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[August 1st] -- It's 1:16 in the morning and I'm growing a little weary of this game against the Giants. Just when you think the Nationals have managed an unsurmountable lead, you find out very quickly that it's not. Ahead 6-1 early in the game, the Giants quickly closed it to 6-4. Later in the game, they forged ahead to a 10-4 lead, only to see the Giants score quickly to close the gap to 10-7.

Something very stranged happened in the 4th inning. After the Nationals scored five runs in the inning, Robert Fick came to the plate with no one on and one out. Fick, ever the spark-plug, tried to bunt, fouling the ball down the first base line. He endured several minutes of carping from the Giants dugout before Noah Lowery hit him with a fastball on Fick's backside. I have never understood many of baseball's unwritten rules. One of them says you can't bunt for a hit if your team is ahead by five runs or more. Well, look what happened. The Nats couldn't manufacturer any more runs (they had to magically appear, I guess), but the Giants were allowed to try to score as many runs as they could. I'd say the Nats shouldn't be allowed to bunt ahead by five run when the other team promises not to try to score runs. How 'bout that? That's fair.

To finish the story, Fick came out in his catcher's gear, waiting for the Giants' first batter, pitcher Noah Lowery. But uh-uh, no way does Felipe Alou allow him to bat when there's a fastball with his name on it just waiting for his presence. Fick didn't like Alou's strategy one bit, and gave pinch hitter Todd Linden an "earful" about the Giants "bush league" antics. It's a three game series -- A Nats pitcher wil find a way "remind" the Giants that you just don't go around whacking players because they were still trying to win.

I'm too tired to go on anymore tonight. I'll update when I get back from Biology class around 1:30 your time. Right now, it's bottom of the 9th with the "Chief" on the mound and a runner on second with no one out. I'm not going to venture a guess as to what might happen now. [Chief strikes out Todd Greene to end the game]




[July 31st] -- Jim Bowden contacted ESPN and told them just minutes after the 4:00 p.m. trade deadline that the Nattionals have decided to keep Alfonso Soriano and attempt to sign him to a long-term contract. Keith Law, being interviewed when the news came in, said that Bowden's decision was a "big mistake."

I have to believe that Bowden made this decision because he really believes the Nationals have a good chance to re-sign him to a long term contract before he becomes a free agent. Perhaps negotiations were going well enough over the past few days that the team feels comfortable that he'll become a part of the team's long-term future. Kevin Kennedy said on his XM radio program that his "sources" within the Nationals team stated "emphatically" that Soriano would be gone by 4:00 Monday. Because Bowden turned down a "significant" offer from the Angels, Soriano might be ready to sign a long term contract with the club.

Some websites are suggesting that Bowden didn't intend to keep Soriano as some "sign" that the Nationals are now emboldened and able to create a first class franchise. They are saying that Bowden kept the price too high, played one too many GM's against another, and his "house of cards" came down with a thud about half-an-hour before trade deadline. His keeping Soriano, they say, was the only option left.

I don't buy it. I think that Bowden woke up this morning ready to trade Soriano for the prospects he thought he was worth or he was going to keep his star. While the two haven't come close to an agreement for an extension or a new deal, I'm sure that both sides feel good enough about where things are heading that Bowden was willing to take this chance. He can now say to Soriano, "Okay big fella, you said you wanted to stay and I turned down two very good offers to keep you here. Show me your appreciation by finalizing a deal now so the fans know that you meant what you said." I think it'll work.

What will it cost? Four years, maybe five, at a minimum of $12 million a year (that's what he asked for in arbitration, before his "stud-ly" 2006 season. Probably, the "numbers" can be worked out -- but what about this "no trade" clause that he's demanding? Stan Kasten says he's never signed any player to a "no-trade," and doesn't see any reason to start. I do. I'd hate to see the Nationals go this far out on a limb to keep Soriano and then balk at a "no trade." My hope is that Kasten and Bowden will either give him a "partial" no trade clause or give him a "full" no trade, but for only the first two years.

For this to work, both sides have to give. Thus far, The Nationals have given Alfonso "respect" by keeping him. That's a big chance to take for the club right now. Now it's Soriano's turn. Tell the fans that your ready and willing to hammer out a contract now, in the next couple of days.
It's the right thing to do.
I've put off telling you how I feel for a reason; I'm not sure exactly how I feel. I was very much looking forward to a plethora of prospects in return for Soriano, instantly lifting the Nationals' dreary minor league farm system to the low range of respectability. That said, we all know that prospects, even the "can't miss" kind, are a crapshoot. Bottom line: With Soriano, next season's lineup will be very potent. If Livan can "come back," and if the Nationals can find a couple of servicable, inexpensive starters, this team can win 85 games next season (assuming all the DL'd broken bodies return next season).
Maybe we don't need that much tinkering after all?



[July 31st] -- Well, "era" might be a little "much," but you know what I mean. Was Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Dodgers Alfonso Soriano's last game in a Nationals' uniform?

Probably. Or maybe not. I just don't know.

All of the "big" names that were rumored to be on the trading block have already joined their new teams except for Soriano. Well, that's another exageration. There were only two other "names," Carlos Lee and Bobby Abreu. So why is Alfie still here? Will Jim Bowden cave and accept a trade that doesn't involve the other team's "top" prospect(s)? Where the past week has been a seller's market, the tide has turned, and the buyers are now "behind the wheel." There is only one team still seriously interested in Soriano (the Angels), and a couple of others with "some" interest. Bowden is going to have to decide in the next eighteen hours or so just how badly he wants to make this deal.

I think it's obvious that whatever he's being offered today is less than what he could have gotten last week. Gamblers need to know when to "hold" 'em and know when to "fold" 'em, and perhaps Jimbo held a little too long. If he did, and since he's painted himself into a corner regarding what he'll accept for Soriano, his only move may be one of omission -- that is, to do nothing at all, and hope he can sign Soriano in the off-season. Worst case scenario would be the two draft choices the Nats would receive should Alfonso sign somewhere else.

The guessing is all but over. All of the "what if's" are spent. It's either going to happen or its not. My only concern is if Bowden does re-sign Soriano, his salary is likely going to be 20% or more of the team's payroll, which makes no sense if the team is going to be rebuilding as they've suggested. I've given up trying to work this out where it makes any sense. I'm just going to wait and see what happens.
But what about all those "other" players that the Nationals have on the trading block as well? I haven't heard nary a rumor about Livan Hernandez and Tony Armas Jr., not to mention the beavy of backup players that could be had for low level prospects. Are these players being talked about, or is a Soriano trade the only real possibility here in these last hours?

NATS NOTES: Did you hear that the Texas Rangers offered Brad Wilkerson to the Houston Astros for Brad Lidge? That would be a trade involving two under-performing players .... Just hours after Mike O'Connor was sent back down to 'AAA' New Orleans, he complained of pain in his shoulder and was placed on the disabled list. I wonder if that allows him to keep making the $27,000/month Major League minimum as opposed to the $2,700/mo that minor leaguers get .... Ryan Wagner, acquired from the Reds in "the" trade a few weeks ago, has been called up to replace Mike O'Connor on the 25 man roster.



[July 30th] -- At this point in the season, wins and losses are meaningless. You have to look within the boxscore to find the real news. So don't sweat the Nationals' 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. Felipe Lopez, for instance, got two hits, the fifth time he's done that in his last seven games and is now batting .266. If he can only learn how to throw the ball, he'll be a stud at short for Washington for many years to come. Nick Johnson hit his 15th of the season, and I'm (finally) beginning to think that Johnson is in fact the long-term answer for the Nationals at first (as opposed to Larry Broadway, someone I've been very high on since the team moved to Washington). Mike O'Connor has been "figured out." He's getting shelled in the first inning, and then things just seem to get worse from there. He may end up becoming a specialty-lefty, a guy who comes into a game to get one left-hander out. And there is nothing wrong with that. That rainbow delivery can be problematic for southpaws. Ryan Zimmerman has looked uncomfortable at the plate the last two games -- he needed a 9th inning single to keep his batting average at .288. If history holds true, he'll break out of his funk and will get two or three hits on Sunday and drive in a couple of runs.

Alfonso Soriano keeps telling anyone who'll listen that he's 1) happy in Washington and doesn't want to leave and 2) he's unwilling to discuss a new contract until season's end. He also says that if he's traded, he's not going to re-sign with the Nationals this fall.

Now, wait a minute....

Soriano and his agent Diego Bentz understands the business side of baseball. It's really nice that he likes it here in Washington and that he wants to stay, but you can't say that AND then be unwilling to negotiate that very contract that will allow you to get your wish. Soriano knows that the team can't afford to keep him beyond the trade deadline and then risk losing him in return for only two first round draft choices. Hey, Alfonso, either you talk to Bowden about a contract or you stop saying that you want to stay. Because, if you won't talk dollars, then you really don't want to stay and you're just saying "stuff" so you can hear your lips flap. For giggles, let's say that Soriano does stay and then leaves for a mega-deal after the end of the season. The team would get a first round pick and a sandwich pick. Suppose the team ended up with a "Chad Cordero" and a "Billy Bray," both first round picks for the Nationals. Would you trade Soriano for those two? No way. An article was posted on the team's website late Saturday that indicates the Nationals are still trying to make a deal with Soriano before Monday's deadline. How? How can the team come to some agreement with him if he's not willing to discuss dollars? I think it has to be part of the negotiation process, designed to spur on the teams still interested in him to ante up even further.

If Soriano gets traded, and I think he will, it will be because he wasn't willing to forego free agency to stay in D.C. for $60 million or so. Greed will be the reason. Saying that you want to stay is one thing, while actually wanting to stay is something else entirely.

NATS NOTES: The potential trade with the Detroit Tigers is dead not because of a lack of interest between the two clubs, but rather Humberto Sanchez' "sore elbow." I thought, like everyone else, that when Sanchez was scratched from his start last Wednesday, it was because he was about to be traded. Nope. He really was hurt .... All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the "untradeable" Miguel Tejada is suddenly "tradeable." Is this a decision based on the future well-being of the Baltimore Orioles, or is Peter Angelos "sticking a finger" in Jim Bowden's eye by driving down Alfonso Soriano's value? I'll bet that Tejada really isn't on the market at all, and that the Orioles are simply trying to make it more difficult to for the Nationals to trade Alfonso. I mean, that sounds like a lawyers trick, doesn't it? .... It's been almost two weeks and Matt LeCroy still hasn't signed with another team, which surprises me greatly. I can't believe that there isn't an American League team trying to get into the playoffs who doesn't need a right-handed power bat .... Ryan Drese reported "unbearable" pain in his elbow after throwing in the bullpen and it now appears that he will undergo "Tommy John" surgery. It will be at least a year before he will return to the mound. I hate to say this, but losing Drese won't effect the team in any way. Drese is but one of many available starting pitchers who give up five runs per game. He is easily replaceable.



[July 29th] -- Anyone want to talk about Friday's game? Didn't think so.

On to more important matters.

The face of the National League East is beginning to change. The Phillies traded David Bell to the Milwaukee Brewers for a minor league pitcher while the Atlanta Braves traded Wilson Benemit to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Danys Baez, a right-handed reliever, and utilityman Willy Aybar.

The Phillies trade is one of those "wait-and-see" type of deals. Bell is 33 and at the end of his career, and the player they traded for is a career class 'A' pitcher. Who knows how it will play out. But Wilson Benemit? Benemit, along with Andy Marte, was to have been an integral cog in the Braves' future. Benemit was batting .281-9-29 at the time of the trade, and was on a pace to hit 25 homers and drive in 90 runs had he been playing everyday. He's 25, and could easily have taken over for Rafael Furcal as the team's starting short-stop. Instead, the Braves traded Marte for Edgar Renteria, and now have traded Benemit as well.

Although the Braves are still run by John Scherholtz, his style has certainly changed. Could you imagine the Braves trading away a young Javy Lopez, or Ryan Klesko, or even Chipper Jones, to remain in a pennant race? Sure, he made trades for established players, but he never gave up a real prospect, a future starter, for any of those veterans he brought in. I'll bet that Marte and Benemit combine for 45-55 home runs next season, while Chipper Jones keeps getting older and Edgar Renteria keeps sucking the team's checkbook dry. I just don't get it.



[July 28th] -- Well, it wasn't the trade we were expecting, but it's a good trade nonetheless. The Nationals announced that they traded aging Mike Stanton to the San Francisco Giants for 19 year old Shairon Martis.

Martis, born in Curacao, is a citizen of the Netherlands and pitched in this spring's World Baseball Classic, throwing a no-hitter against team Panama.

And we got this guy for Mike Stanton?

He pitched for the Giant's Arizona Fall League team in 2005, crafting a 2-1 record with a 1.85 ERA. Impressed? Hey, that's only the beginning. He struck out FIFTY in 34 innings while walking only nine. That's almost 14 strikeouts per 9 innings. He allowed only seven hits per 9 innings. This year, playing for Augusta of the South Atlantic League, Martis has gone 6-4, 3.64, with 66 strikeouts in 76 innings. He's walked just 21.

Here is a scouting report listing Martis as the Giants' #8 prospect: "8. Shairon Martis (RHP). Born: March 30th 1987 --- 6'1", 175 lbs --- 2005 record:2-1, 1.85, 34 IP, 50 K, 9 BB!! for AZL Giants. --- Mid 90's fastball with advanced secondary stuff and command. Barring injury, this kid is going to move up fast. Since we have a paucity of "sure thing" prospects, I see no reason not to get out in front of a kid with this upside."

He's certainly not a "can't miss" prospect -- we got him for 39 year old Mike Stanton after all -- but he was listed as one of the Giants "top 30" prospects, and without question has the potential to make it to the big-leagues as a starting pitcher.

That said, once again, fans on the other end of a Nationals' trade are carping and crying. Fans on a Giants message board are using words like "raped," saying that this is one of Brian Sabean's "worst trades." One even likened Martis to Francisco Liriano. I think that's all a bit much, but it is another trade (like the Kearns deal) that makes you scratch your head and try to understand just how Bowden did it.

Good job, Jimbo. Maybe we won't firebomb your house after all.



[July 28th] -- "Hey look, I can always call the Brewers and work out a deal for Carlos Lee.": Response by any number of general managers in response to Jim Bowden's trade demands.

Not any more.

The Brewers sent Lee and top outfield prospect Nelson Cruz on Friday to the Texas Rangers for reliever Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and Minor League left-hander Julian Cordero.

I'm not going to dissect the trade except as how it relates to the Washington Nationals. And it relates very, very well.

First and foremost, Carlos Lee is no longer available, which instantly increases Alfonso Soriano's value. If a club wants to trade for a "game changer," then they're going to have to deal with Jim Bowden. That Lee went to a club that wasn't pursuing Soriano also helps the Nationals. The number of teams who were "very" interested the Nats' outfielder on Thursday will still be interested on Friday, especially those teams in the AL West. What is Bill Stoneman thinking right now in the Angels' front office? The division championship was up-for-grabs as of last night, but now the Rangers have a leg-up on both the Angels and Athletics, the two teams ahead of them in the standings. As it is, Texas is only two games out of first place. And even if the Rangers aren't helped by the trade, even if Carlos Lee pulls a "Preston Wilson" on Texas, the move nonetheless forces the hand of Bill Stoneman and Billy Beane to do "something," "anything" to keep up with the Rangers.

Personally, I don't think the trade helps the Rangers all that much. Mench has averaged 25 homers per year the past two seasons, and is on pace to hit .284-20-90 this year. Lee has only averaged five more homers a year than has Mench since 2004. If the two players are "similar" in terms of offense, then why the trade? Simple. Carlos Lee, like Alfonso Soriano, has the talent and ability to put a team on his back and carry them for two weeks at a time. When he's playing "typical" Carlos Lee baseball, he's no better than Kevin Mench. When he dons his cape and and blue leotards, however, he can help his team win twelve games in two weeks. If Lee gets hot, then it's a good trade. If he doesn't, then the Rangers won't be any better with Lee in the outfield.

Something else that Nationals' fans need to consider. The Brewers traded a rent-a-player with a real prospect in order to get value for their soon-to-be free agent. I think the Nationals will have to do the same. No matter how badly a team wants to win now, they cannot justify to their fans the trading away of a future all-star for someone who's going to be around for just two months. I think that Bowden is going to have to trade another player, a prospect, perhaps a young major leaguer, in order to get the talent level he's after in a trade. Soriano and Kory Casto? Soriano and Ryan Church? I'm afraid that's the only way this trade is going to happen.

Regardless, this trade helps the Nationals. Now let's see if Jim Bowden can use it to his advantage.


bitter - SWEET!

[July 26th] -- Two of the Nationals' best players said their good-byes at RFK Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

Throughout the team's sweep of the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, the wins and the game's drama have taken a back seat to what is going on behind the scenes in Jim Bowden's office and on Jim Bowden's blackberry. When will Alfonso Soriano be traded? Where will Livan Hernandez go?

And when will it happen?

The Nationals, as constructed, are a pretty good team. We all know, however, that the team is just days, perhaps hours away from being sliced and diced by baseball's version of the veg-o-matic. Where once stood Dr. Evil will soon be "Mini Me." The "good" will soon be replaced by both the "bad" and the "ugly." It's going to be hard to watch. So let us enjoy the good while we can.

The good: Once again, young Ryan Zimmerman showed that he is one of the best third baseman in the National League today. Zimmerman walked and hit a long home run off the back wall in left-center field. His batting average is back above .290, and, more importantly, his on-base percentage is .357, excellent for a rookie. He may develop into a power hitting third baseman like Chipper Jones, or he may develop into a high average third baseman like Wade Boggs. If the planets align just "so," he might develop into both.

Alfonso Soriano, in what must have been his last at-bat as a National at RFK, homered in his first at bat for the 30th time in his career. Of course, I don't know anything that you don't, and this is pure conjecture, but I'm afraid that Soriano's high-water mark in terms of value returned in a trade passed over the weekend. Until now, it was the suitors who were frantic that they were going to be out-bid, now it's Bowden who is worried that if he doesn't "adjust" his asking price, he might be forced to trade his star player for a couple of nobodies and a suitcase full of cash, or worse still, keep him in Washington for the rest of the season. Bowden had better pull the trigger in the next 48 hours or run the risk of having Nationals' fans think the Kearns-Lopez trade was more the ineptness of the other team's GM rather than any brilliance on Bowden's part (Bowden and "brilliance" in the same sentence? When's the last time that happened?)

Livan Hernandez did exactly what he had to do to continue to whet the appetites of baseball's pennant contenders. Over his last three outings, Livan has averaged 6+ innings, allowing three runs and six hits while striking out four. Other general manager's will now forget all the flotsom and jetsom floating around from earlier this year and concentrate on the fact that Livan has proven that he is capable of keeping any team in any game against any pitcher. That's all they needed to know. The Nationals are now assured of a solid prospect, maybe two for Hernandez. That helps greatly since Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro, both injured and both now past their prime, will bring us nothing this year.

What a wonderful home-stand this was. Six games played, six games won. The team broke their consecutive 30,000 + attendance mark at five this afternoon, but only by less than 300. The team now heads to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers, owners of one of the worst post-all star game records in the National League. Who knows, the winning streak might continue. More than likely, however, the Nationals will begin to look like a minor league team as it begins to lose player after player, night after night. Once the trades are all finished, they might be a minor league team. But it has to happen, and I understand the motives for the moves. That said, this is a good team, and could have been a great one with another pitcher or two.

Sadly, we'll never know.

Nats Notes: Former Nats' president Tony Taveres has been sued for allegedly slapping a former employee. Nice ... Austin Kearns got three hits in Thursday's game and is now batting .271 ... Micah Bowie pitched a ho-hum 1-2-3 8th inning and lowered his ERA to 1.35 ... Ryan Church went hitless for the first time since returning to the lineup last weekend ... Felipe Lopez stole his 26th base of the season.

Fox Sports Lists Nats - Angels As Trade that "Has To Happen"

As if you wanted to read more about Alfonso Soriano. Foxsports.com has an article that lists trades that need to happen. Number four is Alfonso Soriano to the Los Angeles Angels:

4. Alfonso Soriano To The Angels

"If recent rumors are any guide, Nats outfielder Alfonso Soriano may soon be on his way to the White Sox. However, Chicago (who ranks first in the AL in runs scored but only ninth in bullpen ERA) instead needs to be focusing on bringing in a Roberto Hernandez or similarly skilled middleman. The offense is fine.

Alfonso Soriano has recently stated that he'd prefer to stay in Washington. As for the Angels, despite a number of injuries, disappointing performances and tactical missteps, they're only a game out in the eminently winnable AL West. If the Halos are to make strides, then they'll need to improve the lineup. Presently, they rank 11th in the 14-team AL in runs scored and 12th in slugging percentage. In specific terms, they need power.

In left field, they've got organizational stalwart Garret Anderson. Anderson has a productive history, and he's as likeable and intelligent a player as there is in the game today. However, Anderson (2006 batting line: .259 AVG/.305 OBP/.398 SLG) has been all kinds of awful this season at the plate, and in the field he's no longer the defender he once was. If the Angels are to take the West, they need to make the difficult call and bench Anderson in favor of someone who can hit. Someone who can hit, thy name is Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano is slugging .594 on the year and ranks second in the NL with 31 bombs despite playing half his games in pitcher-friendly RFK. That's power and lots of it. Soriano, who has the Yankees, Tigers, White Sox, Dodgers and others in the derby for his services, will probably cost quite a bit on trade market. However, the Angels have a rich farm system and can assemble the necessary package without parting with top talents like Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick. Soriano's a better fit in Anaheim than he is on the South Side of Chicago."

I still think that Soriano is going to end up in the AL Central, with the White Sox, Tigers, perhaps even the Twins now that they are hot-hot-hot.



[July 26th] -- There aren't any "automatic" outs in the Nationals' lineup anymore, and it's starting to show in the standings. With their 4-3, come-from-behind win on Wednesday, The Nats have now won five in a row and are 8-2 over their last ten games. Several seemingly un-related circumstances over the past three weeks have created an energized and multi-talented lineup. In short, they are "winners."

First, Jose Guillen got hurt. The three longest "hot streaks" of 2006 have all come with Guillen either out of the lineup or out of the clubhouse entirely. Second, Jim Bowden made "the trade." It took a week for Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns to feel comfortable in a Nationals' uniform, but the moment they began to hit, the team began to win. Finally, center-field is no longer an "issue." First Alex Escobar, and now Ryan Church, are playing solid, fundamental baseball. When you have a one-through-eight lineup that can flat-out hit, all of the team's other problems just seem to take care of themselves. That's what's happened with the Nationals.

For the former Reds, the hits just keep on coming. Felipe Lopez got another two hits, the fourth straight game he's done that, and Austin Kearns got a hit and two RBI's, including the game winning sacrifice fly. Hey, it's not as sexy as a homer, but the win counts just the same. It was a good trade; both teams keep winning with their new players, which means that no one got robbed. It was a win-win transaction.

I'm afraid that Ryan Church is playing too good. He got another two hits against the Giants and has raised that early season .215 batting average all the way to .250 in just a few games. He's a great hitter; all he needed was the opportunity to (again) show he was a major leaguer. Barry Svulgara (I'm too tired to see if I got his name right) said in a recent chat that Bowden might be show-casing Church in hopes of "sweetening" a deal. The sweetest of all possible deals would be the one that keeps Church in Washington. Keep him, Jim. Keep him.

It's become obvious that Ryan Zimmerman is out of his slump. No more 1-27's for this guy. He went 0-8 over parts of three games, popping everything up to shallow right-center, his sure sign of struggling at the plate. Zimmerman, however, made the adjustment before things went too sour, and has now gotten six hits in the three games that followed his "mini ofer." Zimmerman also drove in two runs, and now has 66 RBI's for the season, still on pace for 100+ RBI's. He hasn't hit a homer since July 4th. So what? The power will come. For now, let him batter the opposition with line-drives off the outfield wall.

Pedro Astacio pitched better than his linescore would indicate. Six innings, six hits and three runs. Fact is, he only gave up two earned runs, and they came as a result of a bloop single that dropped in between three Nationals' defenders. He was brilliant. Hopefully, scouts were watching and Astacio will find himself in a pennant race somewhere while the Nationals are the beneficiaries of a couple of youngsters. Right now, the Nats have three pitchers, Astacio, Ramon Ortiz and Livan Hernandez, who should be able to bring some decent talent in a trade.

Micah Bowie continues to impress. He was the "real deal" when he was with the Braves, then just fell of the radar screen. Washington is happy to have him. Bowie has crafted a fine 1.46 ERA during his stay with the Nationals. He, and Luis Ayala, could become mainstays in the team's bullpen next season. That's why the Reds-Nats trade still makes little sense from a talent-for-talent perspective. Middle relievers are a dime-a-dozen. You just keep rooting through the pitching scrap heap until you find a couple of guys who are hot and ride them for as long as you can.

For the fifth straight game, the Nationals topped 30,000 in attendance. More than anything, this is the most positive sign that I can see coming out of this winning streak. Oh sure, the Cubs draw well, and it was the "re-grand opening," but now it's the Giants, and the Nats continue to draw. Normally, I'd agree if you said it was Barry Bonds drawing the fans, but this is the older, less talented, almost-prosecuted version several homers away from Babe Ruth and many homers away from Hank Aaron. No, fans are coming because they want to watch Washington baseball again.

How cool is that?



[July 26th] -- They have won four in a row, and five out of six. The Nationals should be buyers, not sellers. What would it cost us to get Carlos Lee?

Nah, just kidding.

A few thoughts that are hanging on the periphery of Tuesday's 8-6 win over the San Francisco Giants:

1. Jim Bowden has said several times since demoting Ryan Church for the second time that he was, in essence, out of both chances and opportunities with the Washington Nationals. He hits a Bonds-eque upper deck two-run home run on Sunday, and follows up that performance with a two hit, three RBI effort against the Giants on Tuesday. That places Bowden in a conundrum. He's already said that Church is persona non grata around RFK and it's very likely that he's only playing now so he can be showcased and traded. If he is traded, how will Bowden explain to the Nationals' fans that he wouldn't keep the team's 3rd best outfielder (assuming Soriano is since traded) simply because he didn't like him? An outfield of Church, Austin Kearns and Alex Escobar / Luis Matos is very solid. I say keep him. He's Grady Sizemore with a bible.

2. Ramon Ortiz is consistent. He consistently gives up five runs per game. He has no real trade value and won't be back next year, so why keep throwing him out there? I'm guessing that at every level of the Nationals' minor league system are any number of pitchers, young pitchers, who are able to give up five runs per game fairly easily. Don't get me wrong. Signing Ortiz was a good try on Bowden's part. Of the affordable pitchers on the scrap heap last spring, I thought Ortiz and Josh Fogg were the two best gambles to be the next Esteban Loiaza. So he wasn't. Heck, Esteban Loiaza wasn't the next Esteban Loiaza this year.

3. Felipe Lopez got two more hits, his third straight two-hit game, and now has a batting average higher than the one he came with two weeks ago. That's good. What's bad was his throw in the 9th inning. It was obvious by his foot placement that the ball was going to be wild before he started to make his throw. Reds' fans warned us about his defense. He get's to every ball, but only gets 95% of them to first. That said, it was Nick Johnson who was charged with the error. The point it, a good throw would have made the bad catch moot.

4. The Nationals' offense continues to gel, which makes the team's pitching woes seem that much worse. With last year's pitching staff, and this year's offense, this is a 93 win team. Just thought I'd make you feel bad. Did it work?

So, the Soriano sweepstakes continues. Remember all that "extremely close" stuff we heard on Monday? Yeah, right. That's one thing I've learned over the years: the more "certain" the trade, the less likely it'll happen. Last year's Soriano-Wilkerson trade rumors hit the internet about two hours before it actually happened. I don't recall many trades that really happened being bandied about in the press for days or weeks before hand. Nope, we'll wake up one of these mornings and Soriano will be a Royal or a Pirate, and we'll never have seen it coming.

But then, we wouldn't have had anything to talk about, right?
Second baseman Jose Vidro has joined Jose Guillen on the disabled list, and, just like Guillen, has no trade value whatsoever. Both players could have each brought a couple of "decent" prospects, but no more. Guillen is gone, and Vidro remains, and both scenarios are equally bad.

Since last fall when the Nationals signed Bernie Castro to a minor league contract, I've been saying that he has the ability to play second base in the major leagues on an every-day basis. He immediately becomes the fastest player on the team. He's hit at every level of the minor leagues, and has a career .288 batting average in both the major and minor leagues. He got a September call-up with the Orioles last year and batted .288 with 6 stolen bases.

I really think he'll show that he can play at this level, and who knows, perhaps next year, it'll be Castro at second and not Vidro.



[July 24th] -- I've heard the same rumors, Soriano to the Sox for Brandon McCarthy et. al. Maybe, maybe not. I'd be surprised if Jim Bowden pulls the trigger a week before the trading deadline, and that he wouldn't give the Tigers one last chance to sweeten the pot. So, remembering the dozens of "done deal" Nationals' trades that haven't happened since October of 2004 (remember the Terrmel Sledge to San Diego for Dave Roberts, the "it's all finalized but the announcement" trade last fall?), I'm going to wait and watch. No way I'm going to waste a couple thousand words on a trade that might not happen. That said, Kenny Williams was just on XM and said he wasn't trading any of his young pitchers, and specifically mentioned McCarthy, so pardon me if I just wait and see how things pan out. And while we're waiting to here about this whole "White Sox" thing, word out of Toledo is that Humberto Sanchez, who would be the centerpiece of a Tigers - Nationals deal, was held out of his start tonight. Seems he wasn't feeling well. Or might it be that something is about to break with Detroit and, as all teams do, they are protecting their soon-to-be traded players from injury before the deal is done? If I had to guess, I still think it's going to be a Tigers - Nats scenario.

Didn't I just write that I wasn't going to speculate about any of this??

One thing is for sure, though. Jose Guillen is done for the year. Fox Sports is announcing that Guillen will have to undergo "Tommy John" surgery, sidelining him for the next 9 - 18 months. Thus ends the Nationals' career of Mr. Guillen. Don't cry; the draft pick, we might have gotten wouldn't have been more than a "uniform filler" anyway. Also, I'm sure you noticed just as I that the last two "hot streaks" by the Nationals came when Guillen was unable to play / away from the team. Addition by subtraction, I'd say.



[July 23rd] -- Two long home runs were the difference in the Nationals' 7-1 drubbing of the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. One, by Ryan Church, was his first in almost three months, and the other, by Alfonso Soriano, was his first in about three days.

But both players could have had a much better day. Soriano, who went 2-5, missed hitting two more home runs by a total of six feet. Now that would have been a good day. No complaints, though. Soriano still leads the Majors in total bases by a wide margin. Ryan Church, after popping out in the 2nd, hit perhaps the longest ball to right-center field that RFK has seen by a player not named Barry Bonds. Carlos Marmol laid a 91 mph fastball waist high, and Church turned on the ball and hit the pitch as hard has a baseball can be hit. Maybe harder. That was good. What was bad was the next three at-bats, when Church tried to duplicate his Ruthian blast. He struck out twice on pitches that my 14 year old son wouldn't have swung at and popped out his last time up. In the back of my mind, there was something about Ryan Church (one of my favorite players) that I didn't like, and today's game made me remember what that was. After hitting a homer, his next 3-5 at bats are automatic outs. Nevertheless, Ryan Church is back and (for the moment, anyway) helping the team. What a great platoon we'd have in center if Alex Escobar can somehow regain his health.

I am sure that Nats' GM Jim Bowden was on the phone from the second inning on, telling pitching-poor contenders, "Tony Armas is blowing away the Cubs, you better make a deal now before he goes somewhere else." That's the way it works this close to the trading deadline. One quality start is all it takes to embolden a team to take a chance on an "iffy" pitcher. Were I Jim Bowden (which I can't be because I don't drink), I'd move both Armas and Livan before they have the chance to pitch the team out of a meaningful trade.

After going 3-7 last night, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez went 3-8 on Sunday. Lopez drove in two more runs and Kearns, for the first time in his career, laid down a sacrifice bunt. While there was initially some question about the "trade" based upon early returns, all precincts are now reporting and we have a winner. And it aint Royce Clayton, Billy Bray and Gary Majewski, that's for darn sure.

It's nice to see that even when Ryan Zimmerman is in a slump, he still produces. You can tell when Zimmerman isn't "seeing" the ball well because he either pops the ball up or hits choppers to the middle infielders. On Sunday, Zimmerman walked and singled and got his batting average back up to .289, four points below his season high.

The Nationals are now 3-0 under their new owners. Can you trace this to the team feeling some stability for the first time in five years, or was it the fact that they played the Chicago Cubs? I'm guessing it was a little bit of both. One thing is for sure, though, and that is when there's 30,000 or more in the stands at RFK, the Nationals play at a higher level.

Nice job, boys. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday. I know I will.

Oh, by the way, you might want to do what I did earlier today. I emailed the Nationals and said:

"Dear Stan, There has been a change on our end. Please wire the $450 million to this new account number: 39483957309. The old one doesn't work any more. Oh, another thing, make the wire payable to "Farid Rushdi." It's still pronounced "Major League Baseball," just spelled differently."

Hey, you never know, right?



[July 23rd] -- So, I'm fifty years old, which means that, sometimes, stuff just doesn't work right. I have a couple of broken teeth way in the back that don't bother me most of the time. I also have a nasty little arthritic condition in my spine that usually remains silent. My heart, 400 million beats later, has a saggy valve that only causes me discomfort now and then. I awoke this morning at 4:00 a.m. with all three flaring at their worst. Not wanting to wake my wife, I brought my pillow out to the couch and tried to go back to sleep.

No dice.

When I'm sick, I tend to think of baseball. I don't know why. I guess it's because I always tended to get "sick" during Senators' day games **cough cough** so I could stay home and catch the broadcast. I was watching ESPN News and I began to notice what everyone believes is true, that the American League is the superior league. You don't have to look at the recent all-star and World Series games to figure this out; just check out any slate of games on any given night. The American League is superior.

That figures.

The Washington Senators was, as we all know, an American League team. Year in and year out, the American League would get the stuffing knocked out of them at the All-Star game. The National League at one point won, what was it, fifteen out of sixteen games? Long after the Senators left town, I remained an "American League" guy. Even when I became a Braves' fan in the late 1980's, I still rooted for the American League to win the mid-summer classic. I didn't know the players, yet I rooted for them anyway. Some things are hard to change.

Ah, but I finally did. With baseball back in Washington, I finally became a "National League" guy, just in time to find out that once again, my league, was the inferior of the two. Crap. Oh, I know; it's cyclical. The NL was the best league for decades, and now it's the AL's turn. I understand that. I'm just wondering if they'll come a time when all the stars align and the league my team is in is the best. It hasn't happened yet.

Oh well, maybe one day.

Go Nats -- kill the Cubbies. Hopefully, I won't croak before the end of the game, which, at this moment at least, seems to be a 50-50 proposition. And to top it off, it's 9:00 a.m. and it's gotta be well over 90 already, and it's supposed to beat yesterday's high of 108. One of the few drawbacks of living in Idaho is the fact that it seldom gets this hot, so few houses have air-conditioners. Typically, a summer day reaches the low 90's and by mid afternoon and cools to the low 50's at night. Perfect weather. Except for a couple of weeks in July, that is, when the temperatures close in on 110. No matter what you do, no matter how many fans you put in the house, you die. You just die. Combine that with an aging body and .....

...well, you get the idea.



[July 22nd] -- Alex Escobar is something special, and apparently has been for quite some time. But if you're not healthy and can't play, no one is going to notice.

They're noticing now. And how.

Less than 24 hours after injuring his hamstring again, Escobar hit a pinch hit, two-run homer that turned a close game into easy 7-3 Nationals' win. It was obvious by the limp as he rounded the bases that he's nowhere near 100%. That said, I assumed he was out for the year after watching him being helped off the field last night. My guess is he'll have problems with the injury for the rest of the year but should be able to play fairly regularly.

If Alfonso Soriano is "going," at least he's going out with a "bang." Soriano got four hits on Saturday, three doubles and a triple, and drove in a run. I can only imagine what this guy is going to bring in a trade when the deal finally happens. I'm going to miss him soooo much. Some fans one the message boards are hoping that, as Soriano has noted more than once, he'll return as a free-agent signee next year. Two things. First, no way does the Nationals come close to paying Soriano "fair market value." That's probably going to be somewhere near 5 years/$75 million. Second, for a team wanting to build up it's shabby farm system, I can't see Stan Kasten signing off on a deal that's going to lose them their first round draft pick (of course, if the Nats end the season poorly, they may notllose that pick -- that's not a given).

The newbies, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez look like they are finally starting to feel comfortable in a Washington uniform. They combined to go 3-7 with Kearns getting his first homer for the Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman "only" went 1-5, but that one hit, a double, drove in two runs and is now up to 63 for the year. He's still on pace to drive in 100 runs for the season.

Livan Hernandez pitched his second straight "quality" start, allowing three runs in six innings. He's not pitching as well as we expected, but he is pitching well enough to get him traded for prospects. Speaking of trades, The Blue Jays sent Shea Hillebrandt to the San Francisco Giants, which kills any chance of the Giants trading for Vidro and playing him at first. It's now Hillebrandt's position and Vidro, unless Mets' GM Omar Minaya has a brain cramp, will remain in Washington.

More later ... out enjoying my Saturday.



[July 22nd] -- The Washington Nationals gave up three runs in the 7th inning in Friday night's game against the Chicago Cubs and trailed 6-4 in a game they once led 4-1. Of course, that was while the team was still owned by Major League Baseball. The curse of the commissioner, as it were. In the 8th inning, with Alex Escobar batting, incoming team president Stan Kasten announced that the deal was complete, the papers were signed, hands were shaken, and (once the $450 million was transferred on Monday) the Lerner family was now at the helm. Moments later, Alex Escobar lined a ball down the left-field line off of reliever Bob Howryto give the Nationals a 7-6 lead and eventually the win. An omen of things to come? Now that the Lerners are in charge, are good things now going to happen? And if it was an omen, what then does Alex Escobar's injury on the same play mean?

That Escobar is injury prone.

It was without a doubt one of those "weird" games. Marlon Anderson got a three run, two out double because the Cubs' outfield was playing too far in. The ball went well over left-fielder Matt Murton's head and bounced in front of the warning track. If any other player was at the plate, that was a semi-routine fly out. Ryan Zimmerman hit a ball in the third that apparently fooled everyone connected with the MASN broadcast. Zimmerman took a mighty swing, and Bob Carpenter followed with "Ryan Zimmerman! Deep to left! .... [insert video of the upper deck in left-field here]... way back! .... caught at the wall?" Suddenly, the cameraman panned down as Murton made the catch, about four feet in front of the wall, and about seven feet deeper than Anderson's double. When they came back from their commercial break. Carpenter and Tom Paciorek kept replaying and replaying the out, as if they were sure that if they replayed it often enough, the ball would in fact make it to the upper deck.

Zimmerman again showed why he's a "professional" hitter. He hasn't gotten a hit in his last eight at bats, and hasn't looked very comfortable at the plate. So he bunted for a hit. He's been averaging a bunt hit a week, which over the course of the season will add about 20 points to his average. That's a professional hitter.

Marlon Anderson did a nice job once again filling in for Jose Vidro. If the Nationals can move him before the trade deadline (something I'm not sure of at all), Anderson should be able to do a credible job there for the rest of the season. He's nothing special, but he's nothing bad either. Certainly, he's not much of a dropoff when compared to the current, older, Jose Vidro. Pedro Astascio pitched well enough to win, but not well enough to entice another team to take a chance on him in a trade.

Even though the Nationals won Friday, they are still playing like a hoge-poge of players coming and going, which of course, they are. Until Bowden finishes remaking the team, things aren't going to look particularly pretty. Here's hoping that whatever Jimbo does, he does fast.

NATS NOTES: Kevin Grybosky, who gave up a run in three of his four outings since being recalled from New Orleans, his been optioned back to New Orleans. The Nationals, now full of wisdom under their new ownership, has recalled outfielder Ryan Church from New Orleans. Church started the year off very slowly, probably because of the way he was treated by the Nationals (which was either perceived or real - I'm not taking sides) but has hit .347 this month. I never thought the Nats would give Church a another chance.

This was a guy who was on his way to a .300-20-85 2005 season before injuries (he ran into a wall in Pittsburgh saving Chad Cordero's butt last June) took their toll. He is the same guy with the same talents. Put him in the outfield next year, and he's probably going to hit .300-20-80.

I doubt this callup has anything to do with the future, however. My guess is that, because the Nationals' tradeable players keep getting hurt, Jim Bowden wants to showcase Church for a week and then try to get him as far away from Washington as he can. And that's a crying shame. The Nats want to go young, they want to go cheap and they want to win. Ryan Church could help them do all three.



[July 21st] -- I worked for a very remarkable man In West Palm Beach Florida some years back. I ran his camera store, the largest on the East coast of the state. One of my first acts as manager was to try to "clearance" a bunch of old lenses that fit the old Pentax "universal" mount camera, which hadn't been made in ten years. He stopped me dead in my tracks. "We don't do that here," he said. Instead of selling a dozen lenses purchased at $50 for $40, Larry ordered in some bodies for those zoom lenses. Because he bought all Pentax had left of that type of body, they game him a "sweet deal." I then made a "sun and fun" Florida-type display, and instead of losing $10 per lens, we sold each package for about $60 more than cost. "That's how we do it here" Larry said with a smile.

And that's just exactly how the Washington Nationals should do it too.

Now that Jose Guillen is on the disabled list with a sore elbow, there is no way that any team, even the most desperate, is going to take a chance on the volatile outfielder. The Washington Post suggested that, while the team won't be able to make a deal prior to the trading deadline, they "might" be able to work a deal in August.

No way that's going to happen.

After July 31st, Guillen would have to clear waivers, and there will be multiple teams willing to pick up the remaining portion of his modest contract. No, Jose Guillen is going to finish the year with the Nationals, and then he'll be gone, on to his next "duty station," and the Nats won't get a red-cent for him. What makes that possibility even less palatable is the fact that the two players that Jim Bowden traded to the Angels for Guillen, Macir Isturis and Juan Rivera are having outstanding years for Los Angeles. Rivera will hit 20 home runs this year, and Jose Guillen can't make a throw from the outfield. It just can't end like this.

Jim Bowden should take a page from my old boss Larry's book, and re-sign Guillen to a one-year contract for the same dollar amount as he's making this year (my guess is that Guillen would jump at the chance). When healthy, Guillen is one of the premier defensive right-fielders in the National League. When healthy, Guillen (based on past performance), will hit .285-30-100. I know, I know, the Nationals are "going young," but the addition of Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns has slowed that process down just a bit. Why not keep Guillen, then? Soriano will surely be traded by July 31st, opening left-field for Austin Kearns and center-field for Alex Escobar. That's a pretty potent outfield. Next year (hopefully), Guillen will remain healthy, and have some pretty impressive numbers right about this time. I mean, .280-23-55 aren't out of line, are they? So, I'm wondering how many prospects the Nationals could get for the Jose Guillen of 2007? Two? Three?

If the Nationals just let Jose Guillen play out his contract, he's gone and all we have left from his two years in Washington are the memories of his tantrums. If we keep him just one more year, he can not only bring us that one prospect we were hoping for this year, but more because he'll be healthy.

Having, or not having, Jose Guillen next season won't slow down the rebuilding process or increase the payroll to any great extent. Guillen is like a stock that's down right now. We know he's going to be worth a lot more next year, but we have to concede that we may lose a little more value before we make our killing.

I say we wait and make our killing next year.

I sure don't want to keep seeing Juan Rivera hitting home runs on SportsCenter year in and year out and not be able to point to someone we still have that was part of that trade, be it Guillen or someone we traded Guillen for.

In the words of "Pistachio Disguisey," The Master of Disguise, "Yes, it's crazy ... it's so crazy that it JUST ... MIGHT .... WORK!"



[July 20th] -- It's been obvious since their arrival that neither Felipe Lopez nor Austin Kearns particularly want to be here. With Lopez, it manifests in his poor performance both at the plate and in the field. Three errors in six days sucks no matter how you slice it. With Austin Kearns, it's a little different. Sure, he's done less offensively than has Lopez, but he'll come around; If Ryan Zimmerman can go through a 1-25 slump, then so can Austin Kearns. It's his demeaner that's worrisome. His shoulders always droop, his eyes stare silently at the ground as goes about his buisness on the diamond.

Why would a trade seem to bother him so much? After all, as every player in the big league says, "It's a business." Sure, it's a business, but for Austin Kearns, it's much more than that.

Read this article I found from the June 3rd 1998 Cincinnati Enquirer. It's title says it all: Reds draft longtime fan - No. 1 pick went to Reds' games as boy.

BY JOHN FAY The Cincinnati Enquirer
Austin Kearns of Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky., used to watch the Reds at Riverfront Stadium.Dan Kearns may have been the happiest man in Lexington, Ky., when the phone rang Tuesday afternoon. It was the Reds and they had drafted his son, Austin, with the seventh pick in the draft.

"It just tickled me to death," Dan said.

Dan grew up in Cynthiana, Ky., and used to make the drive up U.S. 27 to games at Crosley Field. Later, he and Austin would come up for games at Riverfront Stadium. "We were hoping," Dan said. "It made my heart thump when they called." Austin is a big kid -- 6-foot-3, 215 pounds -- with a big bat and powerful arm. He was a top pitching prospect before his fastball lost its pop before this season. The Reds will start Kearns in right field, most likely at rookie ball in Billings, Montana.

Kearns has signed a letter-of-intent with the University of Florida, but he is ready to sign with the Reds. "Seventh pick in the draft . . . it would be hard to pass that up," he said. His father answered those questions before. "They've tried to corner me with that," Dan said. "He's excited to be drafted. He wants to play at the highest level. We only want what's fair." Kearns is being advised by Alan Hendricks, one of baseball's best known agents. Nothing will happen in the next few days.

"We're not going to do anything until my high school season is over," Kearns said. Kearns' Lexington Lafayette team is still alive in the Kentucky state playoffs. Lafayette plays South Laurel at home Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the sectional semifinals. Kearns was rated as the 27th best prospect in the country by Baseball America. The Reds obviously disagreed. "We felt he was the best player available at our selection," scouting director De Jon Watson said.

The Reds were worried when Minnesota, which had the sixth pick, flew Kearns in over the weekend. "We were very concerned," Watson said. "I held my breath when I heard that." Kearns has been playing varsity baseball since the eighth grade. He hit .356 as a freshman, .417 as a sophomore and .452 as a junior. This year he is hitting .577 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI. "He can do a lot of things," said Thomas Wilson, the Reds' scouting cross checker for the area. "He's got a strong arm. He's put up good numbers in average and power. He can steal a base." Kearns is 6-3 as a pitcher and has thrown a no-hitter this year. He was a bigger prospect as a pitcher before this year. But his fastball suddenly went from the mid-90s to the low 80s. That prompted teams to shift their interest to him as a hitter.

"There's nothing wrong with my arm," he said. "It's mechanics or something. But my arm's OK. The Reds will tell you that." Kearns has played every position this year except second base. The Reds brought 10 people, including General Manager Jim Bowden, to a game to watch Kearns play. That's when he had an idea the Reds may be picking him.

"Their interest seemed genuine," Dan Kearns said. "But they'll never tell you they're going to pick you. We just knew they had a great deal of interest. We're thankful they picked him." Signability is always a factor in the baseball draft, especially in the Scott Boras - J.D. Drew era.
A source said the Reds have budgeted a total of $2.5 million for signing bonuses. Kearns will get the bulk of that. But as a high school player, he's in a position to go to college and try his luck in the draft three years from now.

But Tuesday, Kearns sounded like someone ready to sign. "I love the game," he said. "It's what I want to do. I want to be the best I can."

Although Kearns is still a professional baseball player, and shouldn't allow trades, demotions, etc., to upset his timing, it must be extremely difficult to get traded from your home town and your favorite team growing up to a still unsettled situation that surrounds the Nationals. Hang in there, Austin. We're with you.
NATS NOTES: Just a few hours after John Patterson was lost for the season due to exploratory surgery on his right forearm, Jose Guillen was placed on the 15 day disabled list. He hurt his repaired elbow throwing from right-field to third base early in Monday night's game against the Marlins. Without a doubt, any trade value that Guillen might have had is now gone. There is a chance that the Nationals could still make a deal in August, but Guillen would have to clear waivers, something I don't think would happen. His salary is low enough that several teams might be willing to take a chance on him. My, how things have changed. This time last year, we were all singing the praises of Jim Bowden for his Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis for Jose Guillen trade, Then, it looked like an absolute steal. Now? Well, now it still does, but with the tables turned. Maicer Izturis is batting .281 with 8 stolen bases and Rivera is on his way to a .286-20-70 season. And it looks like the Nats won't get a thing for Guillen now that he's injured. Boy oh boy.



[July 20th] -- There are many stories about the Washington Nationals clogging up the information super-highway this evening. First, to Wednesday's 1-0 to the Marlins. Ramon Ortiz greatly enhanced his trade value with a seven inning, six hit outing, allowing only one run while striking out two. My guess is that GM Jim Bowden will be trying to move Ortiz right now, before he has an opportunity to pitch again and revert back to "Mr. five-runs-per-game." Ryan Zimmerman's 17-game hitting streak is over as he went 0-4 on Thursday. Other than Alex Escobar getting one of the team's two hits, there is nothing else worth telling from the Nationals' perspective.

I've taken some flack about pushing for Bowden to "blow up" the Nationals and start anew. I understand that watching something akin to a triple-A team isn't exactly joyful, but look what happens when those kids start to figure things out. The Marlins, literally a minor league team this past opening day, is far ahead of the Nationals in the standings right now, and, it seems anyway, that they come up with a new star every day. Today it was Anibal Sanchez, a 21 year-old who came to the Marlins in the Mike Lowell trade that also sent Hanley Ramirez to Florida. After besting Roger Clemens his last time out, the kid pitched one-hit ball over seven innings, striking out five. That's why I was all for blowing up the team a month ago. Watching kids mature is cool. However, with Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns now on the team, the whole "blow it up" time-table just wouldn't work. I know we lost, but man, you just have to love all the Marlins' rookies.

What we've all feared came true this afternoon. The team announced that John Patterson will undergo exploratory surgery and, according to Frank Robinson, is likely done for the year. I really think this is a good thing for all concerned. This will open up his roster spot for a kid-pitcher, someone who can be better observed and evaluated in Washington and not New Orleans. Hopefully, Patterson will have ten months to cure all of his ailments, and will come back 100% in 2007. My only concern is that Patterson is becoming the Nick Johnson of the pitching staff.

Vinny Castilla was waived by the San Diego Padres this afternoon. That's too bad. Not that he didn't deserve it, however, as his .260 OBP will attest, but he's a great guy and well loved in the clubhouse and I'm afraid he's done playing major league baseball. He'd make a great coach, if he had the inclination, and I hope he does.

More out of San Franciso. Several sources say that the Giants are interested in Jose Vidro. As a first baseman. Holy Nomar Garciaparra! Actually, that's a good place for Vidro, at least for this year. Ray Durham is a free agent after this season, so if the Giants make the deal, they'll probably put Vidro back at second in 2007. Because of the $15 million or so still owed to him, the Nationals will do well to be rid of the contract; don't look for any "real" prospects to come our way.

More later.



[July 18th] -- Man, I love Alfonso Soriano, and I'm going to miss him. With every monster home run, with every runner he throws out at home plate, with every base he steals, he proves to me that he's one of just a handful of select players with "game-changing" talent. I am resigned to the fact that Soriano is going to be traded now. Last week, when he said that he wanted to remain in Washington, I thought that maybe, just maybe, something could be worked out. I really didn't believe that Soriano, no more than a two-month rental player, would bring enough in trade to warrant making the deal. However, after seeing what the Tigers et. al. are offering for the 30 year old, I don't see any way that Jim Bowden can justify hanging on to him. Speaking on ESPN News, Jayston Stark said that there are two groups of teams after Soriano's services. In the first group, there are six teams, all waiting for Bowden's asking price to go down, and in the second group, there is the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers, shut out of the post season for so many years, and the laughing-stock of baseball for almost as long, has the opportunity without Soriano to have one of those once-in-a-decade special seasons. With Soriano, the Tigers would have to be the team to beat in the World Series derby. Stark said that he's sure a deal can be worked out that would feature Tiger's pitching phenom Humberto Sanchez. Sanchez, 23, is 6'6" and 230 pounds. Prior to this season, his career minor league numbers were a very so-so 20-25, 4.73. This season, however, he has blossomed. Splitting time between 'AA' Erie and 'AAA' Toledo, Sanchez has a 10-5 record with 121 strikeouts in 113 innings. He had a dominating 1.76 ERA at Erie, and a still solid 3.19 ERA at Toledo. Some Detroit bloggers were blaming the jump in the ERA due a too-soon call up.

It'll be interesting to see how much more the Tigers will offer other than Sanchez. There are dozens of names being mentioned, some minor leaguers, and some currently on the Tigers. I've seen Craig Monroe's name (good), but never with Sanchez (bad). The worst "rumor" I've seen was Craig Monroe, Dmitri Young and a low-level minor leaguer for Soriano. Blah! Now, if it's Monroe, Young and Sanchez, pull the trigger Jimbo! Monroe is becoming a .280-20-80 outfielder, and he could replace Soriano nicely while Sanchez continues to get seasoning at New Orleans. Dmitri Young? No thanks. While several Tigers' blogs love Soriano, many are pleading with Detroit not to make the deal. Why? Because they are afraid that Sanchez is going to be the next "John Smoltz." From what I hear, he just may be. But, Tiger fans, I can guarantee you that Soriano won't be the next Doyle Alexander. He's a young 30, and will give you 30-30 numbers for another five or six years assuming you resign him. Hey, Tiger fans, listen up: You are where we were last December. We knew the name, we saw the stats. But to love Alfonso, you have to watch him play. He's amazing.

Don't you just love Ryan Zimmerman? I thought that double he hit in the 9th inning was gone (and probably would have been in a "real" baseball park), but that's not why I'm loving him so right now. He erased Endy Chavez' name from the team's record book. With that two-bagger, Zimmerman now holds the team record for longest rookie hitting streak at seventeen. I watched the Marlins' feed on MLB.tv tonight, and they were lamenting that, while they believed the Rookie-Of-The-Year award winner for 2006 was playing at Dolphin Stadium last night, it would probably be Zimmerman taking the award because "all of the Marlins rookies will split the vote," giving the Washington 3rd baseman the prize. I agree 100% How can you choose just one Marlin as their top rookie? Prince Fielder is still playing well, but I think his inconsistency could make for a long second-half.

Any chance that Alex Escobar is really this good? Any chance that Jim Bowden really did know what he was doing when he traded Jerry Owens to Chicago for Escobar in the fall of 2004? Zimmerman began the rally in the 9th with that double, but it was Escobar, batting because Nick Johnson was intentionally walked, drove in the winning run with a single up the middle. If he's really this good (not .480 good, just "not .240 bad"), then the Nats have yet another piece of the puzzle in place right now.

It was nice that the Nationals won, but I'd be a hypocrite if I said that this game mattered when yesterday's loss didn't.

NATS NOTES: We saw history last night. Both team's leadoff hitters hit first inning home runs for only the 28th team in major league history .... Nick Johnson got three more hits and is now batting .303 .... Jose Guillen threw one of the worst balls from the outfield I've ever seen last night. He was removed from the game shortly thereafter with a sore elbow. Wow, that's going to help move him in the next two weeks ... Austin Kearns got one hit and is now 1-27 with the Nationals. Don't sweat it; Zimmerman was 1-25 before his hitting streak began ... Robert Fick is beginning to prove himself a valuable reserve catcher. He got two hits (one a game tying homer) and blocked a ball with the bases loaded that could easily have allowed the go-ahead run to score ... Poor Mike O'Connor. It looks like the NL has figured out that weird motion of his. Too bad; I like the guy ... I thought long and hard about the "little league" home run the Nationals gave up last night, and whether I wanted to cover it. Nah. I don't ....



[July 18th] -- When I add a new player's photo to my hard drive, I label it a specific way. The player's first initial is followed by the first three letters of his last name, and then I end with a number that represents how many of that player's picture I have. For example, I added a new picture of Ryan Zimmerman last night, and I labeled it RZIM44. So I went to add this first picture of Felipe Lopez in a Nationals' uniform, and I type: FLOP. Man, I hope that's just one of those things that makes you go "huh."

One of the nice things about not expecting the Nationals to win very many games for the remainder of the year is that losses don't seem to matter much. I mean, I just chalk it up to "a team in transition" and forget about it. Remember the losses at this time last year? They were soooo painful. By the time the Nationals fell out of first place, I was hardly able to speak. This year? No problem. A loss is just one more opportunity to say, "We'll get 'em tomorrow!" Just looking for some improvement. Like Billy Murray kept saying in "What About Bob," baby-steps, baby-steps, baby-steps.

Baby steps. That's not too much to ask for, right?

Two months ago, Tony Armas Jr. was leading the club with six wins and and a solid ERA. Today, he still has those six wins but his losses and ERA continue to balloon. Each season, Armas pitches like a star for a month or two, then he gets hurt and returns to his role as a pitcher who has never reached his potential. I don't think there much of a chance that Armas will be allowed to return next season as he was in 2006. I don't think that the 28 year old, regardless of his potential, will bring much in trade this close to the end of his free-agent year. I'm afraid he'll only be of value as a throw-in within a larger package.

Ryan Zimmerman hit safely in his 16th consecutive game, an unbelievable accomplishment for a 21 year old rookie. Rookies do many things well. They can hit for average, they can hit for power. Sometimes, they can even steal a few bases. A precious few can do all of those things at the same time. But one thing rookies never, never do is be consistent. To be consistent, a player much have a broad working knowledge of baseball. Rookies just don't have that.

Ryan Zimmerman does. I'll turn on the Nats' game on MLB.TV and keep an eye on it while I study for my biology class. When Zimmerman comes to the plate, however, I stop what I'm doing and watch him hit. Look at his face after each pitch. You can almost see the wheels turning as he adds that pitch to his mental database. He seldom loops balls into play. Virtually every hit is a line drive. I truly believe that Zimmerman has the capacity to hit in the .320's once he matures. That should be sometime next week.

I was sorry to hear that Jose Vidro strained his hamstring and had to be replaced by Marlon Anderson early in the game. I say "I'm sorry" because when he was yanked from the game by Frank Robinson, I thought he had been traded. I've seen that happen many times. A guy gets traded during a game and the moment the deal is finalized, he's pulled from the game to protect him. I remember watching a Mariner's game in the late 90's with Randy Johnson on the mound for Seattle. He walked off the mound and into the dugout and sat down for a moment. A team official ran up the from the locker room and whispered something in his ear. Johnson turned white. He was traded to the Astros in mid-inning. As if trading Vidro could get any harder, now he's limping. Great.

So, where was Austin Kearns tonight? I haven't heard anything from Robinson yet, but it'll be interesting to hear his reasoning. Did he need a "night off?" Was he "fatigued?" Was it because he sucked over the weekend? At least Felipe Lopez showed some life with a home run to tie the game. That was nice. What wasn't nice was his second error in four games. The Reds' bloggers warned us that he got to the ball just fine; it was his arm that was bad. Man, he showed it on Monday. If Nick Johnson can't dig a ball out of the dirt, it just can't be dug out.

Micah Bowie and Jon Rauch were certainly positives. The relievers combined to shut out the Marlins on just two hits over the game's final three innings. The bullpen needed that. I think that Bowie and Kevin Gryboski, both former Braves, have shown enough major league ability to at least for the moment replace Billy Bray and Gary Majewski. Sure, they're spare tires, but at least their tubes are inflated.

The trade clock is ticking down to "midnight" and you have to wonder how many trades are in the works. My guess is that we'll see one block-buster (probably Soriano) and two block-benders (Guillen, Livan, etc.). I dont' see Jose Vidro getting traded now, especially now that he's hobbling.



[July 17th] -- Needing a roster spot for Tony Armas Jr., The Washington Nationals designated Matt LeCroy for assignment.

This is a very unfortunate situation. Matt LeCroy, one of the most amiable, most well liked players in the team's clubhouse, was in essence thrown into the "Twilight Zone," as the team now has ten days to trade him or release him. LeCroy could, if he chooses, accept assignment to New Orleans.
Bill Ladson wrote: According to LeCroy, Robinson told him that the Nationals are looking to trade him to an American League team, where he could be used as a designated hitter. LeCroy would not fit on a National League club because of his limited defensive skills.

"Frank told me what Jim was trying to do for me. That would be nice to get back over there, so I could help out another team," LeCroy said. "There are no bitter feelings. This organization gave me a job. It just so happens that Nick Johnson stayed healthy and the at-bats were not there. Frank told me how much he respected me and that meant a lot from coming from him."

Matt LeCroy proved long ago that that he wasn't a major league catcher, something he never denied. He's an adequate first baseman, but the Nationals have Nick Johnson playing there, one of the better first baseman in the National League. In fact, LeCroy is a top-notch platoon-designated hitter. Given 300 at bats against lefties, LeCroy would be expected to hit .270-20-60. When a right-hander was pitching, LeCroy would then become a potent bat off the bench. Of course, LeCroy could do none of this in a National League city with a solid first baseman. I was hoping that the Nationals would trade him to an American League team and allow him to do what he does best, driving the ball against left-handers.
It is my hope that Jim Bowden will use the next week to find LeCroy a good home (not that he's a puppy dog or anything). First, he's earned the opportunity to play semi-regularly at the major league level, and second, LeCroy, especially if he's part of a larger package, could bring prospects in return.

I don't know what the Nats have in store for this fine man, but none of this was fair. None of it.

And it's a darn shame.



[July 15th] -- Sunday's game against the Pirates looked too much like Saturday's game. Game tied. Nationals edge ahead. Pirates tie the score. This time, however, the Pirates ran out of luck and the Nationals finally got some, winning 8-4 as the Nats scored four in 11th to finally beat the worst team in the Major Leagues.

As I've said many times, the wins and losses don't matter any more. All I'm concerned with is daily improvement somewhere within the team. On Sunday, Alfonso Soriano got three hits including his 29th homer, and both Alfie and Nick Johnson got three hits a piece. Ryan Zimmerman got two more hits and is now batting a season-best .292. Livan Hernandez, after looking horrid in the first inning, settled down and was perfect for the rest of the day. It was a good game, especially considering the outcome of the previous two nights.

But forget the weekend series against the Pirates. What we watched were the Pittsburgh Pirates playing a team in transition -- a team replete with players who in hours, days, perhaps a week, will no longer be there. It would be like having in your living room 5 televisions and four radios but nothing to sit on. It's not an excuse, but it is the reality of the situation.

We all know that many other shoes are about to drop; we just don't when and where and how many. We keep hearing talk of "rebuilding" and "blowing up" and "getting younger" and the like, but really, the Nationals aren't that far from contending now.

Let's assume for a moment that Jim Bowden will be able to re-sign Alfonso Soriano, and that he doesn't trade any of the team's current starting offensive personnel, and those eight players are in the opening day lineup in 2007. That, my friends, is a division-winning lineup. Take a look at the table above. None of those predictions are excessive; in fact, I "toned down" the numbers for a few of the players. Look at their ages. It's a moderately-young team with the experience needed to win now. How many teams today would have a better 1-6 lineup than the Nationals? Four of those players have 30+ home run ability, and a 5th has 20+ power. Sure, there's a bunch of guys who will strike out a lot, but those guys can also hit a ton of home runs.

It's a solid lineup.

The problem, of course, is the pitching staff. There is only a handful of pitchers, perhaps three or four, who have the talent to support that offensive lineup. Where does the team get the additional pitchers? Stan Kasten has already said that the team is not going to sign any free agents, so any new talent is going to have to come from either the minor leagues or through trades. The pitchers counted on to have "breakout" years in the minors, Clint Everts, Mike Hinkley and Colin Balestar, are all giving up more than five runs per game at 'A' Potomac. There really isn't anyone at the higher levels able to make a difference either. As of today, you can pencil in the names of John Patterson and Mike O'Connor in the starting lineup, and that's it. Ryan Drese? Tony Armas Jr? Don't count on them. Brian Lawrence? He's a solid pitcher, but he has a $5.5 million dollar option for 2007 -- no way Bowden brings him back at that price with his arm still such a question mark. Zach Day? He's an enigma for sure. He has all the talent to be a solid starter but hasn't yet lived up to that potential.

Basically, the Nationals have Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio as tradeable commodities. Jose Guillen, Daryle Ward, Marlon Anderson and Matt LeCroy will also be available for the right price. Among these seven players, then, the Nationals could possibly get in return two .500 or better pitchers. Not great ones, mind you, but good enough to keep the team close enough to allow the potent offense to "do their thing."

Bottom line: If the Nationals keep this lineup intact, and then have a starting lineup of Patterson, O'Connor and three other pitchers who could provide an Esteban Loaiza like effort (from 2005), the Nationals could easily win 90+ games (assuming Patterson wins 16 and O'Connor 13 and the other three starters are each 2-3 games over .500). For all this to happen, however, the Nationals have to, have to re-sign Alfonso Soriano. He is one of perhaps a dozen players in the National League who can carry his team for two weeks at a time, providing that long winning streak that each team needs to win the division.

To create this type of team, they'd need to ante up for a $75 million dollar payroll. There is no question that Washington is easily a market that will support that much payroll. The question is, how badly does Stan Kasten want to build with youth? If the Nats can sign three Esteban Loiaza's next year, they can get into the playoffs.

But will they? Probably not. Probably, Soriano, Guillen and Livan will be long gone in the next week. And that's too bad. It would have been a great team.

NATS NOTES: Has anyone else noticed the pattern to Ryan Zimmerman's hitting style? He lines shot after shot within 10 feet of either side of the second base bag. His doubles find the gaps and seldom hug the lines. His homers are almost all in dead left-center field .... Rotoworld is suggesting that John Patterson is "done for the year," which doesn't bother me in the least. He is a known quanity, and he can return next season 100% healthy. The Nationals can then test out another young pitcher in his spot in the rotation .... With Tony Armas Jr. and Mike O'Connor returning to the pitching staff sometime tomorrow, the team has to designate-for-assignment two guys. With the team having five starting outfield types, the assumption is that at least one of them, probably Alex Escobar, will be gone. No way. He hit a two-run, pinch hit homer on Sunday and is finally showing that 5-tool talent that Jim Bowden has always seen in him. I hope that once Guillen is traded, Kearns moves to right and Escobar returns to center. He reminds me of Soriano; he's very fluid when he swings at the ball.



[July 15th] -- The Nationals pulled out their lotto-ticket Friday night and scratched away the ticket's dull gray covering. They found below 0-7, an error, nine left on base, an error, and a mishandled flyball.

The Reds pulled out their lotto-ticket Friday night and scratched away the ticket's dull gray covering. The found a hit, an RBI and a run and two hits given up in 2/3 rds of an inning.

Overall, the Nats' lost their dollar and the Reds won back fifty cents. Not much of a return on an eight-player trade.

From Washington's perspective, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez looked tired, uncomfortable and bewildered -- perhaps even a bit upset. They had less than 24 hours to report to Pittsburgh and put on a Nationals' uniform. They looked as if they were unready to play baseball. Although Felipe Lopez said he wasn't surprised by the trade (it's a business .... blah blah), Austin Kearns was devastated. He and fellow outfielder Adam Dunn had been roomates since their early days in the Reds' organization and are the best of friends. Compound that with the fact that the players were traded from a team with both their new owner and new stadium in place as well as an excellent chance to win the wild-card, and it's understandable why neither player seems particularly interested in becoming part of the body-politic that is Washington D.C.

Royce Clayton, Billy Bray and Gary Majewski, on the other hand, are elated to be leaving Washington for the pennant race in Cincinnati. The players boarded a "puddle jumper" for the trip to Cincinnati, arriving shortly before the team took the field at the Great America Ballpark. Clayton said he was "delighted" about the trade. "A big part of the reason I'm still playing is chasing that dream of playing in the World Series," Clayton said. "Hopefully, I'll be that piece that fits into this puzzle that has already been built here and help win a championship." I'm happy for the three of them. They gave the Nationals their very best.

The more I think about the trade, the more I am of the opinion that, while the Nationals certainly got more talent than it gave up, it wasn't a "steal" for Washington. A steal is when one team is inherently better than the other after the trade. Certainly, the Nationals are much better than they were, but so are the Reds. Unlike Washington, Cincinnati has a fairly deep minor league system and can replace Kearns with enough quality that his bat won't be missed. Having watched Felipe Lopez play one game, it's obvious that Royce Clayton was just as capable of going 0-4 with an error. Sure, Clayton doesn't have Lopez' range but he is more sure-handed with his throws and will give up fewers unearned runs that will Lopez. With a stronger bullpen (especially with the addition of Seattle's Eddie Guardado), Cincinnati is a stronger team than it was 48 hours ago.

And so are the Nationals. Ergo, the trade was good for both teams, and not a steal for the Nationals as it was initially described.

Short term, the troika of Majewski, Bray and Clayton are much happier than are Kearns and Lopez. Long term, however, the newest Nationals will be the happiest. Because of Cincinnati's mid-market status, they will always have payroll and player retention problems to deal with. If Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden "do it right," the Nationals will have more money, meaning more chances for success in October.

Here's hoping, anyway.



[July 15th] -- The euphoria lasted all of 24 hours. Less then a day after "the trade," the Washington Nationals took the field against the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of just 30 games during the first half of the season. They promptly lost 7-4.

Friday wasn't about the game, however. The game was just a stage that would allow the next act of the Nationals season to play out. How would the "new guys" do? Would they start off their careers in Washington with a *bang* like Aubrey Huff did in Houston?

No *bang* this time around.

Felipe Lopez went 0-4 and left six runners on base. Some of his swings were Guzman-esque they were so bad. He also let a bouncer bounce right by him, through him, and around him for an error. He looked almost bewildered at times. Austin Kearns played much better. He was only 0-3 (he walked once and was hit by a pitch) and left only four runners on base. Basically, they both sucked. One of the great things about baseball, however, is that no one will remember this one game in the middle of July. They're both studs. They'll be fine. Royce Clayton, playing his first game for Cincinnati, went 1-3 and drove in a run. Gary Majewski got a hold by allowing one run on two hits in just two-thirds of an inning. Go figure.

Ramon Ortiz was his usual "run-an-inning" self on Friday. Five innings, five runs. And he's been our mot consistent pitcher in 2006. Any questions why the team has such a poor record? Nick Johnson, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Zimmerman each had two hits, and Jose Vidro hit his 6th homer of the year.

John Patterson was placed on the 15 day disabled list before the game.

This is getting serious. During his minor league career, Patterson missed large "chunks" of several seasons. Since 2005, he has now been on the disabled list for 118 out of 251 games. Like so many of the Nationals' key players, he's a star when he's healthy, but he's never healthy. I've been counting on him to anchor the rotation for the next decade, but I'm beginning to question if he has any real career to look forward to. I don't say this because I'm a blogger and it's my job to say stupid things. I say this because Alex Escobar, Luis Matos, Nick Johnson and many others tell me that once injuries become commonplace, once a trip to the disabled list isn't a surprise, it's difficult, almost impossible to rise from the broken bones and strained forearms like the Phoenix rising from its own ashes. I'm not predicting. I'm not hoping; heck, I'm praying that I'm wrong. Once John completes a season injury-free, I'll apologize, though I doubt I'll ever have to.

Hope you had a fun Friday night. Me? I stayed home and watched the Nats game on the computer. Technology is amazing, as is the change in the marketing of professional sports. Back in the day of the expansion Senators, we typically got to see 20 games a year on WTOP channel 9. If the weather was "just right," we could pick up a few Senators - Orioles games on WJZ 13 out of Baltimore. But that was it. In the late 1960's, television was used to "whet the appetite" of a team's fan base. Why would fans want to pay to watch their team in person when they could watch them for free on TV? That was the concept back then. In fact, Bob Short's Senators was the first Major League baseball team to broadcast only their away games to ensure that those lazy fans would have to actually come to the ballpark to see the team in action. And it worked, didn't it? I mean, if those games had all been broadcast on TV, how many of those 6,000 fans that regularly attended Senators' games would have stayed at home?

You still stink, Bob.

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