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All Signs Point To The Need For Speed

[October 24th] -- Don't believe for a moment that it was the Nationals' "Punch & Judy" offense that doomed the team to their second-half slide last season. No, the culprit was a lineup so slow that it used a slugging corner outfielder as its leadoff hitter.

The Nationals lack of speed forced them into "station-to-station" style of baseball, ideal for home run hitting clubs but disastrous for teams with no power. Not only did the Nationals finish last in the National League in home runs with 117 in 2005, they also ended the season dead last in stolen bases with only 45. Worse, they were caught 45 times attempting to steal.

Here is how the rest of the National League East did compared to the Nats:

FLORIDA: 128 home runs, 96 steals (38 caught stealing) ~ PHILADELPHIA: 167 home runs, 116 steals (27 caught stealing) ~ ATLANTA: 184 home runs, 92 steals (32 caught stealing) ~ NEW YORK: 175 home runs, 153 steals (40 caught stealing)

It's no wonder that the Nationals finished last in their division. The average NL East team hit 46 more homers than Washington and stole 69 more bases. The NL East teams were successful stealing bases 77% of the time. The Nationals were barely at 50%.

Team management has to make a decision this winter regarding the offensive makeup of the Nationals. They must either decide to create a team built on speed, or built on power. As things stand today, the team is composed of players slower than the league average with less power as well. You know you're in trouble when your leadoff hitter struck out 155 times the previous season.

You want a blockbuster trade to get things started? How about Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson to Tampa Bay for Carl Crawford. Tampa would take two starters in trade for one. The Nats would get a speedy lead off hitter who last year batted .301 with 15 homers and 81 rbi's. He stole 46 bases. If healthy, Ryan Church could take up some of the offensive slack lost in the trade. Church has the potential for a .300-20-80 season in 2006.

Larry Broadway may just be ready to take over at first. He's likely able to hit .270-15-70 or thereabouts, which is about the production Nick Johnson gave the Nats last season.

I'm surprised that a team that was last in the National League in both homers and steals was able to win 81 games. I doubt that'll happen again without significant changes to the roster. Look what speed did for Chicago this year. Many in Chicago lambasted the Carlos Lee for Scott Posednik trade. Milwaukee is home this fall [again]. The White Sox are two wins away from their first World Series title since 1917.

Speed kills, and the Nationals need to realize it. Now.

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