thanks for the four wins!" For those of you I was able to meet this weekend, nice to meet you; for those who weren't able to make contact, next time, or see you in Philly. Onward up I-95.