- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif.

Washington baseball fans, does this sound familiar?

“We’ve gone out and we’ve given our team a chance to win most of the time we have stepped on the mound,” said Chicago White Sox starter Jon Garland, the architect of the magnificent complete game over the Anaheim Angels in Friday night’s Game3 of their American League Championship Series. “I think any manager in the major leagues will take that. If you’re going out there and giving your team a chance to win, who wouldn’t want that?”

Sound like a pitching staff you saw at RFK Stadium this year?

The story of the postseason in both leagues so far has been who has the best trio of starting pitchers — not necessarily who has the best team.

In the National League, Houston has Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte, though Pettitte lost his Game1 start against St. Louis. In the AL, Chicago has Garland, Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras (with a little Doug Eddings mixed in).

Now, not to suggest that Livan Hernandez, John Patterson and Esteban Loaiza are the second coming of Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte, but the philosophy is the same — three strong starting pitchers who give their team a chance to win nearly every game.

The trio of Clemens, Oswalt and Pettitte went 50-29 this season and the Chicago threesome of Garland, Buehrle and Contreras 49-25. The Nats’ group of Hernandez, Loaiza and Patterson had fewer losses than the Astros’ trio, going 36-27.

But the Nats’ threesome had 37 no-decisions compared to 21 for the Astros and 26 for the White Sox. When you consider that number, the Washington trio did much of the same for their team as those of the Astros and White Sox.

The way these series have played out makes the Nationals’ failure to make the playoffs more maddening than it was when the season ended.

“I said during the season that this team was better suited to play in the postseason than over 162 games,” said Nationals general manager Jim Bowden. “I said if we could get to the postseason, then I thought we could compete and get to the World Series, especially when we had the defense to go along with the starting pitching in the first half. We had the pitching to do it.”

These are Washington Nationals types of games — 3-2, 2-1 — and while the Nationals didn’t stack up position by position with these teams, their trio of starting pitchers would have suited them well.

Maybe by the end of the season, the Nationals were too banged up to have competed effectively, though they might have been better built than the Atlanta Braves for postseason play. The style, though, is still the same: Strong starting pitching, especially in the post-steroid era, is the blueprint for postseason success.

“In the offseason, we tried to build the best pitching staff we could,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “[General manager] Kenny Williams did a great job. When those three guys go out there, we have a lot of comfort as a team when they are pitching. It’s been that way all year.”

It was like that for much of the year for the Nationals, too. The problem was that in the second half of the season, the Big Three didn’t have that same comfort level because of the defensive breakdowns behind them and an offense that went from weak to nearly invisible.

The Angels had to struggle with the same issues, though not nearly to the depths the Nationals did. After all, the Angels scored 761 runs this season compared to Washington’s 639.

“I kind of look at it like looking for change in your couch,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You take all the padding out and get all this loose change, and it’s nice — that’s manufacturing runs. But if you want to buy what you need, you need that lineup structure and some guys swinging the bat well.”

The Nationals couldn’t buy what they needed on a number of levels, both on and off the field, because of their indentured ownership by Major League Baseball. But if they had been able to find a little more loose change in the couch, they might have made some noise in October.

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