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Yesterday, I think everyone got very excited about the owners saying yes to the proposed CBA.  Everyone got very excited.  But at the end of the day, the players are not in a rush to sign squat.  “Why?” you may ask.  Well because, they get paid only for game checks, (17 times per year), not pres-season tickets.  So, while the owners are in a rush to get the pre-season games in, and they already cancelled one, the players can play it cool.  It’s almost like the owners are like your puppy you had when you were in 6th grade, who had that Scooby Doo look of excitement on his face when you came in, his leash in his mouth, all ready to go out and play.  I can almost here Roger Goodell handing the signed agreement over to DeMaurice Smith saying “You ready to play?  you ready?  Com’on, com’on com’on.”  Then DeMaurice and the rest of the players reps taking the contract, leaning forward on the table, giving all the papers a little tap on the table to get them all even, then leaning back with one hand behind their head, bending their fingernails down over their hands and saying “Check it out, Rog, Jer, Danny, Art, Johnny, Allie, Bobby, we’ll get back to you, alright?”  Then the owners, crushed that they can’t go out and play, drop their mouths open, the leash falls helplessly to the ground and they say, almost in a whimper, “When?”  Then the players lean a little further back in their nice leather chair and say, “I don’t know, Monday, Tuesday, something like that.” Then DeMaurice leans forward towards Rog and pats him on the head and says, “Don’t worry, we’ll call you.”

It probably all went down something like that.

Now in the meantime, everyone in town is going crazy that Shanny said lats week that he “love[s] Donovan McNabb” and in the process lied to a young, innocent Redskins fan, probably much like myself at that age, and still at this age, who just wants the best for his beloved team.  Well I ask everyone who has been calling Shanny a dirtbag, which he probably is of course, “what the hell was he supposed to do?”  Tell the kid something like, “there’s actually no way in hell he will be playing QB for the ‘Skins next year because he’s washed up, somewhat of a cry baby and represents the biggest error in judgement I’ve made in my over 30 years of coaching and I would be happy if I could get a conditional 6th round pick 5 years from for him”.

Uh, no.  That would not be exactly playing your hand well.  Similarly, he’s not going to tell the media that Haynsie is whale-size douche who is on a one-way ticket out of here once the Redskins can get anything in trade value for him.  So, while we all know Shanny lacks some grace when it comes to people skills, let’s not bash him for playing things close to the vest.

As for my free-agent wishes for the ‘Skins once this whole thing is over, I don’t want anyone who is less than 300 pounds and does not play on the o-line or d-line.  Forget everyone one else.  No receivers, no running backs, no QBs, nothing.  Maybe a corner, but that’s it in terms of fast guys.

Double vision: While I have been in absentia, I have listened to every Nats game since the all-star break and now don’t think this team has the ability to go on a run like we did earlier, win 10 out of 12 games and move within 4-5 games of the wild card.  On the flip side, now that we just gave up a series at Houston that we should have won, if not for some rare bullpen implosions which happen to everyone from time to time, I do fear that we could fall several games below .500.

Our lineup continues to show that we have the pieces which could fit together really nicely. Next year, it could look something like,

Bernadina (or free-agent lead-off man)

Espinosa

Zimmerman

free-agent clean-up or Harper

Werth

Morse

Ramos

Desmond

That’s not too bad and if Morse continues at this rate, he would just the kind of protection Werth could use in the lineup.  Now as for pitchers, only baby Zimm and Lannan are guaranteed to be around next year, but along with Strasburg, maybe Peacock and a free-agent/ re-signing Marquis, the rotation could also be pretty strong.

Triple vision: Sorry to see Fehr go, but we needed someone to leave so that we could keep Alzner around.  But as I’ve said on many occasions, Fehr never became that tough net presence the Caps thought he could be and at the end of the day became just another winger on a team with a bunch of more skilled, a now with our new acquisitions in the off-season, tougher wingers.

Too much vision: After picking up 4 points in two, tough road games, D.C. United played like shit on Wednesday night and gave up a great chance to make a strong push for the #3 spot in the East.  Now it’s uphill again.  This team lacks consistent effort.  Letting a header in on a corner is about desire and effort and at the other end of the field, no one aside from De Rosario seemed all that willing to battle and overcome the heat in hustling to become a major presence in the final third.  Disappointing.

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The Nats enter the all-star break at .500. The glass half-empty look is that the Nats are 8 games behind Atlanta for the Wild-Card and too far back to measure from Philly.  (Did anyone else realize that the National League East is the best division in the National League and may the be the best in baseball aside from the American League East?)  Of course that would be ignoring the fact the we are .500 at the all-star break for the 1st time since 2005.  That’s a long time.  That would also ignore the fact that we have played the whole year without our  best pitcher, Strasburg, and without our best player for 2/3 of the games – the Z man.  That would also ignore the fact that our supposedly strong slugger and defensive stud at 1st base, Adam Laroche never did squat and is out for the season.  On top of that, Jason Werth is hitting the ball, very, VERY badly.  I know it’s baseball and most of the time hitters fail, but the ground-out double play he hit into with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th with a man on 3rd and 1st and a chance to tie the game with nothing more than a sac fly or ground out to 1st base was really awful.  On that one, he deserved the boos.

So all that is bad, and yet the Nats are 46-46.  The obvious shining spots this season are Jordan Zimmermann, (a.k.a Kid Z, kinda like Kid A, but less weird, but equally awesome), Danny Espinosa, (a.k.a Danny Boy), Michael Morse (a.k.a Jus) and Wilson Ramos (a.k.a. our no-dbout about it catcher for the future).   Desmond’s defense at short-stop has been excellent although his bat still leaves a lot to be desired and makes the possibility of getting Jose Reyes an intriguing possibility since he can play lead-off and hit and play strong defense.  At the same time, I’m inclined to think that Reyes will go back to being hurt, like he is now, moody and inconsistent as soon as his contract year is done.  So, no thanks, I’ll pass.

One of the things Davey Johnson has done since taking over this team is let Bernadina (a.k.a. the shark) play everyday as lead-off and center fielder.  He already is a very good center-fielder and I think he will continue to grow into the lead-off spot like Jimmy Rollins did in Philly.  I think he could be the future at the position even I though I am definitely in the minority with that view.

Jason Marquis has begun to have a few bad starts and I am inclined to trade him for a good young, current major league player if we can get him.  I think he and Gorzo will not be back next year although of the two, Marquis has more chance of sticking.  We have kids in AAA who can come up and apparently Wang is going to be given a chance to show his stuff.  Lannan could be the #3 or #4 starter in a top-of-the-line rotation which hopefully we should have next with Starsburg and Kid Z as our top 2.

This team has a lot of confidence and a lot of fight which should help it continue to improve in the 2nd half.  Our schedule is not that tough outside of the division, but we have a bunch of games left within the division at the end of the season which always separate the men from the boys including 21 games left with Philly and Atlanta.

The safe thing to say will be that the Nats finish at or below .500, but I think we can finish off better than .500 and set the stages for a very strong 2012.

Double vision:  Watching D.C. United play has become more and more entertaining and this weekend’s game against New York was no different.  D.C.’s front 5 is very strong and it showed as we really made the most of our chances.  On the other hand, our back 4 which has really not been all that good of late, limited New York’s chances even though the Red Bulls had more possession.  It didn’t hurt that Thierry Henry jsut quick on his team.  I loved the dude from his days with the French team, but let’s face it, aside from 6 great years in the English league, he never did it on a big stage even though he accumulated a lot of goals.  Not that Saturday night was such a big stage, but he really isn’t all that to be embarrassing himself and his teammates like he did Saturday night.

Anyway, United gets a huge win after a couple of disappointing ties and look more formidable than ever this year with De Rosario, Wolff and Najar up front.  In a league like MLS where defense is at a premium, a strong front five with continued better play from our back four could take us far.

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As I like to  focus  primarily on teams that are playing games, I will start with the Nats.  At this point, this team seems incapable of winning more than one game in a row since they are just not getting any kind of hitting at all.  Add to that the comedy of errors which this team is making, highlighted  today with the Shark and Jason Werth doing their best Abbott and Costello imitation in letting a fly ball drop right between them (how was that not charged an error incidentally?) and it seems unlikely that the Nats can do nothing more except tread water until they get healthy and start hitting.  If you consider that the Z Man and Morse (a.k.a Jus) were not in the lineup at all today, it was a miracle that we won the game even though we were facing a AAA call-up.  Then again, you could look at Werth’s final score on homeplate as the baseball gods just paying us back after we gifted the Cubs two runs in the 4th inning on the fly ball I mentioned above.

I took my daughter to the double-header on Saturday and I noticed the home-crowd booing  Werth.  As I’ve mentioned here many times, I am not a booer, but I understand why people boo.  It doesn’t make us bad fans, it just means we care.  And I’m happy to see that the Nats fans care a lot more as the crowds have been big on this homestand and the last.    For what it’s worth, (no pun intended), I think Werth does not deserved to be booed because he’s not dogging it.  (Although, I did notice from my right field corner seats that he is prone to biting his nails between pitches as opposed to hitting his glove with his throwing hand).  Anyway,  his play today, while not a signature move of a guy making $127 million dollars, but rather of a guy who’s hustling and cares about winning and thinking on his feet, is something which is emblematic of why this team is more successful than in recent memory – it has a lot of fight.

Taking 2 out of the next 3 against Cubs would be nice too.

Double vision: The Caps added a lot of guys, all of , except for Brouwer, are above 30 which is somewhat unusual for GMGM and the whole Leonsis philosophy of staying young.  Hamrlik is a tough guy who will fit in well on this team, probably with Mike Green.  He will replace Scott Hannan who is a similar player, but Hamrlik has more offensive production.  The addition of  Halpern will replace the void of Gordo and Stecks from last year.  He’s just as good at faceoffs at Gordo, less good than Steckel, but much better offensively than either.  Then of course we got Joel Ward.  Which line will he go to?   With him, Knuble and Brouwer, we have three guys who like to crash the net, all of whom could compliment the top line with Ovie and Nicky, the 2nd line with Johannson and Semin and the 3rd line with Laich and Chimera.  It will be interesting to see who ends up where.

Finally, flipping a dime (in sports salary terms) to Vokoun was quite a coup for the Caps.  People can say all they want about how him and Neuvy will get along, but let’s face it, Neuvy must be a little pissed.  As soon as his main competition in Varly is shipped to Denver, the Caps bring in Vokoun for one year and what we all hope is a trip to the finals.  After that, Holtby, who will have another year of training at Hershey, will be licking his chops to displace Neuvy.  Even if Neuvy is the “#1”, as soon as he has a bad stretch or a bad game in the playoffs, we know the hook will be quick from Boudreau.  The other way around may also be true, but with Thomas and Rolson having big playoffs this year, having a vet like Vokoun is definitely a good thing.

All of these acquisitions make me think back to what Laich said when he spoke after signing his new big contract. He said that guys in the locker room, no matter how much they are paid, need to start buying into the system.  Basically, they need to start playing tough.  Who could he be talking about?  Ovie?  Probably not since we all see his desire and aggression on the ice.  Although, maybe he free-lances still more than me, or many of us, can see.   Nicky?  Maybe.  Semin?  Definitely.  Mike Green?  I don’t know.  I think Green gets a bad rap.  He’s pretty tough.  But whether you question any of last year’s Caps’ toughness, what is clear is that the Caps have added a group of guys that will make us much more grittier and nastier to play come playoff time.  And maybe, finally, we will have the results we have all longed for for what now seems like an eternity.

Triple vision:  I like Jason Reid a lot more before he became a columnist.  He used to be more down-to-earth.  Now everything he writes sounds smug and has a tone of “I’m smarter than all of you”.  Even though what he wrote about Shanny and the ‘ Skins for tomorrow’s paper is true, he’s already said in about 3 articles during the strike and it just sounds like he’s so damn smart.  I say hold on to McNabb for as long as we want to get a bidding war going between the Vikings, Cardinals and 49ers and let’s get the most we can.  We don’t owe him squat, especially after he went and embarrassed all Redskins fans by practicing with the Eagles which symbolically was a gigantic kick in the nuts against all of us.  While Shanny embarassed us with his benching of McNabb and his subsequent comments during the season,  this was worse because fraternizing with the enemy is being an enemy.  And there is no grey area when dealing with the NFC East, especially the Eagles.  So stop acting like a journalist who cares so much about the feelings about athletes who are being paid tons of money and frankly, like McNabb, were not that good last year and start thinking about this team.  McNabb can practice with us during the off-season.  What happens if the boy-wonder Beck and Sexy Rexy both blow their knees out?  #5 will be back here and we will all be sleeping with the enemy.

Way too much D.C. sports vision:  I watched D.C. United again surrender a late goal on Saturday night and again lost a chance at 3 points.  No matter how gifted we are in the midfield and with our forwards, unless we get our defense shored up, we will not make the playoffs this year.  I know this is not breaking news, but once again this week, we gave way too much space to Philadelphia in the game’s final 10 minutes.  Should Ben Olsen be criticized for putting Fred instead of a more defensive player after we went ahead 2-1?  Maybe.  But at the same time, the back 4 just have to play better.   We’ll see how it pans out, but for now, with 4 points on this homestand pissed away, the playoffs seem more and more like a remote dream for the soccer faithful in D.C.

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Now what

So it’s finally over.  To wins 8 games in a row sure felt great.  And frankly, if the Nats had won yesterday against the Orioles when our 5th starter was returning from the 15 DL, that would have been amazing.  It would have to have been a slugfest.  Yesterday, our defense finally let us down too.  The real question is, now that the streak is over, are the Nats going to be able to maintain their winning ways?  I don’t mean winning 8 in a row again, but are we going to be able to keep winning series?  We are only 2 games under .500 and have a lot of hope left in this season.

The foundation of this team’s “success” to this point in the year has been pitching and defense and while every starter is going to have bad days, it seems like most fans of the team have confidence in our 5 starters.  Ironically, Zimmerman has been the shakiest player on defense since his return and he still makes those errant throws on easy plays which leave you shaking your head.  Cora and Hairston are a lot less flashy and maybe can’t get to all the balls Zimm can, but they are more sure with their arm.  All the same, I think our defense is here to stay, maybe not at the same rate, but I think we should be able to count on it as well.

A look at the upcoming schedule shows that 4 of the next 6 pitchers we face have a losing record.  Maybe that will help our bats stay hot.

Bernadina has been playing a solid center-field recently and he had 3 homeruns in 4 days.  I continue to hope to see him develop into our everyday lead-off man even though he is not fulfilling that role currently.  I bet if you asked Nationals management, assuming that Bryce Harper will be playing by 2013 and Strasburg returns next year, a solid lead-off guy would be the only major need for this club.  The pieces have definitely been assembled.

But beyond all that, I really hope our winning ways continue because for the first time since 2005, there was some real buzz and excitement about the Nats in town and a successful month leading to the all-star break would be really nice to propel us through the summer.

Double vision:  I watched D.C.  United claw and scratch its way to a tie on Saturday night against Salt Lake City.  We have a lot of spunk coming from some of our very talented young players.  Ben Olsen has a good pulse on this team as I watched him make good substitutions throughout the 2nd half.  Both PKs that were awarded  ( one to each team) were questionable and sometimes you wish the refs wouldn’t feel a need to create scoring chances for teams.  0-0 is ok for soccer fans.  D.C. United definitely deserved a tie at least as we had two shots go off the cross-bar.  Overall, this team continues to show the perseverance necessary to perhaps make something out of a season that has definitely has its low points up until now.

Yesterday was a big day in D.C. sports as we had the US Open’s final round being played along with a the beltway battle between the O’s and Nats at the ballpark while USA played against Jamaica at RFK.

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This is the slogan for the 2011 Nationals season.  And the more that our season goes down the toilet, as most people expected it would, it makes me begin to think what an odd choice of slogans for the Nats to choose.  For the most part, I think everyone thought that this team would be better, but there were a lot of people who also thought that this Nats team would be no different than what we have grown to expect from D.C. baseball the last few years:  a team that finds ways to lose, and lose in bunches.

In fact, how many of us “expected” this Nats team to do much better than last year?  Well, I did, but I’m always hoping for the best and getting the worst.

In fact, this Nats team recently has been doing a lot of what many people expected it would:  be better at pitching, but have enough question marks to lack consistency in big spots – a.k.a Burnett today who gave up 2 huge runs just after the Nats had homered for the 3rd time against Roy Halliday.

We get enough hitting to keep things interesting – a.k.a the aforementioned triumvirate of  homers off of one of the games best pitchers, but yet we could not get a man over from 3rd base with no outs to tie the game in the 7th inning.   Yesterday we could not get a man over from 2nd base with no outs on three different occasions in a tie game and ultimately lost the game.

We have been leading the major leagues in defense for the last month, but against Milwaukee earlier this week, Wilson Ramos dropped a ball which if he had caught it would have prevented the Brewers from taking the lead after we had built a 4-run lead earlier in the game.

So despite the additions of Werth, LaRoche, Gorzelany, Cora, Hairston, Ankiel and improved play from our young players such as Bernadina, Espinosa, Ramos, Zimmermann, Storen, and Desmond, the Nationals are 9 games under .500 after having played about 1/3 of the season.  Once again D.C. fans are left feeling defensive, embarrassed and little humiliated as the front-running Philly fans come and have a few laughs at our expense and once again we are left shaking our heads at when is the year we are supposed to be contending.  Will I still be alive?

So while I have not watched every minute of the Nats last 10 games during which time they have amassed a 1-9 record, I have come to expect that they will find a way to lose the game and right now it doesn’t feel like any slogan can change that.

Double vision:  I hadn’t watch the D.C. United play in a long time,  but I think it’s time B2BR spends some time with the only team that has won anything in this town in the last twenty years.  It was a big win for the team yesterday and even though I haven’t paid much attention to the team since the days of Eddie Pope and Jaime Moreno, I’m back on board.

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