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

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.

2009 Season Preview

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games,Organization,Players,Teams — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 2:00 pm April 4, 2009

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to getting out to play baseball. I played on a neighborhood team, so the games were scheduled. Some days you’d wake up on the morning of a big game, and clouds would fill the sky, and a tune of the transistor radio hinted at a day of rain. Would it clear up in time to play? It was hard to say. But the difference between a great day and disappointment was mostly left up to fate.

That sums the upcoming 2009 Nats season. We’re sitting here on the weekend before the start of the season, and as we mull over how the season will unfold over our metaphorical bowl of Cheerios (in my house, it would have been Cap’n Crunch) the sky is indeed full of clouds.

But we’ve all been here before, too. For as many days that started out cloudy and rainy, some ended up in bright sunshine with the smell of leather gloves and the sounds of bats on balls, and others staring out the window at falling rain as the sun set. The difference between them had little to do with what we did, though I must say that a couple of hearty chants often did the trick:

Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day…

The problem for the fans is that the cloudy day we face today is just one in a string of cloudy and rainy days, all of which have ended predictably: maybe  tomorrow… maybe next year. We’re wondering if we’re ever going to see the sun again.

There is some reason to he hopeful. The one that has surprised me the most is the departure of Jim Bowden. While I am not surprised that he is gone (I predicted it last summer, though I can hardly call it prescient – it wasn’t the circumstance I imagined at all), what has surprised me how toxic an influence Bowden turned out to be on the organization. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but as an organizational communication consultant, I couldn’t know that – I could only suspect it. So now that Bowden is gone, the twenty-four teams that wouldn’t answer the phone when their caller ID displayed a call with a 202 area code… have suddenly started answering their phones.

I see some blue sky between those clouds.

And we have an outfield! In fact, we have two outfields! Unfortunately, only one can play at a time. This will be the first and most immediate test of Mike Rizzo, the de-facto General Manager. A good trade here is worth three hearty sun-dances. But there’s no clear-cut answer here, either.

Three catchers, too… the worst part of that situation is that the Nats are going to have to make the choice between Wil Nieves and Josh Bard.  Wil Nieves did a great job at backup last year, and Bard is no slouch, either. We’ve improved at a position that we didn’t realize we needed to improve.

On the pitching front, we have three home-grown starters, all of whom have been outstanding this spring training… and it is Olsen and Cabrera (acquired by trade and free agency, respectively) who raise the biggest question marks in our heads. As for the bullpen, I think we’re all pleasantly surprised that what started out looking like a weakness is at least passable.

In fact, it is hard to look at the team and see where the Nats aren’t just flat out better than they were last year – at just about every position.

But day after day of rain has taken its toll on the collective psyche of Nats Town. Add to it the stresses of our poor economy, and the days of our irrational exuberance that comes – in fact, that we expect - as the season starts… they seem so far away, don’t they?

There are lots of reasons to look out the window and know that the feel of the bat in our hands and the pop of balls hitting leather are about to be ours. But we’ve gotten our hopes up in the past, only to have the rain fall, and then get harder, and turn expectation into disappointment. What’s worse, as we’ve all sat and hoped for a break in the weather, we’ve lost sight of game, and instead obsessed about the rain. It is almost as if our obsession becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is the saddest part of this season to me: The magic of baseball is that the slate is wiped clean each year. We as a community start from zero, and live the daily soap opera that is baseball for the next six months. We can’t imagine the joys and sorrows, the dramas and comedies that will be our team’s season this year. But many of the citizens of Nats Town can’t seem to get past all the rain to realize that we’re about to take the field once again. That thing we’ve waited for – for the slate to be wiped clean – is upon us once again. And just as we’re about to accept the sunshine and take the field, we get a memo from the “Glass-Half-Empty Department”:

Looks like rain.

I am not going to predict a record, or a position in the division, or go out on some limb and start jumping up and down. I will say this – the Nats are a better team – by light-years – than they were last year. They can only be healthier, both in a physical sense, and in an organizational sense, than they were in 2008. Our young men are a year older, and our old men are playing golf. There is a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be optimistic about.

The ritual starts again Monday in Miami, and a week later, it will be renewed again in Washington. The grass will be green, the sun will shine. The slate will be wiped clean. I will dream of baseball in October… no matter how implausible that might be.

And to the “Glass-Half-Empty Department”: Enough with the memos.

All the Eggs in One Basket

Filed under: Games,Organization,Teams — Tags: , — Wigi @ 12:15 pm October 20, 2008

I don’t think that most Nats fans have any trouble figuring out who to root for in the World Series.

Back a few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my Dream Matchup, and lo and behold, I got my wish.

Forget about the Rays for a moment. As a red-cap-at-home, blue-cap-on-the-road wearing Nats fan, can you really watch the Phillies and root for them? I can’t… in fact, back a few months ago I had this to say about the Phillies. Had Boston made it to the World Series, I would have lost interest – for no other reason than they couldn’t both lose (which is one of my recent laments about a lot of playoff series).

But the Rays bring two things to this series that should be of interest to Nats fans. First, their last-to-first turnaround is certainly historic, and gives Nats fans some reasons to believe that strange things can happen… and lets just hope they start happening on Half Street next year. But more importantly, the Rays are part of a movement of small-market, post-steroid-era teams that seem to find themselves in the playoffs almost every year (think Arizona and Florida)… the model the Nats seem to be trying to emulate.

The problem that I have with this small-market post-steroid model is its sustainability… but I think this is less of an issue in Washington than in other places, because the in other places, the small-market model is forced on the team, whereas in Washington, the team isn’t really small market, so there isn’t a need for a fire sale after you win the World Series.

There will be a lot for Nats fans to watch this World Series. Not only is it an ‘Anybody-but-the-Phillies’ series, it will be a proof-of-concept for homegrown, post-steroid baseball. So, sit back and relax, and enjoy the games… and let the schadenfreude begin!

Dark Days For Nats Fans

Filed under: Fan Experience,Games,Teams — Tags: , , , , , , , — Wigi @ 3:37 pm October 6, 2008

OK… Dark for me… me and my personal prejudices about the playoffs.

The problem with the Division Championship Series is that you just can’t watch all the games… and I haven’t. It would be easier if I was in the east, because at least some of them would start after I got off work. But no matter… we’re approaching the end of the first round, and there sure isn’t much to root for.

I spent yesterday evening watching an entertaining game between the Angels and the Red Sox, but realized in the 11th inning I was rooting for Mike Scioscia. Red Sox… Scioscia. Red Sox… Scioscia. Can’t they both lose? You know it’s bad when you’re nostalgic for Jose Guillen.

And in the National League, neither palatable team survived. So now we’re left with the Dodgers and the Phillies. Can’t THEY both lose?

The only glimmer of hope is the Rays – they hold the lead, and they are at least one version of what the Nats might aspire to. I think they have the White Sox handled, but it is hardly over… but then they have to face either the Red Sox or the Angels. I can’t imagine them surviving against either team.

So now I am left with rooting for a hopeless underdog – The Rays (at least, I think they’re hopeless), and my schadenfreude pick, the Phillies – and I am rooting for them only so I can see them get beat in the World Series by the Rays.

Gosh, there are so many awful scenarios for Nats fans, and only one good one… and even that one has the Phillies in the World Series.

We really should do something about this next season. Perhaps we should nominate the Nats to play in the postseason? Think they’d go for it?

Assuming Facts Not In Evidence: Bowden is Incompetent

Intro … Bowden is Incompetent… Aaron Crow SidebarLerners are cheap

There seem to be a lot of people who are unhappy with Jim Bowden. Interestingly, very few of them happen to be the principals of the Washington Nationals.

Bowden didn’t sign Aaron Crow. Bowden signed Lo Duca and Estrada, and ended up stuck with their contracts, rather than starting Flores with the Nats. Bowden traded for Kearns and Lopez. Bowden traded for Wily Mo Pena. I could go on (and on). Suffice to say, Bowden’s list of sins is long.

Unless, of course, these are not sins at all.

Fans have no problem spotting poor performances on the field. Every fan has his or her favorites, and his or her list of players that need to be playing somewhere else. Watching a team like the Nationals is particularly painful when, for most people, the second list is considerably longer than the first. But having a list of players you would rather see somewhere else… or perhaps, a list of players that you would prefer were never here in the first place, should not be misconstrued as a referendum on the tenure of a general manager, whether he be Jim Bowden or anyone else.

Acquiring Major League players is not an exact science. In fact, it is not a science at all, but rather, an art. Billy Beane and other proponents of the Moneyball mindset would like you to believe that player acquisition can more or less be distilled down to an equation. But in reality, it can’t. Every GM has a philosophy about how the game should be played and which players best embody the skills needed to play the game that way. Implementing that philosophy takes all that into account, plus the specific conditions at the time – the team’s budget, the availability of players and prospects in your system to trade, the current state of the season (or offseason), etc.

The problem with fans evaluating the performance of a general manager is that fans have almost no information (in real time) about any of this… and for that matter, any idea what the GM does day to day. Fans do not have access to scouting information. Fans do not have information about injuries. Fans do not follow the GM around, listen to his phone calls, sit in on meetings, talk to managers and coaches, etc. Most importantly, GMs are not accountable to the fans, and so the fan’s standard of competence isn’t even relevant.

When fans do get insight into the workings of the organization and the job of the general manager, much of it comes in the form of formal statements or presentations created for fan consumption – such as a radio interview or a fan event with a Q and A session. It is great when those things happen, but it is fair to say that whatever comes of those statements and presentations is canned content for the fans, and that there really isn’t anything of substance said… and certainly that is true with the Nationals.

Even if one looks at the comments that Bowden made regarding the status of Chad Cordero’s 2009 contract, no reasonable person would be surprised by the fact that Cordero would be non-tendered, given the circumstances. What bothered people most is how it was done, and I thought that it was rather boorish to have it play out the way it did. Even so, those are style points, and for the most part, they don’t affect how the GM does his job.

Here is what we do know about the Nats and Bowden: Bowden arrived with the Nats at a time where the ownership had a conflict of interest with the rest of the league. By the time that conflict of interest was resolved and the Lerners were sold the team, the minor league system was bereft of talent. The team, under the stewardship of the Lerners and the tenure of Kasten, implemented a plan to rebuild the team through the revitalization of the farm system, much as Kasten did in Atlanta with the Braves (The Plan). This involved good scouting, strong drafts, trading performing veteran players for prospects, developing your own talent within the system, and the judicious signing of free agents – low budget at first, and then big names when it came to the last piece or pieces of a championship team.

What part of that plan hasn’t Bowden done? In fact, he’s done it all, just as promised.

But what about Aaron Crow? How is letting your number one draft pick walk part of “The Plan?”

Good question. The answer is, none of us know – and can’t know, because teams (and agents and players) just don’t share this kind of information. My guess is that Crow never intended to sign with the Nats, either because he disliked the idea of playing here, or he was hiding something – an injury, perhaps - that affected his ability to play. By orchestrating the failed negotiation, he retains his draft value in the future… and who better to make the patsy of a failed negotiation than someone whose reputation has been called into question, such as Bowden? That gambit doesn’t work with another GM.

The problem is not whether Bowden is competent, or whether he is a good judge of baseball talent, or a good GM. For most fans, the real issue comes down to not liking Bowden, and at the same time, not liking the team they’re watching. Sure, fans can point to particular transactions and say that the Nats should have done this, and not done that… Or that, and maybe they should have done this, too. The fan substitutes his or her amateur 20-20 hindsight for the judgement of the GM, and the fan always comes out smelling like roses, as he or she sits in their $40 seats watching the latest four-pitch walk or two base error, or GIDP. The bottom line is, no fan is qualified to evaluate the performance of the general manager. Fans have no meaningful idea what is being asked of Bowden and whether he is or isn’t doing what it… and none of us are qualified to be general managers or team presidents… Otherwise we would be GMs or team presidents.

As an outside observer, I believe Bowden has been given a specific mandate, and he appears to have done exactly what has been asked of him. Does that mean he is beyond criticism? Absolutely not! I have my own reasons to be unsure of Bowden and of his future with the Nats. But none of my questions have much to do with who was traded for whom, or who we drafted. I don’t believe that the Nats are anywhere except exactly where we were told they would be at the end of this season. Sure, their record this year is worse by quite a bit, and it was one of the more painful seasons to watch. But the Nationals are fundamentally a much better organization in almost any meaningful way (except won-loss record) than they were at the end of last year. All of the facts are entirely consistent with the implementation of “The Plan.” The problem is, most of the fans can’t stand it.

There may be good reasons to get rid of Jim Bowden. I haven’t heard anyone articulate them yet.

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.

Depressing…

It seems the Nats are losing a lot lately (though as I write this, they’re three of their last five, and leading the Dodgers in the sixth). And I am depressed.

But not so much about the team. Yeah, I had higher hopes – really high hopes. I was the one that stole the term, “Irrational Exuberance” from Alan Greenspan. Greenspan was right, and apparently I was also right (in my wrongness). But as frustrating as it is to watch the Nats sometimes, it is nothing compared to reading the fan commentary in the blogs. As irrationally exuberant as I was in March (and especially after the Nats starting the year 3-0), the most boisterous of the blogosphere are irrationally vitriolic. Pick a target – Felipe Lopez, Paul LoDuca, Jim Bowden, The Lerners, Stan Kasten, Austin Kearns, Luis Ayala… even Ryan Zimmerman and Manny Acta – All of them have had critics crying for their firing, trade, release or public flogging.

All because the Nats are a last-place team.

Is this an unexpected result?

Lots of people hoped that the Nats would have been a lot more fun to watch. Whether that means flirting with a pennant race, or just being a .500 team, or even just a chance to see the Nats win every time you come to the ballpark – Most of us hoped for something more than we’re getting. As it turned out, what we’ve gotten is something we hadn’t considered – the historically-bad team we were promised last year – or at least, something close to it.

Back in June I wrote this, because it was clear back then that the Nats weren’t going anywhere, and the important things to watch and look for this season had little to do with the specific outcomes of games. I still believe what I wrote, especially the last line – “The medicine tastes awful, doesn’t it?” The problem is, the medicine was unnecessarily bitter.

If you’ve waded around this blog, or know me personally, you know that my academic and professional background is in organizational communication. One of the most important tenets of getting the most from your organization is to have a clear, organization-wide philosophy – and this is exactly where the Nats got themselves in trouble with their fans this year.

Once the Nationals organization realized that this year was about preparing the organization for growth and success in 2009, 2010 and beyond, each game became a marketing exercise to impress visiting scouts. We saw Paul Lo Duca play all over the field. We saw Felipe Lopez sleepwalk through a summer. Neither deserved to play, with healthier and better-performing alternatives available. But the Nats were not about putting the best team on the field every night, but rather, about getting the most from their personnel investments. When doing your best (by playing your best players) isn’t your organization’s primary goal, then your employees (and players) rarely do your best.

Fans may not have thought about this explicitly, but most knew that they weren’t seeing the best team on the field every night… and even when the best team was on the field, you always got the sense that the outcome of the game was secondary to making sure the scouts in attendance saw all of the goods that were available for trade.

The catharsis we all felt when the Nats released LoDuca and Lopez, and the hot streak that the team set out on immediately afterward, shows how quickly the change in philosophy can work. A lot of people thought it was about the addition of new, young players, but more likely, it was addition by subtraction.

I don’t blame fans for being frustrated, disgusted or even angry about this season. The Nats front office has created a lot of their own problems and left it to the fans to endure a 90 percent product. But regardless, the Nats foibles are short-term ones, that come the end of September, will be meaningless. The Nats will have made important progress towards building a perennial winner, and really, that is all we could reasonably expect from the 2008 season.

Which brings me back to the depressing, vitriolic blogosphere. Be angry. Be upset. Be frustrated. But the incessant, shrill whining about how cheap the Lerners are, or whether Bowden is a competent general manager, or even if Lenny Harris should be fired – is tiresome. I might be inclined to listen if the blogosphere were populated by billionaires, Major League GMs and hitting coaches. But mostly, the blogosphere is made up of men and women just like me – passionate about the Nationals, but for the most part, no more knowledgeable or competent at any of those positions than that guy sitting on the Metro reading the newspaper. Repeating your truth over and over doesn’t make it a universal truth.

But apparently, it makes an already bitter medicine even more bitter.

Holding a Grudge

Do you remember where you were on the evening of September 30, 1971?

If you do, then you know exactly why today is an important day in Washington baseball history.

I remember where I was on that night – I was in my room, with my transistor radio, listening to the last Senators game ever. I was ten years old. They left town. I’ve never forgiven them.

“They” were so embarrassed by the shabby and thoughtless way they treated me and the thousands of other Senators fans that they left behind, that they had to change their name. Now they’re known as the Texas Rangers. And they’re coming to Washington tonight, after 37 years, pretending like nothing happened.

Bastards.

What’s wrong with them? Do they think that ten year old kids just forget about being left to fend for themselves to complete their discovery of baseball?

At some point when I was in my early 20′s, and I was mobile enough to make rather frequent trips to Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles, I realized that the Senators moving to Texas had made a huge difference in my life. When I was a kid, I remember carrying my transistor radio around while my mother was grocery shopping, listening to spring training games on the radio, and at the same time wishing that the thermometer would inch up to 50 degrees. I didn’t go anywhere in the summer without my baseball glove, and there was a certain rhythm and routine to my day, that always ended in a baseball game, or a game of catch. Televised games were a rarity back then, but my childhood schedule revolved around those televised games, and of course, I would listen on the radio whenever I could.

When I was a kid, trips to RFK Stadium were relatively rare – perhaps two or three a season. I remember my first game as if it were yesterday, and I remember being in awe of the incredible green that was the inside of RFK Stadium. I remember watching sitting in the mezzanine with my mom and dad and two brothers on a Sunday afternoon against the Yankees. I remember the last opening day, where the Senators shut out the Oakland A’s, 8-0.

That night in late September, as the Senators took the lead against the Yankees, I was thrilled. I remember thinking that perhaps something would change, and the Senators would stay after all. I remember Frank Howard hitting that home run, and listening to the crowd roar on the radio. I remember the chaos as the fans twice stormed onto the field. I remember the Senators led 7-5, but the official final score was a 9-0 loss by forfeit.

There was no spring in 1972. Add to that, the renaissance of the Redskins and the tenure of George Allen, and the transformation of a baseball fan into a football fan had begun. I no longer carried my baseball glove with me in the summers. I think I went to a baseball game at Memorial Stadium that next year, for “Safety Patrol Day”, but I can’t even remember who played, or any of the details of the game. As great as the Orioles were then they weren’t ‘my’ team, and they weren’t going to take the place of the Senators in my heart. And I tried to find love for the Rangers, but there was something definitely wrong with trying to love someone/something that had abandoned you.

It wasn’t like my love for baseball died, but I have often wondered how my life would have been different if baseball had been a bigger part of my youth – or at least, the part after 1971. Instead of getting dusty and dirty at the diamond, I hung out at the swimming pool. Who knows what other forms of juvenile delinquency might have been avoided if we’d only had a local baseball team?

When the Expos moved to Washington at the end of 2004, I was caught by surprise at how strongly I reacted to the news. And while most of my family still lives in the Washington Area, I live in Alaska, and lead a decidedly un-east-coast existence. But I have made room in my life, and in my heart for the Nationals, and I follow them as closely as I might if I lived in Silver Spring, rather than Anchorage. Heck, it’s only June, and I’ve already seen them in person six times this season (I am 6-0 in games I’ve attended this year… are you paying attention, Stan?).

So tonight, I am faced with the homecoming 37 years in the making – the night that the Senators return to Washington. Admittedly, these are not the same Senators that left in 1971; ownership has changed hands at least a couple times. I couldn’t be bothered by the exact details. What matters is, it is them. They are the ones that abandoned me, and abandoned Washington.

We might not have realized it, but we suffered those 33 seasons without baseball. A whole generation of Washingtonians never got to know what Washington Baseball was all about. Girl at work (June 19, 2008 at 4:30 PM) had it exactly right. Bad baseball is better than no baseball, and thirty-three years of being told that black-and-orange was more than good enough for us… was simply not good enough. And while there are a lot of people who feel anger and animosity towards Peter Angelos for preventing the relocation of baseball to Washington for so long, it is time we remembered how we got to that situation in the first place.

I wish I could be there.

I would boo. I would root against them as hard as I could. I would bring signs to the game. I would think of caustic things to say. I would hope that 30,000 of my fellow fans will feel the same way, but was I said above, Washington is a generation removed from the Senators, and for some, memory is mercifully short.

I hope we kick their ass,  9-0 in each game. I hope they beg to get out of town on Sunday. Seeing them again in Washington in six years will be too soon.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass when you leave.

Malaise

Watching the Nats is like tending a campfire on a rainy weekend. You feel miserable, and desperately want things to get going, so you can warm up and be comfortable. You poke and prod, add kindling and wood, huff and puff, and every once in a while, you get a flash and some heat and light, but mostly what you get is a smelly, smouldering pile of ashes.

Flashes:

  • Elijah Dukes – He’s a kid. A kid with man-sized problems. But a kid that works hard, loves the game, and has shown improvement over the season – but most importantly, improvement that has come from learning and hard work, and a bit of luck. His discipline at the plate is getting better, he’s getting on base, and with his move to the second spot in the order, he’s getting pitches to hit. Despite two base running gaffes today, he is mostly competent on the basepaths, and is going to get better with experience. Unfortunately, he cost the Nats at least one run, and perhaps more today, but that’s not going to rain on my parade – there were plenty of other players that had opportunities to perform, but didn’t. Throw in the personal redemption angle, and he’s quickly becoming my favorite player… an important, if not fragile distinction.
  • Lastings Milledge – Like Dukes, he has steadily improved through the season, apparently through hard work and observation. I have seen a number of people from the “Glass Half Full Department” comment online that they believe that when he fully matures, he might be a twenty to thirty home run a year hitter. We can hope. I think there’s some noticeable improvement in his defense, and the SABRmetricians among you can tell me if his fielding and range are indeed getting better. Is he a center fielder? We can hope. There are still plenty of unanswered questions about Milledge, but for the unconvinced among you, I have these two words: Nook Logan.
  • Cristian Guzman – The only player on the team to blaze out of the gate, Guzman’s performance is showing that last year’s short but sweet performance wasn’t a fluke. The horse racing analogy is apt with Guzman, because if you look at past performance, you wonder which of the last four years is the real Guzzie. A shoulder injury and poor eyesight make for a convincing argument that 2008 is the norm and 2005 is the anomaly. The Planetarians as a whole would almost certainly feel differently if one or both of those had not happened or were addressed earlier. He’ll make Bowden’s (or whomever the GM is) job more difficult come November. Were I the GM, with no credible prospects in the pipeline, I’d be wanting an extension now.
  • Jesus Flores – There’s not much to say, except that Flores is the catcher of the future, and the future is now. He hits, his defense is good (but could be better), he calls a great game, and the pitchers love him.
  • Starting Pitching – The Nats have, for the most part, gotten more than they bargained for from their starters. Putting Perez on the DL isn’t so painful, given that you can have him back for his next start, and you have a number of credible replacement parts. Thank goodness for good drafts and smart veteran signings.

Ashes:

  • Felipe Lopez – The poster child for malaise. If he did nothing else other than hustle on every play, he could hit the same and field the same, and I would feel a lot better about him being out there. But he doesn’t, and I don’t. And if he did hustle on every play, he would hit better and he would field better. Were it not for all the injuries…
  • Wily Mo Pena – Man, I really want him to get ahold of just one ball… just one. But he’s a liability at the plate, and a liability in left field.
  • Paul Lo Duca – The “Glass Half Full Department” thinks that his clubhouse experience on winning teams could be a valuable asset. But anyone that enjoys tinkering with chemistry knows that sometimes when you mix things together, you get pretty colors, and other times you get maiming explosions. Add to that deteriorating skills both at the plate and behind the plate, and it becomes clear that the only person that is threatened by Lo Duca’s presence on the roster is Don Sutton.

What I want to know is, why is it raining in the first place? This team is more talented than last year’s team, by quite a bit. One can point to injuries, but the Nats have always had them, and this year is not that much worse than others.

My biggest concern for the season is that the Nats are learning how to lose, rather than building character and learning how to win. Getting some players back from the DL will make a huge difference. I like Belliard, but he’s no Zim. I miss Nick. A .250 hitting Austin Kearns is a huge upgrade over Pena. But until they’re back, the team is broken… both in a physical sense, and from where I sit, in their heads.

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