Down, But Not Out
But I can't.
Livan pitched well enough to win, but didn't. The Nats almost came back to tie the game in the 9th, but didn't. Several players almost got a 2nd hit in the game, but couldn't. It was one of those nights. Everyone played "ok" but no one played "great." It was just "one of those losses." I guess the highlight of the game was Marlon Byrd, whose power display since returning from New Orleans continues to amaze. Byrd doubled off of Billy Wagner and raised his average to .269. Endy who?
The Nationals now sit at 81-79 with two games left. The team only has to win only one of their three remaining games to finish with a winning record, but that isn't much to play for when compared to the Phillies, who are now only one game behind Houston for the lead in the wildcard race. It's going to be difficult for the "boys" to pull one of these last two games out. Tomorrow night, John Patterson goes for his 10th win against Brett Meyers, who has pitched "lights out" in two of the three games he's started against the Nats.
Is Nick Johnson The Answer At 1st For 2006?
[September 30th] -- I think most of us believed that this was the year that Nick Johnson would finally survive an entire season without suffering a major injury, that he would once and for all show the baseball world why he's been considered a top prospect for so many years. I believed that he would hit .285 with 30 home runs and 100 rbi's. Of course, more injuries have robbed Johnson of any hope of reaching that kind of production. Going into the final 3 games, the big first baseman is batting .293 with 15 homers and 73 rbi's. It's very hard to measure his production because of all the games he missed.
If projected over a full 162 game schedule, Johnson's numbers would look like this:
G:162 - AB:558 - R:81 - H:163 - 2B:43 - 3B:4 - HR:19 - RBI:92 - AVE:.293 - OBP:.410 - SLG:.488
Those are certainly acceptable numbers for a first baseman over a full year, but nowhere near what a typical first baseman produces in the major leagues. The following is a list of National League first baseman who produced at a level expected for that position:
Tony Clark, AZ - Carlos Delgado, FL - Todd Helton, CO - Ryan Howard, PHI [based on full season projection] - Jim Thome, PHI [based on career production] - Derrek Lee, CHI, - Albert Puljols, STL - Lance Berkman,HOU
There are 8 NL first baseman who could be considered at a level above Nick Johnson. What about first baseman who produced below expectations for first?
There are 8 NL first baseman who could be considered at a level below Nick Johnson. There are two players who produce at a leve consistent with Nick Johnson:
Based on 2005 production, there are 8 first baseman in the National League who are "better" than Nick Johnson, 8 who are "worse," and 2 who are about the same.
It would seem then that Nick Johnson is a "middle of the road" National League first baseman. He has enough "pop" not to hurt his team, but certainly doesn't help them a great deal. On powerful teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, he would be a nice "piece" of the puzzle, but where the Nationals are concerned, he is one of the reasons for the team's lack of production in 2005. When you figure in his defensive skills, he becomes a quality player IF he is surrounded by other players who can make up the 12 home runs and 25 rbi's that his production lacks when compared to the other power hitting first baseman.
So, what do the Nationals do? Trade him for a slugging first sacker? No.
Nick Johnson doesn't have a great amount of trade value because of his continual injury problems. It would make more sense to leave him at first and invest in more run production at other positions. It would be wise to limit Johnson to 125 games a year by giving him regular days off during the season. Hopefully, this would keep him healthy. The Nats could sign a veteran first baseman to play the remaining 35+ games at first, a righthander along the lines of a Julio Franco.
The Nationals don't have a lot of choices at first base, and Nick Johnson is likely the best choice of the lot. But to become a REAL contender with Johnson at first, Washington has to find additional production from another source. That will be the key.
Can Junior Spivey Be The Nats Starting 2nd Baseman In 2006? [YES!]
[September 29th] -- Look, I know what you're thinking. The Washington Nationals have on their roster a player who has been one of the top 2nd baseman in the National League since 1998. He should be the starter going into the 2006 season.
The Nationals, however, also have a player on their roster who has been a quality 2nd baseman in the National League for the past several years. Both players can only play 2nd base, so someone has to go. The question is, who?
I think it needs to be Jose Vidro.
To be fair, Vidro has been one of the premier offensive 2nd baseman since he took over the position in 1999 when the team was still in Montreal. But Vidro isn't a "5 tool" player, and he is very slow for a middle infielder. He has had to work hard to become a "slightly better than average" fielder. He will be 32 going into the 2006 season.
Vidro's big problem has been his health. In his 7 years as a starter, he has played more than 150 games only twice. He missed 40 games in 2001, 20 games in 2003, 52 games in 2004 and will have missed 89 games by the end of this season. He carries a lot of weight on his short frame, and I question if he'll ever be able to play on a regular basis again.
Although he's no Jose Vidro at the plate, Junior Spivey is a quality offensive player. Spivey has a career .270 average and has good pop for a middle infielder. How good? Take his 1500 career at bats and average them over 3 500 at-bat seasons, and you'd get the following:
AB:517 - R:86 - H:140 - 2B:30 - 3B:4 - HR:16 - RBI:70 - SB:10 - SLG:.436 - OBP:.354 - AVE:270
Spivey is considered a solid if unspectacular defensive player, but certainly the equal of Vidro in that area.
The Nationals don't need to rebuild for 2006, they need to retool. One of the team-wide problems the team faces is a severe lack of speed. Spivey could help the team become quicker. He's certainly not "Rafael Furcal" fast, but he could steal 15 bases a year and do a much better job of going from first to third on a single, something Vidro just can't do at this stage in his career.
Jose Vidro is a solid player, but isn't part of the Nationals long term future. Spivey is cheaper, can do almost as much, and is much faster. Vidro could certainly bring value to the team were he to be traded to a contender.
I like Junior Spivey and would love to see him start at 2nd base next year. Spivey is better suited to RFK's expansive outfield than Vidro's power. We'll just have to see what Jim Bowden [or his replacement] decides to do.
Nats Nearing Their Goal: A Winning Season
[September 29th] -- Almost six months ago, I sat in this very chair and prepared to listen to the Nationals opening day game against the Philadelphia Phillies on XM Radio. The previous year, the team, then the Expos, had won only 67 games. They had lost a slugging 3rd baseman and a all-star quality shorstop, but they had gained a few new players as well. How many games would they win? How many should they win? I believed that the new city and easier road schedule meant a lot and, that they'd therefore win 75-85 games, but to be a true success, they had to win more games than they lost.
Mission almost accomplished.
The Nationals pummeled Florida again Wednesday night, beating the free-falling Marlins 11-7, the second game in a row that the Nats scored 11 runs. Preston Wilson's homer and 5 RBI's were nice, but remember, he's not coming back next year. Ryan Zimmerman, however, is. The young 3rd baseman got another two hits and continues to play like 10 year veteran. Zimmerman hit his 9th double of the year Wednesday night; he has only 20 hits for the year. He's now batting .417. Jamie Carroll, Nick Johnson and Marlon Byrd all made huge contributions as well. Esteban Loiaza earned his 12th win and has certainly earned the opportunity to come back next year with a multi-year contract.
But today, the individuals don't matter as much as the team itself. They have guaranteed themselves of a winning record, and currently are in 3rd place in the NL East. It seems that just yesterday we were in last place. Oh wait: it WAS yesterday that we were in last place.
The Nats have laid a solid foundation for not only next year, but the foreseeable future as well. They withstood adversity this year that might have buckled the spirit of most teams. Baseball back in DC: it was better than I could have ever dreamed of.
Nationals Turn 80 In Miami [Wins That Is]
[September 28th] -- Just one more game. Last spring, before the first pitch was thrown, before the first long winning streak excited the city of Washington and the first long losing streak frustrated it, most of us would have traded some small portion of our soul for an 81 win season. After all, that would represent a 14 game improvement from what the Expos accomplished the season before. Well, just one more game. With 4 games left, we could see the Nats end the year with 84 wins. Not possible you say? Well, what chance did we give the "boys" against Dontrelle Willis on Tuesday night? Right?
When you have a team that has no real stars, every player has the chance to be one, if at least for just one night. Tuesday, it was Marlon Byrd, who went 4-5 with a long home run over the left field wall. Byrd was a slap hitter his first stint with the big club, but has developed some real power since his "vacation" in New Orleans over the summer. Cristian Guzman is also continuing his renaissance, getting two more hits and raising his average to .217, and is showing that maybe, just maybe, he'll do OK next year if the team gives him the chance. Ryan Zimmerman is continuing his hot hitting, getting two more hits including his 8th double of the year. Man, this young man is going to a special one. Vinny Castilla has already said that he's not going to sit on the bench next year, that he's here to start. My guess is that he's going to get traded to a contender to give that team some added infield depth.
I have read in many of the Nationals' blogs that this has been a disappointing year. Nah, it's been a great year. Give the team a little bit of health and they win 85-90 games. My, it's fun to be part of the Nats nation.
Holy Hector! Carrasco Bids For Rotation Slot in 2006
[September 25th] -- Hector Carrasco is THE MAN, and he hopes to be one of THE MEN when the season starts next spring.
Carrasco's start against the Mets September 13th was only the second of his career. Since that night in New York, the 35 year old has been near perfect. Over his last four starts, Carrasco has pitched 21 innings, giving up just 12 hits, 2 runs and has struck out 23. His ERA, which was a good 2.19 as a reliever, is now a microscopic 1.73 since he joined the starting rotation. All of this is because pitching coach Randy St. Claire taught him a quality change, something he never had to go with his 90+ mph fast ball.
Ryan Zimmerman, a night after returning to the real world where rookies are embarrassed by major league pitchers, rapped out two hits, one a double and drove in the second run of the night. Zimmerman's batting average is back up to .421 after dropping near the "Williams" line last night [that would be .400 hitter Ted Williams]
rapped out 3 more hits, "raising" his average to .215, and with the exception of that mental lapse yesterday in the field, he has been playing like Jim Bowden and the rest of us thought he would. I have this "gut" feeling that if the team stays with him next year [and there is no one in the system to take his place], he just might give the Nats their money's worth.
I still believe that the Nationals will end the year above .500, and will have provided their D.C. fans with much joy over the months.
Hondo, Is That You?
[September 25th] -- I thought I've seen every picture ever taken of Senators great Frank Howard.
Guess I was wrong.
Maybe I meant I've seen every GOOD picture ever taken of the big man.
"Hail To The Redskins, Hail Victory...."
[September 24th] -- About this time 34 years ago, the Washington Senators began to pack for their move to Dallas-Ft. Worth, and the eyes of the Washington sports community turned to The Redskins and their new coach, George Allen. Today, the way the Nationals played, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Nationals' fans in the stadium began to think about the Seahawks game next week.
It was a pretty lousy game. John Patterson was "off" for the 3rd game in a row. Ryan Zimmerman looked like rookie - finally - and Cristian Guzman got booed out of his shoes when he dropped a routine pop-up to shallow left field. The Nationals came back to take a 5-4 lead on a two out, two run single by Nick Johnson [Brandon Watson got thrown out at home plate of course] but lost the lead the next inning when Travis Hughes gave up a couple of long shots.
And what's with giving up two homers to the player formerly known as Mike Piazza? He's too old to be doing that kind of thing.
OK, so they've given up and are in a free fall. That's OK. They're our guys who have given up and are in a free fall, and not some bunch of no names hanging out in some concrete cavern in Montreal.
Gut Jobben, Heir Zimmerman
[September 24th] -- As the Nationals continue their season ending slide, it is becoming obvious that the team will end somewhere at or near where most of us hoped the team would be -- at or near .500. Gone are those heady days of early July when the Braves were the closest team to the first place Nats, and even they were 5.5 games behind major league's newest wunderteam. Alas. No more. And, no sweat. Would we as Nats fans have sold our baseball souls for a .500 finish back in April? You be we would have. And I still would today.
Ryan Zimmerman is beginning to scare me. After getting three hits two nights ago, he did it again Saturday night, raising his average to an unbelievable .483. Dare I even mention his slugging an on-base percentages? Yes, I guess I do dare. Going into Sunday's game against the Mets, Zimmerman has an OBP of .467 and a SLG average of .690. Those types of numbers are usually associated with a man named Bonds, Barry Bonds. Wow.
Rick Short tore his labrum while diving for a ball Friday night and will have surgery to repair it soon -- he's done or the year, and doctors suggest he may still be questionable when spring training rolls around next February. How sad, because the Nats were going to work with Short all off-season to help him improve his fielding so that he could cement a spot on the roster next year. Hopefully, he'll still have the opportunity.
Ryan Rules, Gary Drools
[September 23rd] -- OK, granted, that long 3-run homer in the top of the 10th of of ace reliever Gary Majewski stung a little bit, but let's be realistic. We lost another battle last night, but trust me, we'll end up winning the war soon enough.
In order for Majewski to be in the position to give up the eventual game winning homer, The Nationals, who had been shut out the entire game, had to first get to the 10th. And they did just that. Carlos Baerga, who hasn't been seen much in the past month, stepped to the plate having gone hitless in his last 9 at bats. No problem. Roberto Hernandez, who isn't exactly a premier reliever, threw a fastball that the veteran second basemandrove over the fence for the game tying home run. Sure, I'd rather have won the game, but sometimes, baseball is just baseball. Weird things happen. Kinda like the Nationals having lost four of their last five games in the opponents final at bat. Like that. Hey, it happens.
Let's talk about my favorite Nationals subject, Ryan Zimmerman. The ersatz 20 year old garnered 3 more hits last night against the Mets, and has raised his major league average to an astounding .440. Now remember, this is a guy who was chasing girls on the quad at the University of Virginia last May, singing with his friends, "From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill, we're...." Zimmerman is only one of six top-ten 2005 first round picks to have signed thus far, and the only one of them who has played beyond Class 'A' ball. He raised his on-base percent to .423 and his slugging to a stratospheric .641. Granted, he's only been to the plate 25 times, but how many 20 year olds could do what he's doing at this stage of their careers? Certainly, none of the 2005 draftees.
Esteban Loaiza pitched another great game, lowering his ERA to 3.63 and remains one game over .500 at 11-10. The Nats have many good players who will help next year be a great one. We just have to get that new owner to buy us 2-3 players, one a pitcher, and we're on our way.
Nationals Chose Well In 2005 Amateur Draft
[September 23rd] -- Most serious Nationals' fans marvel at the quick ascent from college junior to starting 3rd baseman in the major leagues by Ryan Zimmerman. For most prospects, it takes 3-5 years before they join the parent club, and at that, it's usually for only the traditional "cup of coffee" September call up. Not Zimmerman. He started at Class A Savannah, quickly moved to AA Harrisburg, and today has reached the pinnacle of his career goal: the major leagues.
So just how good is the former University of Virginia product doing when compared to his peers in the 2005 amateur draft? Let's take a look. Remember, Zimmerman was the 4th pick in the draft. We'll compare him to the other top ten draftees.
Some of these players have yet to sign, placing financial gain above their careers. Justin Upton, the number one pick in the draft, number 2 Alex Gordon, number 9 Mike Pelfrey and number 10 Cameron Maybin are all hold outs. Who knows how this time away from baseball will effect their careers. Some, like J.D. Drew were able to hold out for more than a year and still go on to be productive. Remember, however, that Drew has had constant injury problems which might be related to his lengthy absence from the game. Ryan Zimmerman, however, put his love of baseball ahead of being filthy rich, settling on being just a multi-millionaire and starting his career immediately.
Jeff Clement, the #3 pick in the draft, played well for the Mariners rookie team in Bellingham Washington, batting .315 with 6 homers and 20 RBI's. The 5th pick, Ryan Braun, split time between Helena of the Pioneer League and West Virginia, a Class A team. Braun did well, hitting a combined .347 with 10 homers and 45 RBI's. Toronto's Ricardo Romero played for Auburn and Dunedin, both rookie league teams, and went 1-0 with a 3.82 ERA. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki spent the season with Class A Modesto, hitting a modest .266 with 4 homers and 14 RBI's. Number 8 pick Wade Townsend of the Devil Rays had the hardest time of the group, going 0-4 with a 5.49 ERA pitching for Hudson Valley, a short season rookie team.
Some of these players, such as Clement and Braun did a quality job during their first season in the minor leagues. A few will remain in Class A next year as they continue to hone their skills. Others will play a portion of their season next year at the Class AA level. All in all, they are on pace to make it to the major leagues in three years or so.
And then there is Ryan Zimmerman. After overpowering Class A pitching for a week at Savannah, he was promoted to AA Harrisburg. There, he hit a one week "pothole" as his average dipped to .215. From that point, however, Zimmerman made the neccessary adjustments and ended the season with a .323 average. At the major league level, he's done even better. He went 2-4 against the Giants Thursday and raised his average to .381. More importantly, his on-base average is .361 and he is slugging at a .571 clip. He hasn't hit a home run yet, but half of his 8 hits are doubles, which is a very good sign. Most of the quality sluggers today had a high number of doubles early in their careers as they learned how to drive the ball. Defensively, well, Jim Bowden said on draft day, "Ryan Zimmerman's defense is major league quality today."
How good will he be? Most scouts say he will have a career similar to that of Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. He'll likely have a higher average, with perhaps only a little less power, and a much, much better glove.
The Nationals have several players who will make up the core of the team's future. Brian Schneider is the premier defensive catcher in the National League today. Zimmerman will provide stability at third. Ian Desmond has shown traces of brilliance since the first day of spring training. Ryan Church should become a .300-20-80 guy for years to come. John Patterson has morphed into a #1 starter in just one season. The rest of the team's future depends on how well the Nick Johnsons and Brad Wilkersons and Jose Vidros perform, and also on how much money the new owners are willing to invest in free agents.
One thing's for sure. Ryan Zimmerman will be the key to that future.
The Kids Come Through
[September 22nd] -- Finally, Nationals manager Frank Robinson looked to the future. On a day when Barry Bonds didn't play, the Nats' kids did. Brandon Watson, Rick Short and Ryan Zimmerman started together and backed by yet another strong performance by Hector Carrasco, the Nats salvaged the final game of the series, beating the Giants 2-0.
Ryan Zimmerman collected two hits as did Rick Short. Devi Cruz, playing against his former team, chipped in two hits as well. Chad Cordero pitched well for the first time in quite a while, garnering his league best 47th save.
Ryan Zimmerman is unbelievable. It took him only four games to prove that Class A was beneath his ability. After struggling for two weeks, he spent the summer dominating Class AA Eastern League pitching. And now, albeit with only 21 at bats, he is showing and right now, not next year or the year after, that he may just belong in the major leagues before the arrival of his 21st birthday. And Rick Short is causing many a Nats fan to wonder exactly why it has taken 12 years for him to get a chance to play in the major leagues. His two homers have both been towering shots, one off of Dontrelle Willis, the coming against Braves' ace John Smoltz. How can the Nats not give him a chance to at least be a top infield reserve next season? And Hector Carrasco has got to be given the chance to be the 5th starter next year. In his three starts, he has pitched 10 innings and given up only 2 runs while striking out 17. Not much more you can do to show you deserve at least a shot.
So, the kids came through. Hopefully, they'll continue to produce during the last 10 games of the season, and the new ownership will add some key players to make the Nats a contender next year.
Caution: Judge Nationals season on April Expectations, Not July Record
[September 21st] -- The time has finally come. No longer can Frank Robinson look into the cameras of ESPN and Fox and say, "We're going to use the players that got us here. I'm not going to sit down Vinny Castilla so this kid [Zimmerman] can start. He hasn't earned it; Vinny has."
OK, that may have worked when the Nats were 2 games behind the wild-card front runner. But that dog just don't hunt any more. The only "status" goals left for the team to accomplish this year is to finish above .500 and to end the season somewhere other than last place. Well, as of Thursday morning, the team is all of two games over .500 and a game and a half out of the cellar. And that's GOOD.
Moments before the first pitch in Philadelphia earlier this year, the great majority of newly christened Nats fans would have taken 77 wins for the season and a 4th place finish in the very scary National League East. The team is going to end the season in far better shape than most of us had expected. So why all the glum faces? Because of that ridiculously hot start to the season.
When a team sits at the half-way point in the season at 50-31, it's easy to believe that the team will continue to play that style of dominant ball. But any REAL baseball fan, any TRUE Nationals fan could see that the team was playing far better than their ability. Wilkerson was striking out too much. Castilla was already into his second-half slide. Vidro hadn't played since a west coast trip in early May. It was only a matter of time before these problems and others began to catch up with the team.
I'm pleased with the season the team has provided and look forward to a much improved team next year. New owner. Deep pockets. Free agent market. This wasn't the year the team was going to contend, but things will look very good for 2006.
Stick A Fork In Nationals' Playoff Hopes -- They're Done
Less than 24 hours after losing to San Diego on a grand slam in the 9th and a 3 run blast in the 12th, the Nats lost again, this time on an infield single, a hit batsman and an errant throw on a bunt attempt. No ball left the infield this time, but the end result was the same: A painful loss.
Yes, the Nationals already slim play off hopes are now gone. They are 4.5 games behind Houston, with fellow Eastern division rivals Florida and Philadelphia ahead of them -- and leap frogging 3 teams in two weeks is virtually impossible.
So, what now? Real Nationals fans will look at the season as a whole, and be very excited that the team won more games than they lost their first year in Washington [trust me, they'll do just that]. Memo to Frank and Jim: NOW IS THE TIME TO PLAY RYAN ZIMMERMAN AND THE SLEW OF KIDS GATHERING SPLINTERS ON THE BENCH. Thanks for the effort Vinny and Cristian, but we need to see how these kids can play. And based on your play during the second half, they're probably going to produce more than you. Let's see if Kenny Kelly or Brandon Watson can be a major league lead off hitter. Preston Wilson was brought in to help us get to the playoffs. Now that we're not going to be playing in October, let Preston rest his aches and pains and give the kids a chance. Can Jay Bergman be a starter at this level? Let's find out.
Thanks for a great pennant run, boys, and I'm proud that you stayed with the "really" talented teams for this long. But now is the time to begin tinkering for next year. Ah next year. New owner. More money. Free Agents. And Ryan Zimmerman
My, what a fun off season it will be.
Padres Remarkable Comeback Dooms Nats 8-5
[September 17th] -- It happens. Too bad "it" happened when it did. The Washington Nationals, one out away from winning their 5th game in a row, allowed a dramatic game tying grand slam by Khalil Greene in the 9th and a game winning 3 run blast by Ramon Hernandez in the 12th, all but ending any real hope for the Nationals to make the post season in their first year in D.C.
This morning, tired from staying up half the night and listening to the game, I am not saddened or distraught. Baseball is a game of percentages. Even the Yankees lose 3 or 4 games a year like this, so to expect the Nats of doing any better than them would be pure folly.
The Team played well all game, scoring 5 runs, two coming on solo home runs by Nick Johnson and Preston Wilson. By the time the bottom of the 9th began, I was beginning to formulate what I would write here this morning. Even with the bases loaded and 2 down, down by 4, I wasn't worried. I mean, what would the chances be of D.C. pitchers giving up TWO grand slams in three days? As it turned out, pretty good.
Chad Cordero is tiring, which is to be expeceted. This is his first full season in the major leagues, and by far and away the most innings he has ever pitched in a single season at any level. You can't get mad when these things happen; you just shrug your shoulders and look forward to the next game.
If the Nats can win today, they still have a [slight] chance for the post season, but more importantly, they can still end the season with a win total in the low to mid 80 range. Any of us would have that kind of season last fall. It hurts because Washington was sitting high atop the NL East in the beginning of July with a 50-31 record, and it has been a miserable second half for the boys.
No sweat. No worries. Now, go get the Padres!
Surging Nats Take Wind Out Of San Diego's Sails
[September 16th] -- With respect to Livan Hernandez, Chad Cordero and Jose Guillen, John Patterson is the future of the Washington Nationals. The lanky Texan pitched another complete game at Petco Park Friday night, allowing only 3 hits and striking out 6 while lowering his ERA to 2.65.
Patterson has gone from afterthought to ace in a single year. Livan Hernandez wins with smarts and guile; no one has ever suggested that he has great "stuff." His career ERA is in the high 3's, further indication that he wins by almost willing it to happen.
Just a few days ago, many fans, including me, had thrown in the towel and begged the Nationals management to play the team's "future talent" now so that the new ownership could get a better feel as to who can and who can't play at this level. This morning, Washington is 77-71, riding a five game winning streak and only 2 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead.
I still think it very unlikely that the Nationals can win the Wild Card because two of the teams ahead of them are in their division. But I do believe in moral victories, and watching our team fight for a playoff position going into the final week of the season is certainly a victory of sorts. Remember, most of us bloggers predicted back in March that Washington would win somewhere between 75 and 85 games, and we'd be very happy with that. Well, with 14 games left, the Nats need only split their remaining schedule to end the year with a 82-80 mark.
Not bad for a team that won 67 games just one year ago.
Having Swept The Mets, Nats Head West Still In Wildcard Hunt
[September 15th] -- First, I'm pleased to be back. After two months of dealing with family matters more pressing than the Nationals [and that says something], I'm now able to turn my attention once again to Washington baseball.
I had the chance to watch Thursday's game against the Mets on ESPN, one of only a dozen or so games I've had the opportunity to see here in Idaho. Gary Thorn spent much of the broadcast poking fun at the anemic DC offense. After scoring three runs in the top of the first, Thorn said, "And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the entire offensive output for the Nationals today." Ha-ha. Problem: the Nationals who continually are berated and chided for their poor offense are currently five games over .500 and sit only 2.5 games out of the Wild Card lead. Make fun of the Nats all you want: they are EIGHTEEN teams in the major leagues who would gladly exchange their more potent offenses for the Nationals 76 wins. The Royals have a better offense and have won 48 games this year. The Rockies have a tremendous offense and have won 59. For better or worse, this is a team built on pitching and defense.
The Nationals begin a three game series tonight against the first place San Diego Padres. The Padres are 72-73 and in first place in the National League West. The Nationals are 76-71 and are in fourth place in the National League East. The Padres have spent the year playing teams in their division that are a combined 68 games under .500 while the Natinonals have faced divisional rivals who are a combined 35 games over .500. That's a 103 game swing between the two divisions.
Going into the 2005 season, there was no question that the Nationals had an "uphill climb" in trying to compete in the NL East. And we were right. But I'd much rather be a fan of the fourth place Nationals tonight than the first place Padres.
This year wasn't about winning a division, or even competing for a wild-card berth. It was about being competitive. The Nationals need only to finish the season 5-10 to end up at 81-81, a tremendous improvement over last years 65-97 fiasco in Montreal.
And this great improvement came with no offense to speak of. Imagine what things will look like next spring with the new owners and their deep pockets.