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

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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