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

The Blind Date

One year ago today, you and I, and the thousands of Planetarians that faithfully rotate around the centerfield gate on Half Street, SE (some of us from afar), were in a different universe. A year ago today, the center of our universe was on East Capitol Street, and many of us were making the soggy walk from the Stadium-Armory Metro to RFK on Little League day, to see the Nats play the Padres.

It was a very different year last year. Or was it?

Nats 2007 record on June 3: 23-34, 13 games behind the Mets.

Nats 2008 record on June 3: 24-34, 9.5 games behind the Phillies.

So why the heck are we, the Planetarians,  so cranky this year? The Nats are essentially at the same place, standings-wise, as they were last year (to be correct, we’re actually a half game ahead).

It is because last year, we had very low expectations of the Nats. We expected 120 losses, and except for the first month of the season, we got something better than our expectations. Basically, 2007 was a blind date – we expected very little, but got about what we hoped for.

So here we are in 2008, and our date has new clothes and a new doo, in the form of a shiny, new stadium. Add to that the national television exposure and a dramatic walk-off win on opening day, the 3-0 start, and the perception that the Nats had helped themselves by acquiring lots of young talent, and it didn’t take long before the fans thought that this was going to be quite a different year from last year. When Barry Svrluga asked us to “Pick Your Won-Loss Record”on March 29, most of us (including me) had the Nats’ record quite a bit above .500 – though quite a few were below, too. So far, it seems that none of us are too pleased with the results.

Here’s the difference: The Nats should be better. Regardless of what Ryan Church is doing this year in New York, Milledge is a better talent. Does he need some work? Yes. But I think we’re seeing the best you’ll get from Church, and there’s still plenty of upside with Milledge. Flores is at least as good as Schneider. If Dukes finds his stroke and stays out of trouble, Bowden robbed the stage picking him up. Guzman is having a year that has people wondering whether he should be extended rather than allowed to walk at the end of his contract. Certainly, at $4 million a year, he’s a bargain, playing as he is now. The Nats bullpen will be better when Cordero is back, and all signs point to the fact that the Nats actually have a credible starting pitching corps, and the depth to take an injury or two. If only we could get another third of an inning out of the starters… All in all, the Nats since-the-slump .500 play just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The recurring theme that we hear about the Nats is frustration. But I am concerned.  I suppose that it is good that we’re not hearing ‘panic’ coupled with the frustration. But as a dedicated and thorough consumer of the media surrounding the Nationals, there seems to be a certain laissez-faire attitude surrounding the team, as if the lack of offense was just a period of time to be endured, rather than a problem that needs to be addressed. I don’t know that Lenny Harris is the wrong guy to be the Nats hitting coach, but the terms “growing into the job” and “on the job training” don’t instill confidence in the fan base, and certainly not in me.

Say what you will about Paul Lo Duca, but I think he’s the only one that has expressed any public embarrassment about both his play and the play of the team. Of course, he’s on the DL, and has essentially been beaten out for his job by Jesus Flores – an opportunity Flores would never have had without Lo Duca’s injury.

I am patient, an I’ve drunk “The Plan’s” Kool-aid. But even I am having my crisis of faith.