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

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.

Rash Decisions

First, let me say… I don’t do the armchair GM thing. There are tons of bloggers eminently more unqualified than I am to tell Mike Rizzo how to run the Nats. I see myself more as a psychic than a GM.

So yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of the Marlins has opened a rift into the psychic world, and have provided me the answer (which I already knew) as to how the Nats will solve their outfield problem.

To be fair, and to provide some empirical support for the results from the tea-leaf-reading, a few weeks back I was talking to Mike Henderson of NationalsPride.com, and I told him this very scenario. I honestly thought it would have played out in spring training, but between our strange economy and the still-slightly-muddy waters in the Nats front office, the True Course of Fate has yet to be revealed to Rizzo.

The Nats will trade Lastings Milledge for (almost anyone).

Almost anyone? Give me a break… the rift into the psychic world isn’t that wide that I have both pieces of this puzzle. It was just one game, and against the Marlins, to boot. How much psychic energy could be released in that contest? For heaven’s sake, ESPN barely knows the game took place!

Trading Milledge makes the most sense. Dunn… very funny. Kearns - there’s the matter of the King’s Ransom the Nats are paying him, and it is a walk year. He’s going to perform if he expects to play next year. Willingham is a young, and his failure (combined with the potential failure with Olsen) would mean that we gave away Bonifacio for nothing… so the Nats are “all in” with him. Dukes has the most upside and is still untradeable.

Who’s left? Ocho-Cinco.

This would solve a lot more problems than it would create. Dukes would have a permanent, play-everyday home in center. My guess is he shines. Kearns could play there to spell Dukes, Willingham can play either corner (and probably be close to as good as Milledge in center defensively). Willie Harris can play the outfield, too. The two problems you’re left with is who leads off, and does removing Milledge  from the team affect how Dukes (a childhood friend)relates to the world off the field.

Still unconvinced? Of those that one would conceiveably trade, which of them do you get the most for?

Milledge.

What happens if Dukes gets hurt? J-Max. Bernardina.

Will Milledge kill us when we face him? Of course. Trade him to the American League. You face him three games every three years.

To be honest, Milledge continues to do all the little things that drive me crazy. The revelation about being fined for being late for a team meeting is just one more. His comments about his work habits had me a little put-off, too.

… And I think he was given a walk this spring. He should have had to compete for a spot, just like everyone else. Perhaps Acta is crazy like a fox, showcasing Milledge as the shoo-in starting center fielder in anticipation of a trade. On the other hand, perhaps there was something in the water at Shea that makes the two of them particularly loyal to each other.

Boz was right in Nationals Journal today… it is too early for panic – it is only one game. But sometimes that one game gives us a little clarity about what needs to be done. This is how Order will be restored to the Nats Universe.

Am I sure? No. But psychic rifts help.

Potpourri

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 11:31 am November 12, 2008

Here are some short notes on the latest Nats News:

The Trade – I think there is some danger in calling this “The Trade”. Perhaps I will reserve !!!THE TRADE!!! for the real one (that hasn’t happened yet). Olsen and WIllingham for Bonifacio and two minor leaguers? This is a very good trade. Even if Smolinski and P. J. Dean turn out to be stars, I think it is safe to say that nobody would have predicted that today. The worst case scenario is that Olsen replaces Odalis Perez (OK, the real worst-case scenario is that everyone ends up on the DL, but lets forget that one for the moment). Olsen is probably better than that… and certainly younger. As for Willingham, who doesn’t need a disciplined bat with pop? The biggest problem with Willingham is where to put him. I think the Nats are committed to Milledge and Dukes, I think they’re not ready to give up on Kearns (neither am I, though I think ultimately he’s the kind of hitter that needs to be surrounded with good hitters to be effective), and then there’s Wily Mo Pena. I think even a healthy Pena ends up riding the pine. As Bowden said… competition.

One more thing… What is it about the Marlins that have made them Nats killers? Perhaps someone can ask Willingham and Olsen.

New Unis - I’ve always been partial to red. So, the red script curly-W-based ‘Washington’ on the road greys works great for me. Not sure about the alternate blues. Honestly, I’d rather see the Nats play in the Homestead Greys unis for those five or six games a year. In fact, save the alternate blues for the annual July 4th afternoon game. That’s it. (That’s right, the July 4th home game should be an annual tradition. Presidential opener, too.)

More on Unis – Well, not really unis, but logos. I am an expat Washingtonian, and I grew up with the Senators. I had a red curly W cap as a kid (I thought it stood for ‘Wigi’). But I loved that logo… and I still do love that logo – though I have been told that there are subtle differences between the Senators “W” and the Nats “W”.

What I haven’t liked, and continue not to like, is the “Nationals” logo, with the block letters over the baseball. My reasoning is that from a marketing standpoint, it defeats the purpose of having a logo in the first place.

Nationals Logo

The point of having a logo is that it is a symbol that represents the brand, without having to spell out the name of the brand itself. Almost every sports team has a logo which completely stands alone, without words that represents the team, and those who are sensitive to that industry universally recognize the logo and the associated meaning. You can even extend that beyond sports – think of Nike’s swoop, McDonald’s arches, AT&T’s globe – even in cases where the logo has words in it, the logo itself is recognizeable without having to read the words. Think 7-Eleven.

The “Nationals” logo, in 2005, served a purpose. Most baseball fans thought that the Expos were invisible in the first place, and moving them to Washington hardly made them more visible. Having the word “Nationals” in the logo helped to establish the brand. But here we are, five seasons later. The team surely hasn’t distingushed itself on the field to the point where the casual baseball fan knows immediately who the Nats are… but certainly, nobody (except play-by-play guys) thinks the Nats are the Expos, and would somehow look at a Curly W and think ‘Montreal’.

When the Lerners took over the Nats, they said that there would be more Curly W’s. That’s good. Now what we need are less of the other logo.