The Washington Nationals' starting pitching is no better than the rotation used by the Milwaukee Brewers.
In fact, Washington's starters were statistically worse than Milwaukee's entering the weekend, with a 5.32 earned run average. The Brewers' starters had a 4.95 ERA.
The Nationals' offense isn't better, either. Entering the weekend, the Brewers ranked second in the National League with 126 runs scored, compared with 93 (13th) for Washington.
So, why was Washington hanging in there at 12-10 while the Brewers were sagging at 9-13? For one thing, the Nationals were not blowing late leads.
Thanks to closer Matt Capps, who's looking like one of the best free-agent signings of the off-season, the Nats led the league with 10 saves. Capps recorded all 10 with nary a failure.
The Brewers, on the other hand, were lagging badly near the bottom of the pack with only three saves. And their seven blown saves were the most in the league.
Through 22 games, Washington's bullpen recorded a 3.78 ERA, ranked seventh in the league. The Brewers' pen had a 5.33 ERA, ahead of only Pittsburgh (5.88) and Arizona (6.38).
Nothing cuts the heart out of a team more than blowing late leads. The Brewers lost five games when leading in the eighth inning or later.
Also, nothing gets fans more worked up than late losses. And nothing puts the manager's butt in a sling more than that same dynamic.
"If we start getting them out, (my seat) will start getting a little colder," said Brewers manager Ken Macha . "If we don't, it'll start getting a lot warmer."
In Macha's defense, he has been given a disjointed pitching staff. He gave Jeff Suppan one more chance at starting, primarily because of his $12.5 million salary, but pulled the plug after two poor outings.
But Suppan continues to fill a spot on the staff, merely in a mop-up role. In the meantime, left-handed relief specialist Mitch Stetter is putting up zeros at Class AAA Nashville instead of with the Brewers, where he belongs.
Macha is in a real trick box with Hoffman. Because he doesn't have a crystal ball, Macha doesn't know if the 42-year-old Hoffman is merely going through a rough patch or whether this is the beginning of the end.
With a Hall of Fame resume and $7.5 million salary, Hoffman will continue to get chances to close games. And if he regains the feel for his changeup and starts throwing it for strikes, he'll return to saving games.
In the meantime, each victory-turned-defeat puts the Brewers in a bigger hole. They're already starting to lose contact with first-place St. Louis in the NL Central.
Climbing off the mat
With 22 consecutive victories against Pittsburgh at home and ninth-inning leads in the last two games of a three-game series at Miller Park, the Brewers had their collective feet on the throats of the Pirates last week.
But when Hoffman blew saves in those games and the Pirates rallied to win, it removed some of the air of invincibility the Brewers had when playing Pittsburgh.
"I think we earned a little respect back in the Brewers' eyes," said Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit, who became the first player to hit a grand slam off Hoffman on Tuesday night and only the second to homer twice off him in the same season the next day.
"We've been a doormat against these guys. When you're winning by 17 or 20 runs a game, you tend not to take the other team too seriously. After these last two games, I'd like to think we're not going to give up."
Braves banquet coming
The next Milwaukee Braves Historical Association dinner is May 13 at Potawatomi Bingo Casino. The honorees will be former Braves Felix Mantilla and Stan Lopat.
The association also will pay a special tribute to Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews with a video presentation of his life. His oldest son, Eddie, will speak in honor of his father.
The cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m. with dinner at 7. For the first time, guests under 21 will be permitted at the dinner. Tickets are $75 and can be obtained by mailing a check to MBHA treasurer Tom Kaminski at 2614 E. Bottsford Ave., St. Francis, WI, 53235 or by calling him at (414) 347-1212.
If a tree falls
The citizens of Tampa-St. Petersburg are missing some fantastic baseball.
Entering the weekend, the Rays had the top record (17-5) in the majors and were playing the best all-around ball of any club. They were off to the best start since the San Francisco Giants went 18-4 in 2003.
The Rays led the majors with 142 runs (6.45 per game) and had allowed the fewest runs in the American League at 73 (3.32 per game).
"That is a nice equation," noted manager Joe Maddon.
Despite that dominating brand of ball, the Rays were playing before mostly empty seats at Tropicana Field. On Tuesday, a Tampa Bay-Oakland game drew 10,825, the smallest crowd in the majors. The next day, those clubs attracted 10,691, again the smallest in the majors.
Without question, the Rays need a new ballpark. But the fans of many cities would cut off a limb to have a club as exciting as this one.
"We really do appreciate those that are loyal and come out all the time, but I'd like to see that we're getting to the point now where they don't come to see the opposition, they come out to see us," said Maddon.
"That's the part I think is missing. You always talk about who we're playing, and we get a good crowd for Boston, we get a good crowd for New York, whatever. That's wonderful. But at some point, come see the Rays."
More empty seats
Boston might help attract fans in the Tampa area but apparently not up in Toronto. A three-game series between the Red Sox and Blue Jays last week drew a total attendance of 43,899, for an average of 14,633 per game.
Entering the weekend, Toronto had an average attendance of 15,877, lowest in the majors. That figure represented 31 percent capacity at the Rogers Centre, which has become quieter than the local public library.
"It's a shame," said second baseman Aaron Hill. "We have a good bunch of guys who play the game the right way. That's what baseball fans should want and should appreciate.
"We see the stands, we notice it, but there's really nothing we can do about it."
Former Blue Jays player and manager Buck Martinez, now a broadcaster for the team, said the answer to the scant attendance is easy: Years of putting a losing product on the field.
"Given the history of what's gone on here for several seasons, the fans need to be encouraged to come back," said Martinez. "And they won't be encouraged to come back until the club starts winning."
Notes and news from around the Brewers' farm system:
Class AAA Nashville: Second baseman Eric Farris, a highly rated prospect, suffered a leg injury in a collision at the plate Thursday night and went on the disabled list. Farris was playing his best ball of the season, with a seven-game hitting streak that boosted his average to .288 after a slow start.
Class AA Huntsville: Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain is expected to be sidelined a couple of weeks with a groin strain. Cain was off to a fantastic start, batting .380 through 17 games with a .450 on-base percentage and eight steals in eight attempts.
Class A Brevard County: Shortstop Josh Prince, a third-round draft pick in 2009 out of Tulane, is one of the faster players in the system but he hasn't been able to "steal" first base. Through 10 games, Prince was batting .179. But that was better than fellow shortstop Brent Brewer, a second-round pick in '06 who was batting .154.
Class A Wisconsin: Right-hander Eric Arnett, a first-round pick out of Indiana University, is off to an awful start with the Timber Rattlers. Through four starts, Arnett is 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA. He has allowed 23 hits in 16 innings, with a .319 opponents' batting average.
AROUND THE BASES
MLB: Detroit RF Magglio Ordonez
Ordonez collected his 2,000th career hit Thursday, becoming only the sixth player from Venezuela to reach that milestone. The others are Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio, Andres Galarraga, Dave Concepcion and Bobby Abreu. Pretty nice company.
BREWERS: 3B Casey McGehee
McGehee ranks among the league leaders in many offensive categories and socked a grand slam in the Brewers' only victory in a 1-5 home stand. He and wife Sarah also celebrated the birth of a daughter, Cooper Reece. That made it a great week.
Cardinals at Phillies: Monday-Thursday. Powers in early clash.
Tigers at Twins: Monday-Wednesday. AL Central leaders square off.
Rockies at Padres: Monday-Wednesday. Padres surprise of NL West.
Angels at Mariners: Friday-Sunday. AL West race is tight early.
The Brewers' 10-game, 11-day trip continues with a three-game series in Los Angeles, where the disappointing Dodgers are catching some heat. After that, it's on to Arizona, where a stronger-than-expected offense will test the Brewers' pitching from start to finish.
Arizona took a 6-0 first-inning lead over Colorado on Wednesday, fell behind, 11-6, after four innings, then rallied to win, 12-11. It was the first time since 1986 that a team led by six or more runs, then trailed by five or more runs, and came back to win.
The last team to ride that roller-coaster was Texas in a victory over Baltimore in 1986. Before that, no team had done it since 1901.
Last season, second baseman Kelly Johnson batted .224 with eight homers and 29 RBI in 106 games for Atlanta. His play was so underwhelming, the Braves did not offer him a contract for 2010.
Johnson signed with Arizona for $2.3 million and entering the weekend was batting .320 with nine homers and 18 RBI in 21 games. Talk about a change of scenery helping a player.
"Based on years of evaluating Kelly and after taking a closer inspection of 2009, we felt like he had a very good chance to return to his normal self," said Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes.
"I think most clubs have to learn to buy low. There is a shortage of teams that can buy high. When guys have down years, we take a good look at that to see if there is an opportunity for us or not."