WHILE STILL WAITING FOR 'OTHER SHOE TO DROP,' NATS BEAT BUCS 8-4
[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.
That's a division winning lineup only if the pitching is lights out. You're looking at a team who doesn't get on base much, so will score less runs than their averages would indicate (and their averages aren't all that great). Above average lineup but not enough to carry a team by itself.
Who would have a better 1-6? You could project a better lineup from the Mets, Marlins, and/or Braves next season. (I'd don't know where that Nats lineup would fall - but it's not cut and dried better)
Getting 3 Esteban Loaiza's next year would be incredibly lucky, helll we got incredibly lukcy just to get the one we did have last year. You can't just go out and get that for cheap. Think 3 Jon Leibers - dependable, solid, 7 million a year. You think they'll resign Soriano and increase payroll 20 million? (And I think you're expecting too much from O'Connor in 2007.)
What you're building looks more like a 81-85 win team. Maybe challenging for a Wild Card.
As far as Zimmerman is concerned, he may be less of a power hitter and more of a "professional hitter" than I had orginally thought. He is beginning to remind me of Wade Boggs early in his career when I saw him play several games at Fenway. Zim has an "idea" every time he steps to the plate. He's trying to drive the ball every time up. His home runs seem to be more an accident than "what he does." I think he has the potential when he's "grown up" to bat .320-20-125 year in and year out. I think he does have 35 homer power, but he'd end up being a .260 hitter. I'll take the high average, high production version every day of the week.
thanks for reading SBrent,
I don't mean three 7 million dollar guys, I mean getting lucky and getting three $3-4 million dollar guys who could, but might not, turn in around. If Ramon Ortiz, who has a not-so-good ERA, was playing on the Mets this year, he's have 10 wins right now. The Nats would need pitchers not who excel, but rather guys who could simply keep the team in every game they pitch in.
The offense would be good enough to win close to 90 under those conditions.
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