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721-game-thread-this-is-not-a-reverse-jinx | July | 2008 Articles

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7/21 Game Thread: This is Not a Reverse Jinx

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We're gonna lose this game. I'm not just saying that to say that, or to try to alter the universe's karma, or to do a Simmons-like reverse jinx. No, I'm saying it because I'm thoroughly convinced that, after being bludgeoned by the worst team in the division, we have almost no shot at beating a much better team, facing a guy we've never seen before. For some reason, the Marlins always give us fits, regardless of whether they have a good team. (We're 5-4 against them this year, went 10-8 last year, 11-8 the year before that, 10-8 the year before that... remember, these guys are supposed to be at the bottom of the division.) So, in conclusion, no, I'm not optimistic. If we can't beat the Marlins and Nats, then we can't really compete in the division. So what is to be done? Glad you asked. I don't support blowing up the team, because we have a good core of young players and a good farm system, as Will has detailed. Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar form an up-the-middle combination that will be low-cost and productive for years; on the pitching staff, Jair Jurrjens has been sensational this year, while Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton have shown flashes of promise. I'm going to leave aside the question of trading Teixeira -- which you seem to overwhelmingly support, as shown by the poll numbers to the right -- or trading Ohman. Both of those situations basically depend on the trade market, which is still a bit unclear, 10 days before the deadline. Many of our problems this year fall into three categories, each of which I've harped on at length: bullpen, situational hitting, and injuries. Bullpen management is on Bobby. Over-aggressiveness (resulting in first-pitch popups and groundouts) with runners on base is on the hitting coach; overuse of bunts is on Bobby. Our rash of injuries isn't really anyone's fault, but it exposes the flaws in the team Wren constructed. In order to address these problems, we'll need to address the personnel. So what do we do? First, kick Bobby upstairs. He deserves a spot with the team, but he's not a good manager any more. We need someone who can make smart in-game decisions that are informed by more than just a 70-year old man's gut instinct. Second, reassign Terry Pendleton, perhaps to third-base coach. Snitker has gotten more than a few of our runners cut down at home this year, and Pendleton's aggressive opposite-field approach hasn't helped much, as indicated by our huge LOB totals from the beginning of the year. We need a better hitting coach, and Don Baylor's available. For Wren, we'll need to identify more smart young talent -- the next Dayton Moore, say -- who can help him remember to fill and back up all 9 positions on the field. We now have a better handle on some of Wren's blind spots. (And on some of his strengths. In particular, the Ascanio trade appears to have been a coup.) Hopefully he does too. Wren's peculiar predilection for obtaining backup infielders (Omar Infante, who's good but brittle; Ruben Gotay, a worse version of Martin Prado; Greg Norton, who hits like a backup catcher and fields like one too) and situational lefties (Will Ohman, who's been very good; Royce Ring, who's rarely used; Jeff Ridgway, who is absolutely atrocious) is all the more curious because he seems to have given no thought to obtaining a backup catcher -- Javy Lopez, retired, could outhit Corky Miller -- or backup outfielders, as the Nats showed when their backup outfield of Kearns, Langerhans, and Harris outhit our regulars. The Jeff Francoeur situation has overshadowed everything else this year, as Francoeur has been our worst regular player both at bat and in the field. Sending him down was the right decision; bringing him back up and making it look like he had a valid complaint was the absolute wrong decision. As I've said, I think the only way he'll have success is as a guess hitter; his reflexes are not good (witness his terrible first step in the outfield), nor is his baseball IQ (witness his career 45% stolen-base ratio), and his swing is too long. But he sure knows how to hit a fastball, and if he tells himself not to swing at anything other than a fastball, he'll be a lot more effective than he is now, when he'll swing at anything and won't hit much. We could hire Julio Franco and assign him the sole responsibility of getting Jeff to learn to be a guess hitter. Anyway, that's where I'd start. What do you think?
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