NATS COULD BE A WINNER NEXT YEAR 'IF' ...
[August 6th] -- Maybe we should rethink this whole "get younger" and "blow up the team" concepts that have been bandied about since the Lerner take-over. Is that really in the best interest of the team? Will forcing the fans to wait another four or five years for a winner the best solution?
It may have been the day before the Nationals - Reds' trade last month, but it certainly isn't now.
Take a look at how the Nationals' starting eight should finish the season. Does this look like a team that needs "blowing up" to you? Six of the eight are in double-figures in home runs, and five will have more than eighty RBI's (though to be fair, Church's numbers assume what he's done this year extrapolated out to 500 at-bats). Other than catcher Brian Schneider, only one player, Ryan Zimmerman, has an OBP below .362. More surprisingly, six of the eight will end the year with steals in double figures. This is a championship offense. If Soriano can be re-signed, and Vidro can remain healthy for even part of the year, this team has the offense to make it to the post-season.
The problem, of course, lies with the pitching staff.
If we assume that John Patterson is healthy, and that Livan Hernandez returns to form (both fair assumptions), the Nationals can count on thirty wins from their top two starters. The question is, where do they go from there? Tony Armas Jr. probably won't be back. Pedro Astacio likely won't either. Ramon Ortiz, however, is a solid back-of-the-rotation kinda guy, and may be re-signed for 2007. That leaves two spots in the rotation still open. If we assume that the team can fill one of those opening from within the organization, the team will then need one more starting pitcher.
This one player, one of twenty-five, will decide the direction of the 2007 Nationals.
If Jim Bowden is forced to fill this hole in the rotation from the "bargain basement," then the Nationals will probably be a .500 team next year, maybe a little better. If, however, Bowden "steps up to the plate" and brings in a gun, a Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt, then the Nationals will have the speed, the power, and the pitching to make to the post season. But they need that third pitcher badly.
And a little luck to keep all their players healthy.
I'm not holding my breath, but heading in this direction makes a lot of sense. A "just trying to survive" campaign next year will probably draw 27,000 or so fans to each game. A pennant race, however, could easily generate crowds close to 40,000 for every game. I'm not a mathematician, but I'm thinking those extra 13,000 fans per game could easily pay for a Zito or a Schmidt.
Put this one in the "could happen but probably won't" column.
In a weak NL, that's a great rotation.
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