Nats struggling at the quarter pole
Florida is undergoing a rebuilding program, just like the Nationals. The Marlins exited town with a first-place record while the Nats left town in last. Again.
The Nationals entered last night with six losses in nine games. These four players were counted on to give more and have flopped. Each has been injured; each has performed poorly.
LUIS AYALA. The once-reliable reliever has become the setup guy with Jon Rauch’s ascension to closer and Chad Cordero hurt. The Nats have no one else who can fill Ayala’s role and if he falters, as he has the past couple weeks, it’ll be a real tough year for the ’pen. He’s allowed 35 baserunners in 21 1/3 innings and has a 5.91 ERA.
DMITRI YOUNG. His being out of shape and injured could hurt Washington in the future. With Nick Johnson healthy, Young would have come off the bench. But with 18 interleague games upcoming, he’ll have a chance to play some DH — and be showcased for the American League, where he’s a better fit. With Cordero out, he could become one of the best pieces to sell. Right now, the market value he gained last year is gone.
PAUL LO DUCA. Signed to start at catcher for $5 million, he’s been a disaster. Lo Duca’s arm is awful; he’s hitting .200 and is not much of a locker room presence thus far, according to those around the club on a regular basis. He needed to serve as a bridge this season, allowing Jesus Flores to develop more in the minors.
WILY MO PENA. He has no homers and five RBI. Others — Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns — have struggled, too, but have shown life. And Pena was supposed to provide missing pop. It hasn’t happened. Elijah Dukes will be ready soon. But his off-field issues make him unreliable; Pena needs to take charge of left field.
Looking to improve abysmal offense
Ravens receiver Mark Clayton says the team’s new offense is coming along. It had better.
“Offensively, to take the field and do it fast and know what you are doing is definitely an advantage,” he said. “The offense brings a lot to the table and should present disadvantages to the defense.”
The Ravens ranked just 23rd in the league in total offense last season. They averaged just 17.2 points and 302 yards per game and were a league-worst minus-17 in turnover differential en route to a 5-11 season.
It was such an abysmal offensive season, quarterback Steve McNair, who was credited greatly for the team’s 13-3 record and AFC North Division title two seasons ago, opted to retire last month and save his body.
But the team is making strides. In last week’s mini camp, the team appeared to already have several audibles in place and the wide receivers looked to be in sync with the quarterbacks, especially with Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco.
Clayton even noted what a catchable ball the first-year player threw.
The team’s offensive philosophy still figures to be based heavily on the run under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron. Despite struggling as head coach of the Miami Dolphins last year before ultimately getting fired, Cameron is credited with the development of Pro Bowler quarterback Drew Brees and running back LaDainian Tomlinson when he was in San Diego.
The one player who starred last year for the Ravens, Willis McGahee, should again have a big year. McGahee finished last season with 294 carries for 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns. And with a young offensive line having another year to gel and develop, his numbers should reflect their play, even if some spots are up for grabs.
“We want to have a set group set,” coach John Harbaugh said. “But not before they determine who they are.”
Seabiscuit author helps save horse
As the author of “Seabiscuit,” Laura Hillenbrand has a clear connection to horse racing. So it pained her to watch what happened to Eight Belles immediately after the Kentucky Derby.
According to Bloodhorse magazine, the Washington, D.C. resident turned a bad week — she’s also dealt recently with death and illnesses in her family — into a good one by contacting a friend at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Sue Finley, hoping she could save a horse.
She did: a horse called Rudster who had been purchased for slaughter. But the person who bought him had one too many horses for his truck. He offered the horse to someone else, who agreed to buy Rudster but did not have the $350 and phoned TRF director Diana Pikulski, who told him she didn’t have the money but would figure something out. Two days later, Pikulski learned of Hillenbrand’s wishes.
“Thank you, Eight Belles,” Hillenbrand told Bloodhorse. “You saved Rudster’s life.”
Second guessing: Uh Tony … don’t quit your day job
Flat performance » It was only the seventh-inning stretch and it was a Cubs game. So Tony Romo’s poor rendition — to put it mildly — of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is part of the charm. As is the case with his famous girlfriend, we’re guessing the opposite sex ignored his voice.
Love of money » Mike D’Antoni, according to an NBA source, was torn about leaving Phoenix; wanted to sign with Chicago and wound up in ... New York. D’Antoni clashed with Suns management and couldn’t squeeze more than $4 mill a year out of the Bulls, so hello Knicks.
Bad sign » Kevin Millwood has a history of pitching well — and being hurt. Still, Texas signed him to a five-year, $60-million contract before the 2006 season. Since then, he’s 28-29 with a 4.84 ERA — and was just placed on the disabled list for the second year in a row and fifth time in four years.
Guess again » Based on preseason predictions, St. Louis and Florida were headed toward at least 90-loss seasons. Oakland wasn’t far behind. Look at them now: entering last night, all were in first place or tied for first.
Pull the plug » With Dallas receiver Terrell Owens set to guest star in a new comedy series opposite rapper and reality TV star Flavor Flav Wednesday, television might have finally hit its lowest point.
Blind eye » Hey, everyone likes sunshine and surfboards, but with O.J. Mayo — the second high-profile studentathlete to come out of USC with huge implications about taking gifts and cash — the Trojans might soon need to look in the mirror or the NCAA might do the fixing for them.
Gator bait » With Florida safety Jamar Hornsby getting busted for using a deceased woman’s credit card and defensive lineman Matt Patchan getting shot in the shoulder as just the latest incidents, coach Urban Meyer is beginning to let the inmates run the asylum in Gainesville.
True Justice » We aren’t ones to condone punishment, but regardless of age or other circumstances, let’s hope the justice system doesn’t drop the ball in punishing the four men charged in the murder of Sean Taylor.
In case you missed it
Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the manager of the Midwest League’s Peoria Chiefs, was suspended for three games for his role in bench-clearing incident last week. Sandberg was ejected for the third time this season, and seventh time in two years, when he confronted the opposing team’s manager between the sixth and seventh innings for allowing a player to bunt with a 6-0 lead. Sandberg was ejected only twice during 2,164 games as a player.
On the record
“I think I’m the best ever to play left field in Boston.”
— Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Boston Herald, after initially joking about winning a Gold Glove someday.
“I’ve heard about these horror shows as far as international refereeing. I have finally lived through one. … They go upstairs. They look at a replay. What the hell were they looking at?”
— U.S. coach John Tortorella after a 3-2 loss to Finland in the world hockey championships. Replays showed that one of Finland’s goals went through the meshing on the side of the net.
By the numbers
7 » Number of PGA Tour victories for Sergio Garcia after Sunday’s win in The Players Championship, giving him the most wins of any player under 30 years old.
30 » Stitches required to close the gash on the head of Philadelphia Flyers defender Braydon Coburn, who was hit in the face with a slap shot in a 4-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2./>