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VISIT NEW BELTWAY BOYS SITE

This site has had problems for some time, and so I have moved the Beltway Boys here. Same content, just a different url.

Thanks,

Farid
 

HOUSTON, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM

[August 22nd] -- Nook Logan to Nationals' management team: "Oh yeah?"

There were two Nats' outfielders who realized their position on the team was likely to change with the addition of Wily Mo Pena to the mix. Ryan Church, who was so upset at first that he simply wouldn't talk to reporters, and Nook Logan, who was as silent as Church, but in a quiet way. This isn't the first time that Church hasn't reacted well to change. But Logan? Well, it appears that Nook Logan likes to be challenged. It wasn't too long ago, after all, that Ryan Langerhans was given the majority of Logan's starts in center. No problem; he just worked harder. And now it's Wily Mo Pena who threatens to steal Logan's thunder. Again, no problem.

Seriously. No problem.

Logan got a start in Houston last night and went 5-6 with 3 RBI's, raising his average to .287. As long as he keeps hitting like this - or close to this - he's going to force Manny Acta to keep him in the lineup. At this point the Nationals have four starting outfielders, and the one guy who's guaranteed to start every night - Austin Kearns - is the one guy of the four that probably doesn't deserve that opportunity. What's the answer? I say start Logan and Pena and platoon Church and Kearns.

Joel Hanrahan didn't pitch particularly well, but hung around long enough to win his third game of the year. His ERA ballooned from 2.95 to 3.42, but Hanrahan -0verall anyway - continues to impress. The guys at the front of the rotation are supposed to win their games, the guys at the back of the rotation are supposed to give the team a chance to win. And so far, Hanrahan has done just that.

Ryan Zimmerman has been a puzzle this year. He was very consistent last year, so consistent in fact that some scouts said that he was "slump proof." He's certainly shown that to be a fallacy this year. Twice in the last three weeks he's gotten hot and raised his batting average above .270 only to slide back to the low .260's. He's on track to hit .271-25-90, numbers similar to last year (the lower number of RBI's is more a reflection on the team's poor offense this year than Zimmerman's inability to drive his teammates in).

This 'N That: The Vermont Lake Monsters split a double header last night, though both starters pitched very well. Colton Willems lost his game, giving up no earned runs and 3 hits in 4 innings. Adrian Alaniz is now 7-1 after pitching 5 innings, allowing 2 runs and 5 hits. His ERA is now 1.94 ... Chris Marrero hit his 8th homer with Potomac and raised his average back up to .258 .... Emilano Fruto was the player-to-be-named-later in the Wily Mo Pena trade. Though the Nationals didn't give up "too much" for Pena, they did give up more than I thought they would.

I wrote on Sunday that the 1-6 homestand didn't mean anything in the long run; what mattered was how the team responded in Houston.

So far, so good.


 
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NEW UNI BETTER THAN EXPECTED

[February 16th] --
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TEMPORARY RE-ROUTE

[September 6th] -- For the time being, please click HERE to access the updated Beltway Boys website.

Blogger.com "invited" me to move my blogs to their new beta version which offers, according to them, many new features. They are right; it does. However, they haven't gotten around to installing many of the "old" features, like easily adding photos and artwork to posts!

Until they fix this, please use the alternate site -- www.tbwb.blogspot.com -- please note, it's the same site, but it won't have the last couple of years of archived information available there.

As soon as they fix this problem, you'll find the new "stuff" on the original site.

Thanks for understanding,

Farid
The Beltway Boy

 

NATS LOSE, I GO TO CLASS

[September 5th] -- The Nationals fell to the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, 2-0. Other than that, there's just not much to say, other than I'm off to be indoctrinated into the teaching profession by my friends at the College of Education. Hey, it's September, and the Nats are way out of contention, and nothing of consequence happened during the game. Sometimes you just have to be happy that the upper deck didn't fall down.

 

OH NO, NO NO-NO! (BUT ORTIZ CAME CLOSE)

[September 4th] -- I don't understand how this happens. Last month, Pedro Astacio spun a two-hit complete game shutout after getting pummeled for most of the season. He continued getting pummeled shortly thereafter. On Sunday, Ramon Ortiz, he of the 5.36 ERA, steps to the mound and comes within three outs of throwing the first no-hitter in the Majors since Randy Johnson two years ago. I assume that he'll start getting pummeled shortly as well.

But until then, wow. What a game.

I didn't even notice that anything special was occuring until the 7th inning. As usual, I was busy doing my homework in front of the computer while keeping an eye on the game on mlb.com. I did notice that the game was moving along at a brisk pace, but I didn't notice the no-hitter possibilities until the crowd gave him a large ovation as he walked off the mound. I wasn't holding out much hope, however, until his quick and effortless 1-2-3 8th inning. Things were looking good for only the 3rd no-hitter in Washington baseball history. I said to my son, "The Nationals have to get out of the bottom of the 8th quickly and with no distractions."

It took exactly one pitch for Ramon Ortiz to be distracted. Jorge Sosa, Atlanta's rotation savior last season (and this year's bust), threw a strike that Ortiz tomahawked deep over the left field fence for his first career home run and only his third extra-base hit. Ortiz pumped his fist like Ryan Zimmerman as he rounded first. A couple more hits, another run, a pitching change and twenty minutes later, Ortiz got hit with the double-whammy, a huge distraction, and time enough to cool down. So, I wasn't surprised when Aaron Miles looped Ortiz's 0-1 pitch into right-center field for a base hit, and I was half expecting Albert Pujols' long homer to left field. Too many distractions, too much time. That said, what a wonderful performance by a man who has given relatively few this summer.

Austin Kearns kept his magic bat alive, hitting a two-run home run off of Jason Marquis, his 22nd, and drove in his 77th and 78th of the season. Kudos for Kearns. A week ago, he had a .231 average since coming to the Nationals and had Nook Logan type power numbers. He's now hitting again, and with a strong September, could end the year somewhere near .270-27-75, solid production from a teams, any teams, number five hitter. I don't think his post-trade slump was necessarily a bad thing. He obviously didn't want to leave the Reds, his home town team, and I think there was a bit of "I'm better than Washington" arrogance playing out at RFK. He was humbled by his struggles, and perhaps now will be more of a "team" player. The first five hitters in the team's lineup are as good as it gets (unless you're the Yankees or Mets), and Kearns anchors that group, being the last real chance for the team to drive in runners. A strong Kearns makes a strong Nationals' team.

Frank Robinson announced that Nook Logan would be the team's everyday centerfielder for the rest of the year. From the sounds of it, it's as much finding out what Logan can do as it is telling Ryan Church that he continues to be the last option for the Nationals in center. There is still hints of a bad attitude and poor defense (though only two errors in 153 games as a National) coming from the shadows, and Frank sounded like he's grown weary of Church when he said, "I think we all have a feel for what he's capable of doing and what he's done. I think the jury is still out on him because of the lack of consistency and we probably have a decision to make on him this winter, and all of us feel like we've seen enough to make a pretty good sound decision on him one way or the other, whether he will be a part of this ballclub, going into the spring, or no." Now, let me get this straight. Jose Guillen has a long and sordid history of being a big jerk, probably the biggest jerk on seven different teams, but because he's a true home run threat, people just mutter under their breath about him, but Church, a deeply religious man still trying to find himself, is somehow a cancer that should be jettisoned from the team in favor of a singles-hitter who has proven throughout his career that he can b-a-r-e-l-y hit major league pitching? Sadly, I have no doubt that Church will play his last game as a National when this season comes to a close. Sad, really really sad.

Good job, Ramon. You almost got your 15 minutes of fame.


 

COMEBACK KIDS X 4

[September 3rd] -- NOTE: Just as I was about to push the "new post" button last night, I saw a little notice on the right side of the page, an invitation, if you will, to try Blogger's new "beta" version, full of all kinds of new bells and whistles, guaranteeing me a more professional looking blog. "Cool," I thought. So I pushed that magic button, and after several minutes of anticipation, all my blogs were transferred to the new beta site. So today, I find some art, cut and paste, enhance and romance, and push that magic "new post" button. "We're sorry," the computer tells me, "but not all features are available on beta yet. They will be coming soon." And, of course, I can't switch them back. So, until I can figure out how to get around this, don't look for many pictures here, at least for a while. Memo to me: read the damn fine print next time.

Okay, on to the important stuff.

1918. That was the last time it happened. The Great War, the "war to end all wars," was several months away from that "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" stuff. Woodrow Wilson was still the president, or rather, his wife was. That was the period when the last major league baseball team won four consecutive games that they trailed entering the 8th inning.

Are you amazed? Personally, I'm amazed that someone even knew that was a record that could be broken. That said, doing something that hasn't been accomplished in over eighty-eight years is a pretty impressive, especially for a team in last place. That said, I missed all the theatrics. Between walks to the corner with my daughter, going out to get something to eat, or even just going to the bathroom, I missed each and every comeback. Oh, I saw the lousy innings, but but missed all the history-in-the-making stuff, but I kept thinking, "no way they're going to do it again, so it's safe to step out for a minute." Wrong.

Sunday's win might not have been, however, had it not been for Nook Logan (which is difficult to admit, since I razzed Bowden for picking him up). He was on second when Felipe Lopez hit a single j-u-s-t past the outstretched glove of rookie shortstop Steven Drew. His hit drove in the first run of the inning and opened the gates for Zimmerman's single and Austin Kearn's double to the wall. I didn't think much about it until I read the D-Backs' take on the play. Pete Kerzel writes that Lopez' ball was hit to where Drew should have been stationed, resulting in a double play that should have ended the inning, securing the victory for Arizona. But he wasn't there. "I was trying to hold the runner close, and by the time I got back, I got set and ... I lost it right off the bat," Drew explained. "By the time I picked it up again, it was right at me." So, because of Logan's speed, Drew was shading towards the bag in case Brandon Webb tried to pick him off, causing him to be out of position when Lopez hit the ball.

I lived in St. Louis during the era of "Whitey Ball," when only catcher Darrell Porter and first baseman Jack Clark didn't steal at least 25 bases each year. I saw first-hand how speed changed the way the game was played. I can't count the number of times pick off throws ended up in the outfield, allowing runs to score, or routine balls hit to the infielders were hurried and thrown away because of the runner's speed. It doesn't happen much anymore, but it seems that Mr. Logan can indeed be an impact player by what he does, but also by what he could do. That said, I still vote for Ryan Church as the team's center fielder.

I won't bore you with the synopsies (synopsseses, synopsi?), for each game; rather, let's just meander for a while.

Ryan Zimmerman: Man, I love this guy so much that my wife is beginning to think our 27 year marriage was just a "front." I guess I see him as the face of the Nationals because he is our first true homegrown hero in decades. The last one, I'm thinking, would be Harmon Killebrew. All the stars on the Senators II, Howard, McMullen, etc., came from other teams in trade. Frankly, unlike Brian Schneider, I've been waiting for that "other shoe to drop." I mean, a 21 year old kid can't be that good, right? Now, I've gotten several terse comments about David Wright having a better rookie season, making him the better third baseman. Wright was a year older in his first full year, and while Zimmerman will probably end the year with roughly four less homers and a somewhat lower batting average, he'll also end up with many more RBI's. Wright made 24 errors his first full year; Zimmerman will probably have thirteen by year's end.

Nook Logan:
How come everyone thinks that everyone thinks that Nook Logan is the answer in center? Logan is just a chromosome or two away from being Endy Chavez and Brandon Watson. If they didn't make it, if they weren't good enough, then why should we think Logan will? Ryan Church has shown over the past two years that if management just leaves him alone, he will produce. Add up his last two seasons, extrapolate out to a 580 at-bats, and Church has batted .275-21-90. What's wrong with that? The Washington Post suggested that the team was after a defensive "upgrade" at the position. Upgrade? He's made two errors in two years, spanning 153 games in the outfield. Sure, Church is the kind of guy who lets what people say effect his play. Great. So don't say anything!

Austin Kearns:
Who would have thought that, come the beginning of September, that Felipe Lopez would be the strongest hitter that came in the trade with the Cincinnati Reds earlier this summer? Going into the weekend, Kearns was batting just .231 during his stay in Washington. His long home-run in Saturday's 8th inning, and his two-run double in Sunday's 8th, however, has helped to "jump" his batting average "up" to .263. I'm not disappointed, though. I never saw him as a high average hitter. Tons of homers and tons of RBI's. Anything else is just a bonus.

Nats webpage:
Anyone else notice that Jose Guillen's face is no longer emblazoned across the top of the team's webpage? Nick Johnson has joined Chad Cordero and Ryan Zimmerman as the "faces" of the team. That's too bad. I thought that there was at least a 50-50 chance that the two sides could agree on an incentive-laden one-year contract, giving the Nationals a power bat (yes, I believe that next year will be a .285-30-100 type year for Guillen) and give Jose the chance to re-prove himself as a viable option in the outfield. I'm guessing, however, that the banner change is proof positive that Guillen's days as a National are numbered, which sucks, because Juan Rivera is batting .302-21-74 in just 368 at-bats for the Angels. Turns out that was a steal-of-a-deal, though it was the Nationals that got hosed.

NATS NOTES: Daryle Ward came through for the Braves in his first at-bat with the Atlanta Braves. With runners on 2nd and 3rd and two out, Ward slammed a single up the middle, plating both runners. Way to go Daryle! ... Alfonso Soriano hit his 44th home run over the weekend, equaling the "club record" held by Vlad Guerrero. Sorry; don't see it that way. I think his 44th puts him four behind Frank Howard's record for most home runs hit by a Washington player.

 

WOULDA - SHOULDA - COULDA

[September 1st] -- Last December, I wrote a story that listed nine free agents that were 1) good enough to help the Nationals in 2006 and 2) cheap enough to sign. Some, like Ken Harvey and Wade Miller, were injured and were more of the "project" variety. Others, like Ramon Ortiz and Ryan Franklin, had fallen on hard times but had the potential to make a comeback.

The guy I wanted the most, however, was Eric Byrnes.

Byrnes, then 29, had a difficult 2005 season, splitting time between the Oakland A's, Colorado Rockies, and Baltimore Orioles. He played so poorly that the Orioles, themselves bereft of any depth in outfield talent, released him at the end of the season. Now, don't get me wrong; Byrnes is no all-star. His OBP is pretty low and he tends to strikeout in bunches, but he certainly falls in the "able to comeback" category. The Nationals were chocked full of outfielders at the time (Jose Guillen, Ryan Church, Marlon Anderson, Alfonso Soriano), but Jim Bowden could have signed Byrnes and traded some of the outfield surplus for more pitching (remember, as Jimbo says, "you can never have too much pitching!"). Bowden, like the rest of the league, probably believed that Byrnes best days were behind him. The only job he could find was with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- he would be given the "opportunity" to compete for a starting job.

Going into the last month of the season, Byrnes is on pace to hit .278 with 25 homers, 75 RBI's, and 23 stolen bases. Oh sure, his OBP is still kind of low, and he still strikes out in bunches, but he would have answered the team's year long problem in center field.

Hey Jim, you should have listened to me -- you gotta read The Beltway Boys more often. Of course ** cough cough **, I also demanded that you sign Ramon Ortiz.

Never mind, Jim. Forget what I said.


 

WHAT'S BIGGER NEWS: A NATS WIN OR WARD & ANDERSON GETTING TRADED?

[August 31st] -- A Nationals win in the month of August? Darn right that's breaking news, but so is the double-trade pulled off by Jim Bowden early Friday morning.

The Nationals continue to aquire young arms in an on-going attempt to build up the talent level of their minor league system, hopefully turning the belly laughter into only giggles and guffaws. Slowly but surely, Jim Bowden is turning the league's laughing stock into an "okay" minor league system.

Just minutes after scampering home to score the winning run in the 10th inning, Bowden traded uber-utility player Marlon Anderson to the Dodgers for Jhonny (not a typo) Nunez. Before Anderson could begin to pack, Daryle Ward became part of the personnel putsch, going to the Atlanta Braves for Luis Atilano. Well, that's just fine. I mean, the bench was the ONLY part of the 2006 Nationals team that was actually doing it's job.

Nunez, 20, was a non-drafted signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2003. He had a tremendous season for the Dodger's Gulf Coast League affiliate, going 6-0 with a stellar 1.58 ERA. He struck out 56 batters in 57 innings while walking only 19. Amazingly, he held opponents to a .177 batting average. His manager loved him: "He's been dominant all season and was dominant again today. We [are] very confident with him out there." That said, my quick, late night dash through the information super-highway turned up no stats for 2003-2005, and thebaseballcube.com doesn't even know who he is. More to come here.

Atilano, 21, is a 6'3", 200 pound right-hander who appeared on a medium-fast track to Atlanta before Tommy John surgery ended his season earlier this month. It can take up to a year for a pitcher to return to form after this type of surgery (the bad news) but virtually every pitcher who has had it returned at near 100% (the good news). Atilano went 6-7, 4.50 with class 'A' Myrtle Beach, striking out 45 in 116 innings. Going into this season, he had a career minor league record of 16-12, 4.11 garnered over three seasons (2003-Gulf Coast League, 2004-Danville, 2005-Rome). He was certainly considered a prospect. From bravesscout.com: (from 2005) "How good might this guy be in two years? The control is tremendous and he continues to show why the Braves drafted him so high last year ... the Braves believed they had another Javier Vazquez when they drafted him, and they still feel that way. As he continues to mature physically, his fastball is only going to get better and more consistently in the mid 90's. When you look at his numbers, including his age, you just see a potential success story in the future." But wait: there's more. From Baseball America's 2003 draft review: "Atilano has two solid pitches and an ideal frame that could make him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. Atilano, 18, has an easy arm that produces a cutting fastball with excellent movement. Though skinny at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he should get stronger as his body matures, which should make his fastball more effective and possibly sit in the 93-94 mph range. Atilano also throws an above-average changeup with good depth and fade. The Braves like his mound presence and competitiveness, traits that led the Major League Scouting Bureau to grade him higher than any other player this year in Puerto Rico."

Good moves, Jimbo. Atilano, if he can come back from his surgery, may crack the Nationals' rotation in three years or so. Considering the Nats gave up a player who wouldn't have re-signed with the team next year, you can make the assertion that Atilano was acquired for "nothing." Nunez looks even better, but until I find out more about him, I'll remain "hopefully" confident that he can help the team as well. In the past two months, Bowden has traded for five, count em, five minor league starting pitchers. Some will make it into the Nationals' starting rotation, some won't. The point is, it's all about the numbers. You have to have more prospects than players needed, not less.

I'll miss both Daryle Ward and Marlon Anderson, but it's not like they were going to help the Nationals have a winning September (as if that mattered). Good bench players are a dime-a-dozen; Bodes can re-stock this winter. One thing's for sure, Robert Fick should be returning to the team. Fick, having a sub-par season thanks to injuries and two stints on the disabled list, says he wants to come back next season and says his agent has had preliminary talks with Bowden already. I've always been a "Fick fan." He's hard nosed and plays like he really loves the game. I don't see that too much anymore.

Here is the post I wrote before going to bed and flipping on "Baseball Tonight" to hear Karl Ravage say, "... and there's Marlon Anderson streaking home with the winning run for the Nationals, only to be traded moments later." I'd say that demanded a re-write, wouldn't you?

To be fair, when we bloggers take "whacks" at the Nationals for their poor play, we have an obligation to give them "loves" when they play well, even if it only happens once every ten days or so.

I didn't see the comeback. I watched the game right up until the bottom of the 9th, when I walked with my daughter to the corner to buy a couple of pops (this is a decidedly regional term. When I lived in D.C., everything was a Coke, as in "I'm buying everyone cokes -- what kind do you want? I want a Pepsi." I'm guessing that's still the terminology -- yes?). I had only a few seconds to be excited over the Nationals comeback, because before I had the chance to get comfortable, the Phillies scored on what should have been the third strike of the third out of the inning. But that wasn't the strangest scoring play of the night. With Marlon Anderson on 3rd, Aaron Fultz bounced a pitched in front of the plate, a pitch that pinch-hitter Ryan Church swung at. Have you ever seen film of the British "bouncing betty" bomb, the one that was designed to bounce accross the water several times before hitting and destroying German dams? Well, that's kind of how that ball looked as it hit the plate, then the catcher, and maybe even Ryan Church before squiggling and jiggling out towards the mound. I was still trying to figure out if it was a hit ball or not when Marlon zoomed in from stage right and pirouetted around Mike Lieberthal to score the winning run.

Wow.

It was a nice win, but it seems the Nationals have fallen into a rut of winning one game in each series. That just isn't going to cut it. I've read several different stories, all saying the same thing: Other than Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Zimmerman, there is no reason to watch the Nationals play ball.

I disagree.

It's not like the Nationals are trying to stink. It's not like the Nationals are trying to suck. It's simply the way things turned out. If John Patterson remained healthy this year, Livan would never have been traded in the August putsch, and the team would have had an excellent chance of winning at least two games out of each five, with a 50-50 chance of winning a third game. With a little bit of rotational stability (and granted, a lot of luck), the Nationals might have won 75 games this year. However, injuries, bad luck, poor play, and bad managing doomed the team early in the season, and they were never able to recover. I don't think the players are purposely not doing their best, but we've all been in positions where our best wasn't really the best we could do. It was the best we could do under the circumstances. Losing has a way of doing that.

From this blogger is stupid department: I was working on some homework when I glanced up at my computer screen and saw the MASN starting lineup graphic. At second base, I saw the name "Casto." "Wow!" I thought -- "they called up the kid after all. I'll finally get the chance to watch him play." I was surprised that he was playing second base -- after talking about moving him there in spring training, he began the season at third. I kept watching for him, and finally, he was announced: "Batting 8th, the second baseman, Bernie CASTRO." I was surprised, and wondered why Castro got the start over Casto. Then -- very slowly -- I figured it out. Old eyes. Small computer screen. Even smaller graphics. I guess if I listened to Bob Carpenter and Tom Paciorek instead of Charlie and Dave, I might have figured it out sooner.

Oh yeah, Idahoans are j-u-s-t as smart as you folks inside the beltway.

Uh-huh.


 

NOWHERE TO RUN, NOWHERE TO HIDE

Posted by Picasa [August 31st] -- Um, I'm not really sure I have anything to say about Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Should I write that Ramon Ortiz pitched one his better games in some time, giving up "only" three earned runs in six innings? Nah, an ERA of 4.50 doesn't rate any column inches. Maybe I should cover that "red hot" offense and "all those" hits. All four of them. No, that won't do either. I think, when you find something on the side of the road that really stinks, you cross to the other side and keep on walking.

I think I'll just keep on walking.

The two pitchers the Nationals got in the Livan Hernandez trade, Matt Chico and Garrett Mock, are doing really, really well, and really, really bad. Both have started four games, and their efforts couldn't be more divergent. Chico has a record of 2-0 with a solid (especially for the Eastern League) 3.27 ERA. He's given up 28 hits in 22 innings, striking out 13 while walking 8. Those are certainly "prospect" type numbers. Mock, however, is more like a "suspect." He is 0-4 with a 10.26 ERA, giving up a whopping 29 hits in just 16 innings. He's walked five and struck out only 9. These four starts are certainly not the "death knell" of Mock's career, but I think it's becoming evident that if there is going to be a major leaguer to come out of the Livan Hernandez trade, it's going to be Matt Chico.

Let me know if you can think of anything else to write about. Otherwise, I'm outa here.
 

ZIM ZAM ZOOM IN ANOTHER DUD LOSS

[August 30th] -- The kid just keeps on keeping-on.

Brian Schneider, after Ryan Zimmerman's big game against the Florida Marlins a few weeks back, said that he had stopped wondering when the "other shoe" was going to drop, meaning that he no longer believed that the young third baseman would falter in the last month and a half of the season. Of course, as soon as he said it, Zimmerman's batting average took a dive, dropping from a season high of .293 to .279. He was tired, and he looked it. He was taken out early in a blow-out against the Phillies (bad move, the Nats came back and might have won had Damian Jackson not replaced him at third) and had a day off against the Marlins (good move) last week. He got a hit in his last three games, keeping his average near .280.

Then came Tuesday night.

Zimmerman went 4-5 (including his 2nd triple and 39th double), drove in three runs, and was the lone bright spot in yet another dismal performance by a Nationals starting pitcher. He raised his average back up to .283 and now has 89 RBI's for the year -- the only way he'll not reach 100 for the season would be to get hit by a bus (but considering the Nats' luck this year, I shouldn't even joke about it). Every time I think I've seen the best the kid has, that by season's end, he'll have a batting average around .250, he takes a deep breath and drives the ball to all fields.

Maybe he is the rookie-of-the-year.

Tony Armas has now joined Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio as pitchers who have little to no chance of remaining with the team. With the trade of Livan, and the injury to John Patterson, all three were given ample opportunities to show that they had both the desire and the ability to be adequate major league pitchers again. All they've done is shown why they were picked up for next to nothing by Jim Bowden. There is no pitching on the major league roster, and none in the minors. The only hope of getting better pitchers is to trade hitters -- remember, no free agents of consequence will be signed -- making both the offense and defense equally bad. That said, the Nationals' offensive prowess is a mathematical myth. Going into Tuesday's game, they were ranked 23rd in the major leagues. Hmmm.... 23rd offensively, and dead last in the NL in team ERA -- no wonder they've only won 55 games this season.

Well, maybe we can move up and get the 2nd or 3rd draft pick next year. Why not? Who cares if they win 55 wins or 65 wins this season. Last place is still last place.

Right?


 

TIME CONSTRAINTS SUCK...

[August 28th] -- I know, I know. I promised that I'd be back blogging on a regular basis last week. What I should have said was that after the next couple of days, I'd be back to blogging on a regular basis. I'm in the classroom today meeting my students -- a first for me -- and I just don't have the time. So for the two of you who stop by here regularly, hang with me.
Yes, I watched all three games over the weekend, and yes, things couldn't look worse. The Nationals now have the highest team ERA in the National League, and things are only going to get worse from here on out. Traber didn't pitch badly on Sunday, but gave up 8 runs in less than 3 innings anyway. Same with Astacio, same with Ortiz. Of all the pitchers currently starting for Washington, or who have started at some point this year, only John Patterson looks "major league." So the Nats will have a #2 starter going into the '07 season (Patterson) and a #5 starter (either Mike O'Connor or Billy traber -- not both), but on one to fill in the other three slots in the rotation. With no one in the minors ready to make the jump to the big club, Jim Bowden's only option to improve the pitching staff is to trade away some "surplus" (ha-ha-ha ... surplus!) hitting. Next season, then, the Nationals might be what they were last season -- good pitch, no hit.
And so the cycle continues.
Wish me luck with my rondezvous with 60 8th graders.

 

I'M BACK, BUT NATS AREN'T

[August 25th] -- Tah dah! I'm officially a real-live student teacher, as my expensive-looking official teacher "name tag" indicates. I'll meet with my "cooperating teacher" on Friday and then, come Monday, I'll be officially be destroying the minds of the next generation. How cool is that? And please, none of that "Gee, I didn't know that Idaho had a university" stuff. We have three. Sort of.

Though I didn't blog this week, I certainly have been watching the games on mlb.tv (including one while sitting in a language and literacy class -- ah, the marvels of technology!) I think it's safe to say that the team has officially given up. Oh, I don't mean that they're standing around as ground balls roll into left field or that the pitchers are throwing batting practice fastballs so that they can shower early and hit the bars. No, not quitting in that sense. But haven't you ever been in a situation at some point in your life where you had been working as hard as you could to make something work, and though you seemed to be "paddling up stream," you believed that, given a bit of luck, you'd succeed? That's where the Nationals were a few weeks ago. They had won three in a row, four out of five, and it seemed that with a solid second half, the team could end the season with 75 or so wins, very respectable considering the difficult year they've had to endure.

Somewhere along the line, however, something went wrong. A difficult loss, an embarrassing weekend sweep, and suddenly, the players eyes and attention aren't trained on the game but rather the grass as they kick away make-believe pebbles. They are living through a nightmare and all they want is for the season to come to a merciful end.

Quickly.

I am as excited for the Nationals future as ever. This is the type of year I expected last season -- few wins and many embarrassing moments. But don't mistake my excitement for hope of a quick turnaround. Aint gonna happen. The Lerners have said, in as many ways as it could be said, that "free agency" isn't the answer. The problem is, neither is the farm system. So if free agency isn't the answer, and the farm system isn't the answer, what then is the answer?

Luck.

For the next few years, -- probably three or four -- the Nationals are going to be in a "no mans land" with inadequate players on the major league roster and the real prospects at the lowest rungs of their minor league system. Bowden could try to catch lighting-in-a-bottle one more time with another run at free agents that no one else wants (Esteban Loiaza) and trade for players that come with more baggage than just what's in their suitcase (Guillen). But, if Jim Bowden is going "young" and "building for the future," then those type of moves make no sense. Of course, if the guys he wants to "go young" with aren't major league talents, then why bother? Why play Travis Hughes and Henry Mateo if they have no chance of being successful at this level? Better to try to find another Loiaza or Hector Carrasco and cross your fingers rather than playing career minor leaguers every day. Remember, career minor leaguers are career minor leaguers for a reason.

Ryan Zimmerman has seen his batting average drop twelve points since Brian Schneider said that he was going to stop waiting for the kid to falter. Bad timing, dude. Frank Robinson made the right decision to sit him the other night, and it wouldn't be a bad thing to do it a few more times over the final month and a half of the season. The last thing anyone wants is to have Zimmerman falter in his last thirty-or-so games and carry that sour taste in his mouth into the off season. Take care of the kid, Frank. Without him, the only difference between the Nats and the Zephyrs is the color of their uniforms.

Good to be back. Sorry, Jamming Econo. Looks like you still hold the record for most consecutive days of "blog silence." And no, I'll never let you forget it. It's toooo easy.

 

REAL LIFE INTERVENTION FOR THE BELTWAY BOY

[August 18th] -- As my regular readers know, I am a senior in the College of Education at my local university. Usually, I can make time for both my classes as well as my beloved Nationals.

That said, I'll need to take the next three or four days off. I go back to school this Monday, and begin my second round of in-class student teaching. I have much preparation to do to be ready for that first class, and, for the weekend at least, I'm just going to have to view my Nationals from afar.

If all goes well, I'll be back Monday afternoon. Thanks for understanding that this just has to get done.

Good luck Nationals!

 

GREAT GAME, GREAT WIN

Posted by Picasa [August 16th] -- Ryan Zimmerman was beginning to fall into another slump. He's was 0-9 over his last two games and was striking out at an alarming pace. He hadn't had an RBI in ten days, and it had been a while since he'd hit a home run. He needed to shake things up.

And oh, how he did.

He struck out in his first at bat against the Braves' John Smoltz, and looked pretty bad while doing it. Then, just like "that," things changed. In the third inning, Zimmerman hit a sharp grounder past the third base bag, barely fair, but into Chipper Jones' glove. Jones jumped, twirled, and let go a strong throw to first, though it was just off the mark. First baseman Adam LaRoche had to move off the bag to get to the throw, and Zimmerman dove head first towards the bag, beating LaRoche's tag and driving in the first run of the game. Wow. Great play. A couple of innings later, Zimmerman handled a sharp grounder and threw to first, pulling Nick Johnson off the bag. Although the runner was called safe, and Zimmerman was charged with his 10th error of the season, replays show that Nick got to the bag before the runner. Wow. Bad play. His next time up, Ryan launched his 16th homer of the year, deep to left center field, giving the Nationals a 6-3 lead on Smoltz and the Braves. Wow. Great play. The next inning, John Smoltz of all people hit a line shot past the bag at third. Zimmerman dove to his right, snared the ball in foul ground, raised himself and threw a strike to first to nip Smoltz. Wow. Great play. The next inning, Billy Traber started to tire. With the Nationals up by a couple of runs and a runner on third with two out, Andruw Jones came to bat as a pinch-hitter. He hit a very hard but very playable grounder wide of third. Just as Zimmerman moved to his left to field the ball, the head of Jones' sawed-off bat landed at his feet and bounced near his head, causing the kid to flinch, allowing the ball to get past him, and the run to score. Wow. Bad play. Later in the game, Zimmerman hit a high-hopper to Chipper Jones, who fielded the ball quickly and threw to first, b-a-r-e-l-y getting the hustling Ryan Zimmerman.

That's the kind of night it was for the kid.

I'm not going to say something stupid like, "Zimmerman is slump-proof," because no baseball player is. What I will say, however, is that Ryan Zimmerman is a professional hitter, that he makes adjustments every time he comes to the plate, and those type of hitters don't often get into prolonged slumps. He doesn't rely on just the home run ball, or just balls hit into the gaps. He bunts when he needs to and hits to right field when he has to. I was thinking the other day that it's going to be a joy to watch the kid throughout his career, to watch him improve and became a super-star. He'll probably end his career somewhere around the year 2024. Then I realized that I'll be 68 years old when he calls it a career. Hmm... I HOPE I LIVE LONG ENOUGH to watch him finish his career.

NATS NOTES: I've never quite figured out what Bernie Castro has to do to win a full time job in the major leagues. He's been an all-star at virtually every minor-league level. In his first taste of the big-leagues, he hit .288 with the Orioles, and that only earned him a ticket out of town. He signed with the Nationals, a team with an "all-star" blocking his chance to play with the big club. Castro changes the game with his speed. He is competent with the glove. Sadly, my guess is that he'll never get the chance to start in the majors, at least here in Washington .... What's happened to Austin Kearns? He went 0-5 with two more strikeouts and his average is now down to .264. I'm afraid that Kearns is at best a slightly-above-average major league outfielder, a guy who is going to hit .260-20-70 or so with a low OBP .... Billy Traber certainly didn't look as sharp as he did in his last start; maybe it was the retro uniform .... Brian Schneider got two hits, one a long home run ... perhaps he won't be throwing things for awhile.


 

NATS GRANT BRIEF RESPITE FROM LOSING, BEAT BRAVES 5-0

[August 15th] -- Well, that never happened before. Come to think of it, how'd it happen it the first place? Pedro Astacio, whose season can best be described as below average, dominated the Braves, allowing only 2 hits and no runs while striking out five in what turned out to be the Nationals first complete game of the season.

That's great, but it doesn't mean a thing. Remember, the 1962 Mets set the expansion-era record for most losses in a season, yet still managed to win 40 games that year. Even the worst baseball players succeed 18% of the time.

No, the Nationals, still free-falling down the National League standings, had a reprieve, a remission from losing if you will. It was fun, and it made us happy, but in the end, the team is still going to be bad, and they are still going to finish last in the NL East, and they are still going to be over-hauled during the off season. And it's the middle of August and there just isn't much more than that to say, at least for tonight.

NATS NOTES: (Does any of my readers recognize where I stole the "Nats Notes" from? Hint: You have to be old enough to remember the Senators and you had to read a certain magazine on a regular basis. If you remember, leave your answer in the comments section). Ryan Zimmerman went hitless for the second consecutive game, something he hasn't done since his slide that followed his first walk-off homer a few months ago. He's striking out a lot and continues to hit weak grounders to the right side. Hopefully, he'll pull out of it tomorrow .... The Nationals signed 4th round draft pick Glenn Gibson, and left-handed high school pitcher from New York. Gibson notched the 2006 Yastrzemski Award as the top player in Suffolk County (Long Island, NY) after going 8-1 with 145 strikeouts and a 0.29 ERA in 61.0 innings as a senior at Center Moriches.


 

FAMILY FEUD IN WASHINGTON

[August 15th] -- "Name the six best reasons that the Nationals are falling apart right in front of our eyes..... survey said!:"

I had to take a couple of days off from the Nationals -- a pressure release, if you will. The guys who get paid to write about the Nationals could care less if they win or lose, of if the periphery stories start to gnaw at them. They get paid for it. We bloggers do this for the love of it, our way of being part of the action, perhaps even part of the fun. But when players who make millions of dollars a year give up, why does anyone expect us, probably the only people remotely associated with the Nationals who donate their time, not to take a deep breath and walk away?

Frank Robinson is old school and tends to bark at players, treating them more like chattel than employees. Players are now throwing to wrong bases; heck, some are forgetting where the bases are. And when someone like Ryan Zimmerman forgets how many outs there are, you know that the pressure of losing, the pressure of being a bad team, is getting to the players. The weekend attendance, nearly 35,000 per game, dropped back down to 21,000 on Monday against the once great Atlanta Braves.

The team, and the blog-o-sphere have a month and a half left in the season, and there will be many more opportunities to get mad, get hot, and walk away from our responsibilities. I'll keep writing, and I hope that the Nationals keep playing ... or keep trying at least.

It'll be a long six weeks, but I'll keep trying if they will.


 

REMEMBER THE MAINE!

Posted by Picasa[August 13th] - A century ago, the U.S.S. Maine sailed into Havana Harbor scaring the Spanish with it's "arms." Then, unexplicably, it blew up; no more Maine.

Last night, John Maine came into RFK, and scared the Nationals with his "arm." For five innings, he did to Washington what he had done to the Phillies earlier in the week. He shut them out. Heading into the 4th inning, Maine had a 23 inning scoreless streak before Nick Johnson launched his 18th home run of the year to make the score 3-1. Two innings later, Alfonso Soriano hit his 37th homer to bring the Nats to within one of the Mets, and a single by Nick Johnson tied the game at 4, ending Washington's scoring for the night. The Mets, of course, came back with two more runs and eventually won the game 6-4.

Like I've said for months, we can't judge the Nationals on wins and losses this season; we look for silver linings with the dark clouds. For instance, Jason Bergman gave up three runs and four hits in five innings, which doesn't seem particularly impressive, but we need to look inside the numbers. He gave up all three runs in one inning, and could have given even more had he not bore down and got some difficult outs to end the inning. He struck out four Mets. He was pulled not because he was pitching poorly, but because he was at 85 innings pitched heading into the 6th inning. I'd say that was a quality start for Bergman. Nick Johnson hit his 18th homer of the year, and is on pace to hit .293-26-85, much higher power numbers than was expected. Even his uncle, Larry Bowa, didn't see Johnson has a power hitter. On an XM interview earlier this season, Bowa said of his nephew, "Nick is a great hitter with alley power to both fields. He's never going to hit 30 homers a year, but 15-18 home runs, combined with everything else he does, is good." Seems that Mr. Johnson has good power when he stays healthy.

John Maine looks like the "real deal." I've been watching major league baseball for 45 years, and cannot remember a rookie pitcher throwing a consecutive inning scoreless streak like Maine did. He came to the Mets along with Jorge Julio from the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Kris Benson. Maine, 25, had a career 30-24, 3.24 minor league record before the deal. He and Julio were certainly better players than Garrett Mock and Matt Chico, players the Nationals received in the Livan Hernandez trade. Does that make Benson better than Hernandez? I don't think so. Just younger. I expect that if Livan was having a "typical" season this year, the Nationals would have recieved far more in trade than they ended up getting.

The Nationals are on pace to win 71 games this year, three less then I predicted in March, so I guess we can say they are playing roughly at the level that was expected. I hope that they do even worse, winning 65 games, perhaps even less. Why? The Nationals would then have one of the top five or six picks in the amateur draft next year, meaning that with a little bit of luck, they could find another Ryan Zimmerman. And don't forget, if Alfonso Soriano signs with another team, we'll get two more picks, the teams who signed him, and a pick between the first and second rounds. A few less wins will guarantee a much better draft pick. I'll make that trade, won't you?

NATS NOTES: Congratulations, Mark Lerner. After drawing 30,000 fans on Sunday, RFK was packed with 42,000 fans last night. I know that some of that comes from playing the Mets, but that said, that's a tremendous job of "bringing in the bodies."


 

THAT WAS GREAT, NOW DO IT AGAIN NEXT TIME

[August 11th] -- Now, if Billy Traber can just do that another eight or so times this summer, the Nationals pitching woes will be lessened just a bit.

Traber, a former Mets top prospect, pitched seven strong innings on Friday, giving up just four hits and one run on a home run by the Mets' catcher. Hmmmm .... I'm betting that would be Paul LoDuca. *Ouch* Just had to get that in there. It was Traber's first solid outing this year. He gave up three runs and four walks in his first start against the Phillies, winning the game 10-4. He got shelled five days later and was back in New Orleans.

Traber pitched the way the Mets envisioned he would when they drafted him in the first round six years ago. A career-ending type injury caused both the Mets, and later the Indians to give up on him. His only option left was to sign a minor-league contract with a pitching poor team.

It seems to have worked, at least for the moment.

Felipe Lopez is without a doubt the Expos / Nationals best offensive shortstop in recent memory. He is also the worst defensively. Last year, many of the Nationals' blogs pounded Cristian Guzman for his defense lapses throughout the season. He made 15 errors. All year. Lopez has committed 21 errors this year and there is still a month and a half remaining in the season. He'll probably close in on 30 errors by mid September, thirteen more than his career high from last year. One of those "Cardinal Rules" in baseball is that you have to have a solid defensive shortstop to win a championship. I don't know about that. Lopez's defense might give up, say, five more unearned runs than Guzman's might have, but he'll end up driving in a minimum twenty-five more runs than Guzman. I'd say that is a net positive for the Nats.

NATS NOTES: The Nationals drew nearly 30,000 to RFK for Friday's game against the Mets. I think that's where Nats' crowds need to start -- last year's 2.7 million is the minimum number of fans that should turn out for major league baseball in Washington ... Ryan Zimmerman hit his 36th double and has now gotten a hit in 13 out of his last 14 games ...


 

NATIONALS SHINING IN WORLD OF BLOGGING

[August 11th] -- It's taken the Washington Nationals nearly two years to leave behind those last vestages of the "dead-from-the-neck-up" era of the Montreal Expos. Now, finally, the team is acting like a real major league baseball franchise. It will still take a few more years for the Nationals to catch up with the rest of their division, and few more after that to surpass them, but at least we now know that it's going to happen.

That said, guess what? In the two years that the Nationals' blog-o-sphere has waited for its team to become "first class," we have been "first class" while waiting for them. Striketwo.net, a website that "summerizes, discusses and observes" news from all of baseball's "792" websites and blogs, lists the Nationals blog-o-sphere as #7 in all of Major League baseball in terms of total number of daily posts. The twenty-five Nationals blogs make up the sixth largest team blog group, and the 15 posts per day average is seventh best among the thirty major league teams. Pretty cool, huh?

The Beltway Boys, for example is currently listed as #37 out of the 792 blogs. That makes TBB in the top 3.5% of all baseball blogs. This means we're one of the top National blogs too, right? Wrong. Of those top 37 blogs, a total of six, or 16% of them, are blogs that cover the Washington Nationals. The Yankees and Mets, the top two teams in terms on total blogs, comprise only 8% of those top 37 blogs. I'm a star in the total blog-o-sphere, but only average when it comes to the Nationals blogging world. Sigh .... :)

For months, I have been apologizing here at TBB for what I perceived as the small number of blogs covering the Nationals. I couldn't have been more wrong. The Nats' blog-o-sphere is one of the best and one of the strongest, and it will only get larger as the team continues to morph into one of the league's top teams.

Way to go bloggers! We got to the top while the Nationals were still trying to play consistent baseball. For those of you who have been thinking of starting a blog, now is the perfect time to start one. Blogging is kind of like multi-level marketing: it's best to get in on the ground floor.

To Banks, Capitol, Federal, 320, Mr. Wonk and Mr. Distinguished, Just, Morning Glories, Cheap Seats and all the rest, congratulations on what you've begun. Now let's see what we can do about growing it larger, and growing it better.


 

YUCK

[August 10th] -- It's becoming clear that wins for the Washington Nationals are going to become difficult to come by over the next couple of months. This is a team in transition, a team composed of over-the-hill veterans and youngsters showing for the first time what they can do at the major league level. August is a month that has no real intrinsic value. Like the Nationals, it's a month of transition, connecting the fun-and-sun part of summer with the exciting back-to-school "new beginnings" part of September. August, however, is dull, redundant and frustrating.

Kind of like the Nationals.

It was great that the Nationals came back to tie the game at six, but lousy that they eventually lost the game. It was wonderful that Alfonso hit yet another home run, but terrible that the Nationals loaded the bases in the first inning on three walks yet couldn't score a run. After watching Anibal Sanchez throw twelve balls and only two strikes, Nick Johnson swung at the first two pitches before popping out. Ryan Zimmerman then took a couple of pitches before grounding into a double play.

A bad game during an especially bad time in what will undoubtedly be a long season.

And that's all I have to say about that.

 

PICTURE THIS: ORTIZ BEATS DONTRELLE WILLIS 5-2

[August 10th] -- RFK Stadium must be smack-dab in the middle of "Bizzaro World." How else can you explain a night when Ramon Ortiz not only beat Dontrelle Willis, but ended the game with nine wins, two more than the Marlins' superstar?

Incredible.

Ortiz, who is now the (I can't believe I'm saying this) "ace" of the staff, pitched like it on Wednesday, pitching what was perhaps his best game of the year. Ortiz was solid over 6.2 innings, allowing 8 hits and just one earned run while striking out 6. You have to wonder if he is still on the trading block -- if he is, this outing certainly increased his value. But exactly what would that value be? If Livan Hernandez, a major league star, brought two 'AA' pitchers in return, what would Ortiz, a "fringe" starter at best, bring? A mid-level 'AA' player perhaps? If the Nationals had no interest in re-signing Ortiz for 2007, then sure, throw him out on the waiver-wire and see what happens. But the Nationals may want him to return next season, as he certainly would be a veteran presence on a younger staff. He wouldn't cost much, either. It'll be interesting to see what Bowden does -- his value will never be higher than it is right now.

Ryan Zimmerman looked terrible Tuesday night, as he once again swung at everything down and away, either striking out or popping the ball into shallow right field. He reminds me a lot of a young Andruw Jones when he lunges at all those outside pitches. It took Jones seven years to stop striking out on those balls a foot outside. Zimmerman, on the other hand, adjusts after every game. Against the Marlins on Wednesday, Willis tried to get him to swing at those low-and-away pitches, but Ryan made the adjustment, and walked his first two times up. He ended up going 2-3, raising his average back up to .291. The kid is becoming almost slump-proof.

The Nationals are a good team when the starters pitch deep into the game. If it's Micah Bowie, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero who come into the game, the Nationals stand a good chance of holding the lead and winning the game. Last night, those three relievers pitched 2.1 innings, allowing only one meaningless single. Unfortunately, the rest of the bullpen is either untested or just bad.

A night after drawing less than 25,000 fans, only 21,390 showed up at RFK to watch a game that featured all-star Dontrelle Willis. Stan Kasten and the Lerners have to be unhappy about that type of attendance drop from the last home stand. Some suggest that the Livan Hernandez trade had something to do with the smaller crowd, but I disagree -- all of us were expecting him to be traded, and I really haven't heard anyone suggest it was a bad deal for the Nationals. Hopefully, the weekend crowds will help the homestand's average.

NATS NOTES: Catcher Brandon Harper doubled in his first major league at-bat and was hit by Dontrelle Willis his next time up .... Matt Chico's first game as a Nationals' farmhand didn't go particularly well. The 23 year old allowed 9 hits and 3 runs in 5 innings, striking out no one .... the Nationals left 14 men on base, causing Frank Robinson to cradle his head in his hands several times throughout the night.


 

RAUCH READY TO JOIN ROTATION

[August 9th] -- He stands nearly seven feet tall. He has a fastball that tops out close to 95 mph. His slider and curve are both solid major league pitches. Batters have difficulty picking the ball up out of his hand because his release point is so close to home plate. He is listed by most "scouting report" services as a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Yet Jon Rauch remains in the Nationals' bullpen.

Rauch, 27, was obtained along with Gary Majewski from the Chicago White Sox in 2004 for Carl Everett. He had been a starter throughout his minor league career, compiling a 43-25 record in 106 starts. It was assumed that Rauch had an excellent chance to capture one of the team's rotation openings last spring. He started just one game in 2005, however, going 2-4, 3.60 out of the bullpen.

This year, Rauch had little hope of starting for the Nationals. Jim Bowden brought in Brian Lawrence, Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz to help fill the holes in the rotation. Also, unlike 2005, the Nationals have a very mediocre bullpen, one that, in Frank Robinson's opinion, couldn't do without him. Now, however, with Livan Hernandez traded to Arizona, the Nationals need another starting pitcher. Billy Traber will be given the opportunity to start; so will others from the minor league system.

Jon Rauch, though, seems married to the bullpen.

The 'pen is usually filled with former starting pitchers who couldn't make it in the major leagues with just one or two "out" pitches.

Sooner or later, major league hitters figure them out and banish them to that bench beyond the outfield wall. But Rauch is different. His fastball is consistently in the low to mid 90's, and his curve and change are both solid when he's "on" his game. Rauch has the "stuff" and certainly the "size" to be a major league pitcher. Look at the comparison between Rauch and Livan in the chart above. Rauch has superior numbers in most catagories, though he's pitched less than a tenth of the innings that Hernandez has. The question is, then, will the Nationals give him the opportunity to prove himself?

Not this year, but probably in 2007.

Who do the Nationals have to fill the rotation next season besides John Patterson? Astacio, Ortiz and Tony Armas Jr. are likely not coming back. Mike O'Connor brings more questions than he does answers, and Shawn Hill is still hurting. It will be much easier for the Nationals to replace Jon Rauch out of the bullpen than it will to find another starting pitcher with his promise. My guess is that Rauch will leave behind the bullpen next season and join Patterson in the starting rotation.

Or, that's what should happen, anyway.

NATS NOTES: Ryan Zimmerman seems to have fallen into a small slump -- he consistently swung at pitches low and away, his "Achilles Heel" when he's not seeing the ball well. When he's doing that, he's going to do little more than strike out or pop up into shallow right-center .... Now that Alex Escobar is near 100%, will he take back center-field from Ryan Church? It's no secret that Jim Bowden thinks highly of Escobar and isn't particularly fond of Church. For Church to keep his job, he's going to have to keep hitting home runs on a regular basis .... What's with Nick Johnson these days? Although he's starting to hit the ball well again, he continues to slump in the field, commiting his 9th error of the season. I thought that defense never slumps? .... Matt LeCroy, who joined the New Orleans Zephyrs after he couldn't "hook-up" with another major league team, went hitless in his first game with the Zephyrs .... Matt Chico will make his first organizational start on Wednesday with the Harrisburg Senators .... Harrisburg's Frank Diaz was named the "best defensive outfielder" in the Eastern League by a vote of that league's managers .... Jason Bergman has dominated at New Orleans since being moved into the starting rotation since his last demotion.


 

VACATION DAY (I HOPE)

[August 8th] -- The Nationals just lost to the Marlins 4-2 in what's becoming a typical, poorly played game. I mean, for crying out loud, you get the bases loaded with only one out and the next two batters don't even make contact with a single pitch? I'm going to try to take tomorrow off and head to Yellowstone Park for the day (one of the benefits of living in Eastern Idaho). I should be back tomorrow night.
 

LIVAN TRADED FOR CHICO AND THE MOCK!

[August 7th] -- Just when I thought that Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden were shying away from the "build with prospects" promise, this happens.

The Nationals traded Livan Hernandez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-hander Garrett Mock and lefty Matt Chico. This comes as a total shock to me. GM's always say that "big" trades can be made after the trading deadline, but you never really expect it.

I think this trade for Livan came after the trade deadline because his suitors were trying to make sure that he had "something" left. I'm sure that general managers around the league felt much more comfortable trading for Livan after his last few starts.

The trade opens up nearly $8 million dollars next year to help the Nationals sign Alfonso Soriano That's a good thing. The bad thing is that, even before the trade, the Nationals were short of starting pitchers. Now what? Will Billy Traber take his place in the rotation, at least for now? That would be my guess.

Mock, 23, is a 6'4", 215 pound right-hander. Going into the 2006 season, Mock had a career record of 19-9, 3.69 including a 14-7 record at class 'A' Lancaster last year. This season, however, he's struggled. With class 'AA' Tennessee, Mock is 4-8, 4.95 with 117 strikeouts in 131 innings. Mock got the news while he was driving with his fiancé. Manager of Minor League Operations A.J. Hinch and General Manager Josh Byrnes both called Mock to tell him the news and set his mind at ease."[Hinch and Byrnes] said it's a business and the deal that they got and Washington got just seemed to work out," The right-hander commented after finding out about the trade. "This hasn't been the greatest season for me. It's been a great learning experience. It's been a humbling experience from the aspect of learning how to pitch in this league and I have made some adjustments."

Matt Chico seems headed in the opposite direction. Chico, also 23, is a 5'11", 190 pound lefty. Going into 2006, he had a 26-25 career record with a 4.09 ERA. He seems to have blossomed this season, however. He began the season at class 'A' Lancaster, where he went 3-4, 3.75 with 49 strikeouts in just 50 innings. With class 'AA' Tennessee, Chico has gone 7-2, 2.22 with 63 strikeouts in 81 innings. Chico was surprised by the trade. "I'm excited. I'm going into an organization along with Mock that is struggling pitching-wise," the [Tennessee] Smokies' southpaw said. Chico was a bit surprised that only two prospects were dealt for Hernandez. "It was shocking because he's a good pitcher. I would have thought they would have wanted more. Both of us are in a good spot."

Livan, who didn't want to go anywhere, thought he was safe after the July 31st trade deadline came and went. Not so. "It's a surprise," he said. "It happened and I have to deal with it. I found out in the morning when Bowden called me. I have to go there and work. I'm playing on a different team."

Livan wasn't the only one who thought he remaining in Washington. Earlier today, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that Livan was claimed on waivers, but that the two teams couldn't work out a deal for the veteran right-hander. ESPN's link to that story now brings up an "Error 404" message. Oops!

"Out in the Desert," a Diamondbacks blog, sees the trade this way: "Hernandez has a bloated 5.34 ERA but he does play for a fairly lousy Washington team. Is it a good trade? Time will tell but I like the move. The D-Backs give up two mid-level pitching prospects who show some promise but are far from being studs. They get a good innings-eater type pitcher who probably is the best hitting pitcher in the majors. Hernandez’s ERA is about a run higher than his career average and he has been bothered by a tender knee. He is not a power pitcher and will rely on his breaking pitches to induce ground ball outs — a D-Back specialty. I suspect Arizona will play to that strength and encourage him to keep the ball down and allow the hitters to put a lot of balls in play. Right Hernandez is giving up too many homers and issuing way too many free passes. But with some confidence in his infield he may be more inclined to pitch rather than try and strike every hitter out.

The prospects that Arizona gave up were Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. Both were drafted by Mike Rizzo, the former AZ Director of Scouting who just assumed his new post as VP of Baseball Operations for….yup, the Washington Nationals. So clearly Rizzo still admires his own work. According to Jim Callis over at Baseball America Mock is a 23-year-old righty with a solid 93 - 94 mph fastball and good stuff including a nice cutter. But despite his nice stuff he has been throwing too many strikes and therefore giving up too many hits. At Double A Mock has gone 4-8 with a 4.95 ERA in 23 starts. Chico is a 23-year-old lefty that Callis points out “flunked out of JC” and after “bombing in Double A last year, he has bounced back with a strong 2006. In 23 starts between high Class A Lancaster and Tennessee, he has gone 10-6, 2.81″. He was likely the centerpiece of the trade but do you really want a guy who flunks out of a junior college?"

Was this a good trade? I have no idea. At first glance, the Nationals received two starting pitchers, one getting better, one struggling just a bit, neither of which will be ready for the major leagues for at least another couple of years. Neither are studs, but both could be above average major league starters. That said, ESPN.com says that Mock and Chico are now the "two best pitching prospects" in the Nationals' minor league system. I'll be doing some more research and report back as soon as I have something more.

Bottom line, though: the Nats can afford Alfonso Soriano now if they really want him.

Check back later.

 

22 IS THE WINNING NUMBER!

[August 7th] -- Twenty-two months. That's how long it took. For almost two years, I've been Mr. Beltway Boy, writing daily about my beloved Washington Nationals, and during that time, I didn't receive a single disrespectful comment from a reader. Hundreds upon hundreds of readers have left messages, some agreeing with me, some not, but all of them were respectful and kind.

Until now, that is.

I wrote a story last night suggesting that Frank Robinson wasn't to blame for allowing both Pedro Astacio and Livan Hernandez to remain in the game one inning too long, a move which ultimately cost the Nationals wins on both Saturday and Sunday. I said that Micah Bowie was the only reliever that Frank could trust, and that's why he decided to stay with his starters, and it cost him. Then came this:

Anonymous said...
All you have to do is check the stats on Rauch and you can see with out a doubt that Rauch can and has gotten the job done, so before you come up with an half-assed conclusion check the sources. I don't know why Robinson did not bring in race, maybe it was a lefty, lefty situation, but I do know that given the opportunity Rauch might have gotten the job done, according to his past performances. Get a clue!

Gee, my feelings are hurt! What Mr. Anonymous didn't know was that Robinson said he had over-used Jon Rauch and didn't want to bring him in -- he needed the rest. I assume that those who read the blog would have understood that I left Rauch out of the equation because he wasn't part of Robinson's bullpen at that time. I guess Mr. Anonymous doesn't keep up with such things. That said, I suppose I should have mentioned it.

I don't have a problem with someone pointing out an error or an omission, heck, I screw up all the time. But this "half-assed," "get a clue," attack-the-writer stuff just doesn't fly with me. Hey, Mr. Anonymous -- you don't have to get personal to disagree with someone. Ideas win disagreements, not slanderous sound-bites that belong on the 6th grade playground.

Next time, Mr. Anonymous, how about leaving out the personal attacks and lets talk baseball. Okay?

 

DON'T BLAME FRANK -- HE HAD NO CHOICE

[August 7th] -- What's the difference between a 1-2 record vs. the Padres this weekend and a sweep?

A bullpen that gets people out.

If Frank Robinson believed in his bullpen, if he thought that he could count on them to get anyone out, he wouldn't have left his starters in longer than he should have on both Saturday and Sunday. Pedro Astacio pitched a masterful six innings, allowing just one run. In the next two-thirds of an inning, however, when Astacio should have been showering and savoring his quality start, the 36 year old gave up another four runs, losing the game 6-3. On Sunday, Livan was near-perfect as he took a 1-0 lead into the 7th inning. After two quick outs, he tired and walked Dave Roberts, then gave up a long two-run homer to Brian Giles. The Nats lost that one in extra innings, 3-2.

A quality bullpen isn't sexy, that's for sure, but it's also a "must" for any team with hopes of winning as many games as it loses. Had Robinson had anyone other than Micah Bowie who he could trust, the Nationals would probably have left San Diego with two wins, perhaps even three.

Last year, the Nationals had a superb bullpen with a horrid offense. This year, they have a solid offense but can't hold leads late in the game. Which is better? Which is worse? Year after year, teams with the "Murderer's Row" offenses don't even make it into the playoffs because they kept losing games 11-10 and 9-8. Kinda like the Cincinnati Reds. All season, their potent offense kept building seemingly insurmountable leads, only to find out that they weren't insurmountable at all. So what do they do? They trade 25% of their starting lineup for some bullpen depth, and it seems to be working. They are a better team.

The Nationals are in a similar quandary. They can try to trade some of their offense for pitching over the winter, but they'll end up being just like they were in 2005, a below average offense with an above average pitching staff. For a team claiming to be rebuilding, that's just not going to cut it.

I don't have the answer, and I'm afraid that Jim Bowden and Stan Kasten don't either. While I'm thoroughly enjoying having Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns on the team, having them here isn't necessarily making the Nationals a better team.

Round-and-round-and-round we go. And I'm getting dizzy.

 

RYAN ZIMMERMAN: A 'STUD' AT 21

[August 7th] -- The season is far enough along now to begin making accurate comparisons between the NL East's reigning super-star third baseman, Chipper Jones, and the probable National League Rookie-Of-The-Year, Ryan Zimmerman.

And it's a stunning comparison at that.

Jones' rookie year was in 1995, when he was 23 years old. Take a look at his offensive production. Certainly, he had a solid rookie season and has gone on to have a probable hall-of-fame career, but his numbers pale in comparison with the Nationals' Zimmerman (his numbers have been extrapolated out to a full year). The home run totals are equal, and Jones has two more triples, but Zimmerman leads in all other categories, and he's done this at only 21, two years younger than Jones was. When Zimmerman is 23, he will be embarking on his third major league season, and will probably produce somewhere in the .300-30-120 range.

Based on offensive production alone, you'd have to give the nod to Zimmerman. But let's not stop there; let's take a look at their defensive capabilities. Sorry Chipper. Have to do it. Jones committed 25 errors while Ryan is on pace to make just 13 miscues. Jones made 81 putouts, Zimmerman 147. Jones had 254 assists while Zimmerman is on pace for 259. While Chipper's offense continued to improve throughout his career, his defense has been speculative at best, even to the point that Braves' manager Bobby Cox moved him to the outfield for two seasons so that Vinny Castilla could provide some solid defense at the "hot corner." Zimmerman, on the other hand, is a gold-glove caliber third baseman now.

If Zimmerman continues to improve, continues to get better each and every game, I believe that the Nationals' star will "run circles" around the legend of Chipper Jones. Don't get me wrong' Jones as "studly" a major leaguer as there is. Ryan Zimmerman is just better.

Now, I realize that there is another good third baseman in New York, David Wright of the Mets, a good friend of Zimmerman's. In his first full season (2005), the 22 year old hit 306-27-102, very good numbers. He also, however, committed 24 errors and had a fielding percent a full 20 points lower than Ryan's. No, Wright is more like Chipper Jones than like Ryan Zimmerman.

And he has from now to, oh, lets say, 2025 to prove it. Ryan Zimmerman, member, Hall Of Fame class of 2030.

Sounds weird, doesn't it?


 

NATS COULD BE A WINNER NEXT YEAR 'IF' ...

[August 6th] -- Maybe we should rethink this whole "get younger" and "blow up the team" concepts that have been bandied about since the Lerner take-over. Is that really in the best interest of the team? Will forcing the fans to wait another four or five years for a winner the best solution?

It may have been the day before the Nationals - Reds' trade last month, but it certainly isn't now.

Take a look at how the Nationals' starting eight should finish the season. Does this look like a team that needs "blowing up" to you? Six of the eight are in double-figures in home runs, and five will have more than eighty RBI's (though to be fair, Church's numbers assume what he's done this year extrapolated out to 500 at-bats). Other than catcher Brian Schneider, only one player, Ryan Zimmerman, has an OBP below .362. More surprisingly, six of the eight will end the year with steals in double figures. This is a championship offense. If Soriano can be re-signed, and Vidro can remain healthy for even part of the year, this team has the offense to make it to the post-season.

The problem, of course, lies with the pitching staff.

If we assume that John Patterson is healthy, and that Livan Hernandez returns to form (both fair assumptions), the Nationals can count on thirty wins from their top two starters. The question is, where do they go from there? Tony Armas Jr. probably won't be back. Pedro Astacio likely won't either. Ramon Ortiz, however, is a solid back-of-the-rotation kinda guy, and may be re-signed for 2007. That leaves two spots in the rotation still open. If we assume that the team can fill one of those opening from within the organization, the team will then need one more starting pitcher.

This one player, one of twenty-five, will decide the direction of the 2007 Nationals.

If Jim Bowden is forced to fill this hole in the rotation from the "bargain basement," then the Nationals will probably be a .500 team next year, maybe a little better. If, however, Bowden "steps up to the plate" and brings in a gun, a Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt, then the Nationals will have the speed, the power, and the pitching to make to the post season. But they need that third pitcher badly.

And a little luck to keep all their players healthy.

I'm not holding my breath, but heading in this direction makes a lot of sense. A "just trying to survive" campaign next year will probably draw 27,000 or so fans to each game. A pennant race, however, could easily generate crowds close to 40,000 for every game. I'm not a mathematician, but I'm thinking those extra 13,000 fans per game could easily pay for a Zito or a Schmidt.

Put this one in the "could happen but probably won't" column.


 

VIDRO BEYOND HIS 'TWILIGHT' YEARS

[August 4th] -- As The Montreal Expos' potential move to Washington became more fact than fancy, and I began to look over the team's roster, I realized that I really only knew one player on the roster: Jose Vidro. Oh sure, I'd seen the Expos play the Braves a dozen times a year on TBS, but none of the other players particularly stood out. So when the move became official in September of 2004, the player I was most excited to see was Jose Vidro. He had been one of the National League's best second baseman for several years, combining power with a high average and solid defense, something unusual for a second baseman. I got a chance to see Vidro play in person just once, but I could tell from that one look that the guy was special. He was svelte then, and deceptively quick. He was never a base stealer, but he was "sneaky" fast. Against Tom Glavine and the Atlanta Braves, Vidro went from first to third on a single that fell in front of Andruw Jones. Late in the game, Jose ranged to his right and snagged a bouncer headed into center field, jumped into the air, spun like a top, and fired a strike to first to just get the runner. That was the Jose Vidro I was expecting on opening day of 2005.

Of course, "that" Jose Vidro hasn't played a major league baseball game in several years.

Vidro injured his knee in 2001, limiting him to 124 games that year. He played a full season in 2003, but recurring knee problems forced Vidro to miss more than seventy games over the next two seasons. Last year, he was hampered first by a hamstring injury and later a "puffy" knee which ended his season in late August. He played in only eighty-seven games in 2005. He was injury free in 2006 until hamstring issues forced him to the DL in July.

It's a sad thing to say, but a healthy Jose Vidro doesn't provide much more to the Nationals than a hurt Jose Vidro on the disabled list. He fields every ball he gets to cleanly, but he doesn't get to many balls any more. His bad knee and tight hamstrings have severely limited his range. Offensively, he still hits for average, but doesn't walk as much as he used to, and as lost most of his power. Today, he's a average to below-average second baseman, but he's making "star" money.

I'm afraid the only way that Jim Bowden will be able to trade Jose Vidro this off season is if the Nationals pay off a large portion of his contract, something I don't see happening. I'm afraid we're going to have to watch a hobbled, ineffective Jose Vidro do his best for another year at RFK. Sadly, his "best" is just a modicum above bad.

And that's a shame. He was once as good as it got.


 

THE DEFINITIVE TAKE ON "THE TRADE THAT WASN'T"

[August 3rd] -- First, the good news. I got an 87% on my biology class and I'm done for the summer. Yay! I now have two weeks of rest and relaxation before doing it all over again this fall.

Okay, on to the "Soriano" situation.

It would seem that the great majority of Nationals' fans are quite angry at Jim Bowden, saying he "painted himself into a corner" or "expected more than he could get" or "he's backtracking in order to save face" or a thousand other variations and permutations therein. A few others are very happy that Soriano stayed; in fact some even demanded it. But the consensus, I think, especially when you read the blogs and websites, is that Bowden allowed his ego to get in the way of getting this deal done.

I don't know -- Maybe. That could be a part of it, that's true. But that's not the reason that this all went down the way it did. It happened this way because it had to.

Jim Bowden has said since the day he traded for Soriano that he wouldn't move him unless he got in return what he believed to be fair value. So, when the trading frenzy began, Bowden asked for what he said he always would: two or three of that team's top prospects. Now, it became apparent very soon that players like Howie Kendrick weren't coming to Washington in any straight-up trade for Soriano. He is a rent-a-player, after all. But I don't think Bowden ever intended to go after the Kendricks of the world; I think he was after the players just beneath the studs. If Bowden, for example, was going to trade Soriano to the Nationals, he probably would have expected in return Billy Bray, Kory Casto and one of Potomac troika, Everts, Hinkley or Balestar. Those type of prospects in return for a star, albeit a two month star, would have made both teams happy were the Nats in contention. The problem was, he couldn't even get that level of player(s). Now, I've heard reports of trades that Bowden didn't make (I'm not even sure if they are true) that involved names I liked, but I have to assume that in this situation, that Bowden and Davey Johnson and Jose Rijo and Bob Boone know more about baseball than I do. If they all agreed not to "pull the trigger," then I assume they knew what they were doing.

So, Bowden kept Soriano and everyone is mad. Okay, "riddle me this?" What if, fearful that the Nationals' nation would have risen up and overthrown him, he made one of these unpalatable trades, say for three prospects, that he really didn't want. That would have placated the masses to the point that there would have been no need for cauldrons of boiling oil on the the roof at RFK. But would it have helped the team? I'm guessing that Stan Kasten reminded Bowden of a trade that his GM at Atlanta, John Sheurholtz, made at the trade deadline in 1994. The Padres, ridding themselves of star players with short-term contracts, traded Fred McGriff to the Braves for Donnie Elliot, Vince Moore and Mel Nieves. The Padres' GM got the trade done, got three prospects from a very bountiful Braves farm system, and the Padres' fans said at the time, "Well, they look like solid prospects -- if they all pan out, this will have been a good trade." Of course, none of them panned out. Nieves had a couple of borderline years at the major league level, but all three are today considered busts.

If Jim Bowden believed that the best he could get for Soriano was the 2006 version of Nieves, Elliot and Moore, then why make the deal? Soriano said that he'll give the Nats "first priority" to re-sign him if stays in Washington, and that he'd never sign here in D.C. if he was traded. Sure, it's going to be tough to re-sign him, but I believe that Soriano is an honest man, and that he will give Washington the "right-of-first-refusal," perhaps even with a bit of a home-town discount. If he doesn't re-sign, if he does sign with the Yankees or Angels or who ever, the team will then reap the benefit of a scenario where they have three first round draft picks in 2007. Let's see, two first round picks in '06 and three in '07. Why, I believe that makes a total of five first round picks over a two year period! Isn't that the right way to stock the farm system?

So who do you think would give the Nationals a stronger future in the coming years, three mid-level prospects or two first round draft picks, or perhaps even Alfonso Soriano himself? I would have loved the Nationals to have gotten a handful of "can't miss" prospects for Alfie, but it just couldn't be done; the market wasn't there. Now, we have Soriano in the outfield for the remainder of the year, which will keep the attendance high and the "natives" happy. Keeping him also sends a message to the community: "We're going to try to keep our best players."

The most important message Bowden is sending us is this: "We have a vision of where we're going from here, and making deals for the making deals isn't part of it. We don't need minor league fodder, we need major league talent. We still have Soriano, and he's as "major league" as it gets."

I'm going to give the Nationals the opportunity to do what they think best without a lot of griping. Jim Bowden bought a lot of my "good will" with that Kearns / Lopez trade. Personally, I'm happy Soriano is still here, and that the modern day version of Mel Nieves, Donnie Elliot and Vince Moore are not. I could be wrong though, we'll just have to wait and see.

But I am willing to wait.

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