Friday, June 11, 2010

The Burn n' Clipp? A weird way to sweep.

The Washington Nationals secured their first sweep since they swept the Mets and Braves to end the 2009 season. Livan Hernandez (5-3) got the win in the 4-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night. The Nats are now only 1 game below .500 (30-31) and headed to see the 23-36 Cleveland Indians managed by former Nats skipper Manny Acta. The last game of the upcoming series will be yet another national broadcast, this time on TBS, for Stephen Strasburg's 2nd MLB start.

Last night's victory was an unconventional one in a few ways. Starting with the exciting: Adam Dunn homered for the 3rd consecutive game, bringing his average way up to .284 with 13 homers on the year. Willingham also went deep, with a .283 average and 12 homers. Talk about similar numbers.

The real stars of the game, though, were Michael "Don't Call Me Mike" Morse, Sean Burnett, and Tyler Clippard. Morse went 3 for 3 with a walk and a home run to deep center in the 8th inning on Thursday, making his case to be added to the line up with the DH position opening for the next two series. No one on the bench is more worthy than him, although I imagine that he'll be at 1st base at least one game to put Dunn in the DH spot. He also won the Silver Wig.

Sean Burnett had an outstanding game, pitching the entire 7th and 8th innings. He gave up no runs on 2 hits, 1 K, and threw 20 of 35 pitches for strikes. LHP Burnett gave up a single to a righty (LaRoche) and a lefty (G. Jones), while he still struggles to get lefties out. Lefties have a .324 average against him, while righties are only hitting .163.

Capps was unavailable for the save last night after pitching for a save in the high-stress Strasburg debut and then again on Wednesday, so Tyler Clippard entered the game looking for his 1st career MLB save. In typical Clippard fashion, he blew hitters away with high heat, throwing up to 94 mph and earning that coveted 1st career save.

It's great to see that Riggleman was able to give 5 of the 7 guys in the bullpen a night off. It's rare to see a specialist like Burnett come in to pitch 2 very successful innings, but that's exactly what he did. The Nats certainly hope to continue relying on guys to step up in non-traditional roles while the team continues to play extremely close games. So far this year 37 of their 61 games have been decided by 2 runs or fewer.

Now, with starters going 6 or more innings fairly consistently, the bullpen is getting some rest and is becoming gradually more effective. If the Nats can go on a bit of a streak against the Indians, who have an abysmal 10-16 record at home, there's no telling what can happen in the tightest division in all of baseball. All teams in the NL East are within 5 1/2 games of 1st place. The next closest division in baseball, the AL West, isn't even close. It has 10 games separating its first and last place teams. As we approach the heart of the season, the NL East teams will certainly be very exciting to watch.

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