A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Christmas in November

Nationals fans got some of their Christmas presents early this week, with the announcements that Ryan Zimmerman was honored with both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for his amazing play in 2009. Add to that the announcement that Jim Riggleman has been chosen as the permanent manager for the Nationals, and you’d be hard pressed to find a week with more Nationals news that didn’t have seven lineup cards and a few home runs.

Bloggers got an extra gift this morning – a telephone press conference with Jim Riggleman.

After having spoken to Drew Storen last week in Arizona, I was curious if Riggleman had some advice for those young players that were hoping to crack the twenty-five man roster this spring. Riggleman pointed out that the players in the Arizona Fall League are the cream of the crop and that the majority of them make it to the Major Leagues – though not all make it right out of spring training. Riggleman added that Storen’s path through the organization – signing early after the draft, getting considerable experience in the minors, and then an additional stint in the Arizona Fall League has done nothing but help his chances. And while Riggleman said it was too early to say exactly where Storen might land in the spring, he suggested that there might be opportunities for him if he earns it in spring training.

Some other notes from the press teleconference:

  • Riggleman hopes to have Cristian Guzman play at second base this year. Guzman’s September injury to his shoulder prevented the Nats from trying Guzman at second at the end of the season. Guzman’s surgery was successful and the damage found was minimal, so there is every hope that a healthy Guzman will move to second base in the spring.
  • … which brings us to shortstop. Riggleman mentioned that he would be comfortable with Ian Desmond at shortstop, but there has been some recent rumors that the Nationals may be interested in other shortstops that might be available on the free agent market.
  • Scott Olsen is recovering well from his surgery, and is expected to be ready for spring training.
  • Jordan Zimmerman is also recovering well from his surgery, but Riggleman does not expect Zimmermann to be back before 2011.

Reminiscing…

I was reading Tom Boswell’s piece in The Post today, and it got me thinking about the Nationals, and their first year in Washington. The return of baseball to Washington had captivated me – as a native Washingtonian and childhood fan of the Senators, I made the trip back to DC for Opening Day – a ritual I have re-enacted every year since.

Back in Late July, 2005, I got a phone call from a friend of mine that lived in Denver. My friend had helped me with my business, and suggested that perhaps I should take a weekend and go to Denver, and take in the Nationals series against the Rockies. The Nats had just completed a torrid first half, had lead the National League East, but were now slowly coming back to the pack, and in fact, they had lost their lead by this time. I, like every Nats fan, was totally wrapped up with the improbable season, and I couldn’t get enough. While it was clear that the Nats had begun their slide back towards the middle of the pack, I expected the Nats to right themselves and stay in the playoff picture to the end. I was wrong, of course… but had the Nats played just .500 ball the rest of the way (a reasonable hope and expectation after a 51-30 first half), they might well have been playing in October – 90 wins won the National League East that year, and 89 won the Wild Card.

I debated the idea of going to Denver, and when I realized I could only make one trip east for the remainder of the year, I decided that I should save the opportunity, and go back to DC for the playoffs. I skipped the trip to Denver (where the Nats swept the Rockies), and instead watched the Nationals at RFK in September, where they lost their last three, to settle at 81-81.

The 2009 season is now over (for the Nats, at least). I watched the Twins-Tigers game yesterday, and couldn’t help imagining the Nats in that situation. Not our current Nats, mind you… but the team of our future. Maybe even next year’s Nats. There is a lot to look forward to, not the least of which is that it really can’t be any worse than it was this year. We have good young pitching today, that hopefully will be great young pitching tomorrow. We have the leadoff-hitting center fielder we’ve wanted since our hearts were broken by Endy Chavez. Willingham and Dukes could play for almost any team, and both are poised to find their place in the big leagues. Adam Dunn is proving to be a better first baseman than anyone ever expected, and while Ryan Zimmerman is proving to be everything we hoped he would be, our hopes are stratospheric. He is our superstar. Once again, the questions are up the middle, and while I am skeptical that Ian Desmond is the answer at shortstop, or that Guzman will thrive at second, I am just a blogger, and not a major league scout or GM… so what do I know? And the question remains whether Jesus Flores can come back from his injuries, and becomes the every day catcher we think he is, or the Nick Johnson of the catching fraternity.

So for Nationals fans, the slate has been wiped clean, and not a moment too soon. If you need a positive message to take forward from 2009, the Nats played .440 ball after the All-Star break (including the end-of-the-season seven-game winning streak, and an eight-game streak in August), compared to under .300 for the first half. And unlike in previous years (thanks, Jim Bowden), instead of needing to cobble together a team comprised mostly of castoffs and second chances, the Nationals have a small but manageable shopping list for the offseason. When you’re 58-103, the playoffs may seem to be light-years away, but the addition of just one or two players can make a huge difference; for example, the Nationals with Nyger Morgan were 22-26 (.458) , and 36-78 (.315) without him.

Boswell’s point today about the playoffs is this: Once you’re in, it doesn’t matter what you did before that. The same is true for the Nationals in 2010. It doesn’t matter what happened in 2009. On April 5th at 1:05 PM, we’ll all be in our seats at Nationals Park, our Nats will be tied for first, and the promise of every baseball fan everywhere will be ours – in April, anything is possible. The difference between 2010 and every Nats season that came before it is that the best Nationals team ever will be on the field.

All of the Pieces

You have to admit, watching the “Battle of the Beltways” has been entertaining so far.

In the last two games, we’ve seen great Nationals pitching and at least crisp, and occasionally spectacular defense:

Justin Maxwell snares fly in the first inning. (Image courtesy of MASN and the Washington Nationals. Used with permission)

Justin Maxwell robs the Orioles Adam Jones of a home run in the first inning. (Image courtesy of MASN and the Washington Nationals. Used with permission)

What we haven’t seen is the Nationals hitting the ball.

The reason for that has to do with the Disabled List. When you remove Jesus Flores and Elijah Dukes from the lineup, there’s actually a way to pitch around the Nats. Adam Dunn has struggled since Dukes has been out, and the Nationals miss Jesus Flores both behind the plate as well as when he’s at bat. And while Anderson Hernandez doesn’t make the lineup any more formidable by himself, his speed, and the presense of Cristian Guzman two hitters later in the lineup helps to insure he gets some pitches to hit.

In my last post I spoke about the need for the Nationals to be accountable for their level of play. The next day, Manny Acta held a team meeting, and since that time, the Nats seem to have been transformed – at least when it comes to pitching and defense. It hasn’t been lost on at least some of the national media: Tim Kurkjian wrote a piece last week about the bright future for the Nats. If the Nationals can play average defense and get average pitching from their bullpen, if the all-rookie (almost) rotation can continue to go six or seven innings every game… and if the Nats – and given history, this is a big if – can keep their starting eight on the field and off the Disabled List, we’re going to see real baseball break out on Half Street.

But in this respect, the Nationals are fragile. As well as the team has played since the end of the Pittsburgh series, they’ve barely been able to put up runs, even against a team as weak as the Orioles. Once you’re into the bench, things get dicey. The bench is acceptable, and perhaps above average, as a bench goes. But when the Nats bench is starting every day, the lineup just isn’t as imposing as it could be.

And as spectacular a catch as Justin Maxwell made today, he isn’t the hitter that Dukes is.

The sample size is small – three games – but since Manny’s team meeting, the Nationals seem to have their head screwed on more or less straight. Once we get all of the pieces back, we might actually see what the Nationals are capable of.

Fantasy Baseball

I am going to take you back in time a few weeks… in an alternate universe. The date: April 18, 2009.

In this alternate universe, the Nationals played the Marlins at Nationals Park. The Nats won, 6-2. Scott Olsen went eight innings, giving up two runs and six hits. The Nats had a five-run first inning, including a grand slam by Austin Kearns. Joe Beimel came in and pitched the ninth, giving up a hit.

What is the difference between this universe and the universe that we live in? In this alternative universe, the Nats had no errors in this game, and in our “real” universe, the Nats had three.

Here’s the thing: Even in the universe where there were only two errors in the game instead of three, if the error that is missing is Nick Johnson’s dropped popup in the fifth inning, the Nats still win, 6-5, with Joel Hanrahan getting the save.

I bring this up because there are a lot of people who are only too happy to pile onto the bullpen problems as the cause for the Nationals woes. I am among the first to point out that the bullpen has not been a stellar part of the mix. But in their defense, the bullpen has been asked to come into games and pitch in situations where they never should have. And when you’re a pitcher, and you’re worried that your shortstop is going to boot a ball (or two) in a game, you start pitching for strikeouts. You start pitching not to make a mistake. You start pitching not to lose.

Which, by the way, is different than pitching to win.

I know that my example is both not statistically valid and an exaggeration. But my point is, you can’t give teams – especially National League East teams – extra outs, extra bases, extra runs, and then be upset with the bullpen about giving up a lead… if you’re not first upset with your defense about not protecting the lead you’ve built in the first place.

I suspect that the problem is not one that is solved by changing personnel, including the manager. I believe it is one where each player needs to be focused and accountable for their outcomes. That is more a leadership issue.

Errors happen, and teams win games where they make errors. In last night’s game, Anderson Hernandez made an error on the second half of a double play, throwing the ball away and allowing the batter to advance to second. But the Nats won, and while Hernandez probably should have swallowed the throw, he made the throw trying to be aggressive and get the second out. A mistake of youth. The Nats survived the inning, and the game.

If the Nats can reduce their erros, if the pitchers – both starters and the bullpen – can start to relax and trust their defense, if the whole team can start playing the way they know they can… this will be an interesting season.

If they can’t… well, my head hurts already. It will be a long, hot summer.

… and a thanks to Jeff Bergin at NationalsPride.com for the seed of this idea.

… and one other thing – the picture at the top of this page was from that game.

Unanswered Question of the Day

Filed under: Games,Injuries,Organization,Personnel,Players,Teams — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 9:47 am April 16, 2009

Nothing in sports is sure… but there are some things that you can almost always count on:

  • When you fire a head coach or a manager, the team almost always wins the next game.
  • When the pitching coach comes to the mound to talk to the pitcher, the next pitch is almost always a strike (unless the pitcher is Daniel Cabrera)

So where does sending Lastings Milledge to Syracuse fit among the list of almost “sure things?”

It is hard to say. It isn’t as if Milledge was single-handedly costing the Nats games, so the “addition by substraction” thing doesn’t work here by itself.

Communication guys like me are always ready to point to some sort of synergy issue when it comes to analyzing how a team performs (or in this case, under-performs), and it is a tempting conclusion to jump to here. Sending Millege down could be an attempt to send a message that working “hard enough” is not “hard enough”. It could also be the message that no matter how secure you are in your station on the team, you have to perform to stay there.

It could also be about getting Milledge some reps in a situation where his presence on the field isn’t quite so expensive.

Winning tonight won’t answer this question. The Nats are close enough that they’ll luck into a win eventually, and making a connection between a win and Milledge’s departure would be meaningless. And a loss wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Nats are sleeping through their alarm clock, either. We still don’t know if Cristian Guzman will play tonight, and the injuries to Belliard and Harris and the tentative play of Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez make for a shaky middle infield.

Being the optimist that I am, I think the Nats are finally set up with their best shot to get off the schnide. But there are no sure things… If the Nats finish the homestand 4-4, come ask me then.

So this morning, in order to get some reassurance, I went to the one place I go when I need the defintive answer: The Magic 8-Ball. It said:

Answer uncertain. Ask again tomorrow.

And with that, I will see you at Nats Park tonight.

Milledge Vs. Dukes

Filed under: Injuries,Organization,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , — Wigi @ 1:05 pm April 11, 2009

There is a piece of this puzzle I don’t understand. He’s better defensively. He’s better offensively. He works harder.

Why, then,  is Elijah Dukes being asked to prove (and reprove) himself while Lastings Milledge is not?

For those that wonder about my perspective, I wouldn’t put myself in the “Milledge Hater” category. I would put myself in the “The Bar is Set Higher This Season, And Last Year’s Good Looks Aren’t Enough Anymore” category. The team, and especially the outfield, is much stronger this year, and I expect more.

There is no question that Milledge is talented. Some in the Natosphere have pointed this out, and I said last year, as Felipe Lopez demonstrated somnambulance on the field – that Milledge would be an interesting second baseman – assuming he could master that skill set. But so far this season…  in center field, and as a leadoff hitter, I expected to see more.

There is another issue here, though, and while it applies in this argument, it also applies across the baseball world, and to many players: What message does a team (the Nats) send to a player (Elijah Dukes), who appears to have done everything a team (the Nats) have asked of him, that he rides the pine while another player (Milledge) starts? The expectations of Dukes were high, but he has done what was asked. Shouldn’t  he be rewarded for that?

I’ve advocated trading Milledge as a way to solve the Nats’ glut of outfielders. But I realize that is a simplistic solution, at least without considering all of the ramifications. I have suspected, but don’t know for sure, that Milledge’s presence on the team has been a big help to keeping Dukes on the straight-and-narrow. They were childhood friends, and one only has to watch them in batting practice and on the field to know that they’re close now. But for most fans who are not me, these sort of social considerations are not really relevant in making personnel decisions on a Major League team.  So, if you exclude that argument – that they are good influences for each other, and that makes them better players,  no matter which remaining calculus you use, the conclusion I come to is the same.

Unless, of course, there is a calculus I hadn’t considered… hence, the piece I don’t understand.

The Nats have to find another place for Milledge to play. Maybe it is Syracuse. Maybe it is second base. Maybe it is in the American League. If you take Milledge out of the outfield mix, the options are still intriguing and entertaining. Willingham has lived up to my expectations. Dunn has exceeded them. Not only does he do everything one would hope on the field, he’s bringing that veteran leadership that has been lacking in the clubhouse. Kearns has become the outfielder many of us hoped and knew he would be – and as an aside to all the Kearns critics, how many of you are that dedicated to your employer that you show up and work every day, even when you know you should have a physician looking at whatever it is that is ailing you… as Kearns did in 2008?

Dukes’ (hopefully) minor injury last night delays the need to solve the outfield problem immediately. But between the serendipity of the Scheduling Fairy that allows the Nats to leave Jordan Zimmermann in Syracuse until next Sunday and Dukes’ (and Belliard’s) nursing of minor ailments, the urgency to move position players off the 25-man roster is less. But the clock is ticking, and the roster will have to be adjusted soon, and not later than next Sunday.

As they used to say on television: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives…”

… if you live in NatsTown.

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence: Lerners Are Cheap

IntroBowden is incompetentAaron Crow Sidebar… Lerners are cheap…

Cheap is such a pejorative term, don’t you think?

And in this context, it defies definition. It all started with Ronnie Belliard’s bats, some FedEx letters and team expense reimbursements. Today it has morphed into a commentary on the Nats participation in the free agent market.

Let’s start with the small stuff first. Baseball is an old industry. Very few people work professionally in baseball, and when it comes to management, the there are probably less than 500 people in executive positions across the Major Leagues. To be qualified for one of these positions, you almost certainly come from one of three tracks: you already work in baseball in an executive capacity, you already work in another professional sport in an executive capacity, or you are being groomed internally to advance within an organization. Or, the fourth track, you could buy a baseball team.

The difference between the first three and the fourth is that people who come from the first three are steeped in the culture of the industry. There is a way that you do things in baseball. People who come from a real estate background will likely have a very different view of how one conducts business. Business people draw a distinction between the core knowledge and talents that one needs to develop real estate (or throw a curve ball) and the skills and talents you need to manage your accounts payable. To most business people payables should be the same whether they are FedEx for contracts and blueprints, or FedEx for scouting documents. I am not at all surprised that the Lerners would want to examine the way they procure items or pay expenses.

In a lot of ways, the Lerner’s acquisition of the Nationals was like a merger – of course, the industries couldn’t be more dissimilar – but in any merger, there are always going to be ruffled feathers and hurt feelings as the new parent company asserts its control over the organization. Complaints about payables is just one of the things that happens in a merger. It doesn’t mean that the Lerners are cheap. It just means that the Lerner’s way of doing business was not immediately compatible with the culture of Major League Baseball.

When you’re sitting in a quiet room, and you hear someone in the back of the room cough, it doesn’t mean that everyone there is going to get the flu. In the absense of sound, every little breath is magnified. So it is when the Natosphere waits to hear more about the thrifty ways of the Lerners, and the Nats trade veterans for league minimum players or minor leaguers. Trading veterans for prospects, signing journeymen free agents rather than stars, letting your number one draft pick walk over a difference of $500,000 - the Glass Half Empty crowd sees this as irrefutable proof that the Lerners are cheap… and by this, the critics mean, too cheap to field a respectable team.

Even Tom Boswell piled on today. And I don’t blame him, or anyone else for being upset about the outcome of this season – and there are good reasons to be concerned about the perception of the team by the fans. I am upset too. But the foundations for this year’s poor performance were laid in the offices of Major League Baseball and in Montreal (and San Juan). I don’t see how spending more money could have made the Nats any better or more entertaining to watch. Who could the Nats have signed as a free agent that would have made them better (or more entertaining)? We’ve been promised historically bad teams since 2005, and every year the Nats have overachieved – until this year. In fact, one could even make the argument that spending free agent money caused some of this year’s problems.

The Nats signed two free agent catchers – Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada – with the idea that Jesus Flores needed to play every day. The thought was that he should do that on the farm, where he could become familiar with the Nats pitching prospects, and get another year of seasoning in a less stressful environment. On the surface, that sounds like a wise and conservative way to grow your catcher of the future. But when both Lo Duca and Estrada were injured, Flores was called up, followed by Will Nieves, both Flores and Nieves played their way into the top of the depth chart, leaving Estrada to be released and Lo Duca playing any available position just to get ABs. And why did Lo Duca need plate appearances? Because if the Nats were going to recoup any of his $5 million in salary through trade, he had to play, even if there were better choices – either more talented, more healthy, or just youngsters with more long-term potential. Of course, injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns made it easy to find potential places to play Lo Duca. Add to that the 40 percent effort that Felipe Lopez gave the Nats, and the same motivations to get him playing time, and it was clear that attending a game during the Nats 2008 season was more like shopping at Big Lots than going to the ballpark.

Don’t think the fans didn’t notice. They did. And just like a 20 minute shopping excursion to Big Lots, when watching the Nats, most fans felt that it was 19 minutes too much.

And it was like that until July 31. And while things were better on August 1, it hardly mattered by then.

But that doesn’t make the Lerners cheap. If you add $10 million to your payroll, and it doesn’t generate any wins, should you spend that $10 million? Is there some other return on your investment?

I don’t know. Probably not, and it is one of those things that is unknowable. But the premise that the Nats are unwilling to spend on free agents has yet to be proven. One can point to the Aaron Crow situation and try to infer something about the Nats willingness to spend, but one could just as easily infer the Nats desire not to be railroaded into overpaying for draft choices.

Stan Kasten made the point back in 2006 that major free agent signings are the last step you take, to get the final piece of your championship team. It is hard to make the argument that the Nats are anywhere close to that point, as they teeter at the edge of a 100-loss season.

Are the Lerners cheap? I don’t know. Either do you.

Phillies: The New Cowboys?

I live far away from Washington now, and so I am sure it happens to me a lot more often than it would in DC. I’ll be walking down the street, and I’ll see that dreaded blue star. Perhaps on someone’s hat, perhaps on a bumper sticker. Every once in a while, on a stadium jacket. My thoughts immediately turn to Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. Clint Longley sneaks in there occasionally, too… and the hackles stand up. A visceral dislike for the Cowboys is one of the hallmark traits of a Washingtonian.

But rivalry requires reciprocity, and the Redskins haven’t held up their part of the bargain as of late. Other teams in other sports have drawn their share of ire from Washington fans – back in the early 1980′s, when the Capitals experienced their first surge into respectability, the Flyers were always the most hated team to come to the Capital Centre.

Last night, we may have witnessed the beginning of the Nats first real rivalry.

The building blocks have been falling into place for a while – The famous 11 PM start to a rain-delayed Nats-Phillies game, ending in a Nats win back in 2006. John Lannan hitting Chase Utley and breaking his hand last year. Kyle Kendrick’s chin music to Ryan Zimmerman, followed the next at bat by a home run – These are just a few examples.

But things changed last night. It isn’t often that one gets to see a straight steal of home (whether successful or not). But it wasn’t just that Utley tried to steal home, but rather, that he turned himself into a human projectile, and endangered both himself and Jesus Flores in the process. The collision resulted in a very scary and probably season-ending injury to Flores, and taken in the context of the apparently-escalating tensions between the two teams, perhaps there was more at stake than just scoring a run.

Chico Harlan reported in Nationals Journal about the clubhouse reaction to the play at the plate with Utley and Jesus Flores. I found the comments to be rather tame. In Chico’s online chat today, I asked him about whether there was more to the comments than meets the eye, to which he said, maybe, and maybe not.

I think there’s bad blood. The kind that transcends seasons. The kind that makes almost-meaningless games a lot more meaningful. The Clint Longley kind of bad blood.

Interleague play and Beltway Series don’t make for a rivalry, especially between two second-tier teams. The Washington-Baltimore rivalry was a lot more intense in 1971 than it is in 2008, and until the Nats plays the Orioles in October, it is going to stay that way. A late-night loss in front of 200 fans, the loss of a star player to a broken hand on an HBP, a 23 year-old third basemen getting knocked down one inning and going yard the next AB and a straight steal of home that looked more like breaking up the wedge on a kickoff than a stolen base attempt – those may be the birth of a rivalry, because the players feel it… not just the fans.

Of course, I didn’t need any help disliking the Phillies anyway.

Fan’s Guide to Watching The Washington Nationals (revised 6/19/2008)

It isn’t just about the expectation of wins (and losses). It is now, and has always been, about building for the future. The problem is, from where the fans sit, it isn’t entirely clear that the Nats are really building.

In fact, thirty seconds of thought will indicate that they are; one only has to look at the minors to see that the pipeline is at least partially stocked with something other than cobwebs. Moreover, the Nationals minor league system has the best combined record in baseball. Admittedly, minor league baseball may not be all about winning, but if nobody is out there trying to win as their primary goal, but rather to foster the growth of young talent, one could reasonably make the argument that won-loss record is at least a partial indicator of success.

But little of that is consoling after watching the Nats flail in Minneapolis. Even when they’re winning, there is something a bit unsettling about the team. I feel very fortunate to have seen the Nats in Seattle, where they caught a team that was struggling as badly as they are. It was fun to watch, but I never got the sense that I was watching a juggernaut, even when sweeping the Mariners in Safeco. So there’s something very ‘MSG’ about our Nats diet as of late. An hour after a win, we’re hungry again.

So this is what I suggest: Stop watching the Nats with the expectation of a particular outcome, which is to say, that the Nats are going to win. Instead, look at the individual moving parts, and lets watch how they grow and develop. And with that in mind, here is my list of things to watch for the rest of this season:

  • Watch for a lack of personnel changes at the top: Don’t expect Bowden to be fired before the end of the season. If you ignore the won-loss record this year, and simply look at the acquisition of personnel, Bowden has done a pretty good job as GM. The Nats have drafted and traded for prospects rather well, and in doing so, provided the foundation for a winning club, if not this year, in a year or two. What Bowden hasn’t done well this year is manage the 25-man roster. Admittedly, the roster problems are even more severe than usual, with all the injuries, but there has been a lot of playing with a short bench. I predict that Bowden will be fired at the end of the season, and it will signal an important organizational change for the Nats. It will signal the transition from the ‘acquiring the pieces’ phase to the ‘putting the pieces together’ phase. Bowden has some important shortcomings that, in my opinion, make him unsuited for the latter task. If I am wrong, and Bowden is fired before the end of the season, it will almost certainly be because other MLB teams are trying to court Mike Rizzo into GM positions, and the only way the Nats can keep Rizzo without crippling Bowden in the trade market is to fire Bowden and make Rizzo the GM.
  • Watch the Nats designate Wily Mo Pena. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened today or tomorrow. If you’re Bowden, and you still love him, send him down (he’ll clear waivers) and let him get his 300 AB in Columbus, and then bring him back in September… maybe. Who would you bring up instead? Well, there are all sorts of choices. Pick one.
  • Watch the development of Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge. It is hard to really appreciate the growth that they’ve experienced thus far, when it rains in our hearts every day, but give Bowden credit on these two acquisitions. Milledge is already as good as Church would have been on this team, and Schneider would be spare parts, with the emergence of Jesus Flores. Dukes has some growing up to do yet, but at least in public, he’s been a good citizen, and he’s flashing the leather and getting good ABs.
  • Watch the team develop some synergy as the injured veterans clear the DL. When healthy, we have a middle-of-the-pack roster, that without the clutch bats of Zim and Nick Johnson, and the steadying presence of Austin Kearns, is exposed and easily pitched around. Clearing the DL will go a long way towards creating more sunny days in our hearts.
  • Watch the development of our starting pitchers. Shawn Hill sure struggled today, but looking back at recent pitching performances, for the most part, the scores and the won-loss record belie the fact that the Nats have pretty good starters. Lannan is going to be spectacular, Bergmann has his flashes of brilliance, Redding and Perez have both been more than serviceable, and when Hill is on, he’s amazing. But all of them have been hung out to dry by their offenses, and while one might say that what happens at the plate is not related to what happens on the mound, the question is, how long can a pitcher pitch with no margin of error? When our bats give the starters a lead, the pitchers will be dazzling… and none of that addresses the talented arms in the minors waiting to come up.

I am disappointed that the Nats are not on the road to 85 wins this year. Before I started blogging, I was Professor Emeritus in the “Glass Half Full Department”, and as you can see, I revert to my roots. But that being said, I think we will soon see the end of the Bowden era, and for no other reason than it will shake up the clubhouse a bit, a change in the coaching staff, particularly with regard to Lenny Harris. But there are other lessons to be learned this season and chemistry to build, so don’t expect too much change before October. Making changes now sends the message of panic and instability, neither of which is what the Nats need.

The medicine tastes awful, doesn’t it?

Things I Got This Weekend

I am back in Anchorage after a weekend in Seattle. I went to Safeco Field for each of the three games, and here’s what I got:

  • I got a nasty sunburn on Sunday. Aparently Alaskans are not designed for temperate latitude sun.
  • I got to see the Nats sweep the Mariners. I came away from the first game thinking that it was mostly the luck of a poor pitcher, but my opinion has changed some. The Nats got some timely hitting in the second inning Friday night, and made the most of it… though I think the Nats don’t win that game without the DH (Pena singled in the second, pitcher would have bunted). Most of the moving parts worked well on Saturday and Sunday.
  • I got an Adrian Beltre Bobblehead.
  • I got Ryan Zimmerman’s autograph (and John Lannan, Tim Redding and Wil Nieves. Good thing I got Nieves, never know what is going to happen to him).
  • I was convinced (yet again) that Jesus Flores is the real deal.
  • I got to impress some Seattleites by predicting (at three different games) a Felipe Lopez groundout, 4-3, a Jose Vidro groundout, 4-3 and a Wily Mo Pena strikeout. How hard can any of those predictions be? In all three cases, they came up with runners on base.
  • I got to enjoy Safeco Field. All the things that people say about the place are true. Plus, when you walk around wearing Nats gear, they treat you like a guest. One of the hosts gave me her secret route out from the ballpark, which worked like a charm. Lots of people asked where I was from, and if I had come from DC to watch the games. Everyone was friendly and courteous. Reminded me of 1/(Citizens Bank Park).
  • I got to see JimBo on the field with his gal pal and another couple. He was wearing some ratty jeans, but his girlfriend looked nice. I didn’t say hello – I am not sure I want to be seen in public with him.

I couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Seattle. But I am still conflicted about our boys. But I am starting to think that when people get healthy things may start to change. A healthy Kearns spells the end for Wily Mo. Dukes (despite his run-allowing error today) has locked up an outfield spot, though I think that he might be a better centerfielder than Milledge. A healthy Zim spells the end for Lopez – and by the way, I would love to hear from the SABRmetricians out there about how much of a difference there is defensively between Zim and his replacements. My non-scientific answer is, a ton.

Know what else I got this weekend? Some reason to hope that things are going to get better.

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