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Monday, May 12, 2008

Can Something Be Done, or Do We Just Have To Wait It Out?

We're just about one quarter into the 2008 baseball season, and the Washington Nationals sit firmly in last place in the National League East. They have received decent starting pitching, but the complete lack of hitting and several key injuries (Cordero, Young, Dukes, LoDuca) have seriously hampered the Nats ability to compete so far this season.

They have also been a team of streaks, with the bulk of their victories for the year coming during the last home stand, the longest of the season, when they won eight out of the eleven games. They have won one of six since that point, and losing three straight to division leading Florida (what fire sale?) puts them at 8.5 games out in the division.

Sunday's game was indicitive of the Nats performance most of the season. Shawn Hill went seven innings, allowing just two earned runs on five hits and no walks, only to have the game end in defeat as the bullpen faltered and the offense couldn't bail out the bullpen. In both the eighth and ninth innings the Nats managed to get the lead-off hitter aboard only to have him die on the basepaths (Zimmerman ground into double play) or wither at first base, with skipper Manny Acta electing not to bunt with Lastings Milledge at first and Willie Harris at the plate.

The top four starters in the rotation--Shawn Hill (0-0, 3.56), Odalis Perez (0-3, 3.43), Tim Redding (4-3, 3.83) and John Lannan (3-3. 3.40) all are meeting or exceeding expectations, keeping the Nats in ballgames at least up to the sixth inning. Only Matt Chico has been terrible so far (0-5, 6.42) and he has been at least temporarily relegated to the bullpen as a long-man. With Mike O'Connor being sent back to the minors after Saturday's horrendous start, the Nats have yet to announce Thursday's starter.

The bullpen, which was expected to be the strength of this squad, has been erratic, probably due to overuse and adjustments to new responsibilities. With Chad Cordero out, Jon Rauch has been mostly excellent (2-0, 7 saves, 2.95) in his place, but cracks are starting to show elsewhere. Luis Ayala leads the NL in appearances (with 23) out of the primary set-up slot, and is showing signs of overuse, posting a 5.91 ERA to go along with a 1-3 record. Saul Rivera (3-1, 4.30) has been better than Ayala so far, but is also among the leaders in appearances (20). Jesus Colome's numbers (1-1, 3.48) belie the fact that he has allowed seven out of ten inherited runners to score. Joel Hanrahan has been good (31 Ks in 22.2 IPs) and bad (0-2, 4.76, 19 BBs, 4 WPs).

As for the hitting, the Nats are pretty much stuck where they are for now. They can expect Dmitri Young back soon--he starts his rehab assignment today in Harrisburg--and he hopes to be ready for the interleague series this weekend in Baltimore. Other than Young though, there are no more heroes on the horizon. The team that GM Jim Bowden has assembled must start producing or this team will languish at the bottom of the standings all summer. There is no help in the high minors, and the Nats must hope that the return of Elijah Dukes last week and the specter of Meathook looming will stir the Nats bats out of their season-long slumber.

As always, your comments and feedback are appreciated.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008


Cheryl said...

The minor league system has a couple of possible future heroes.

Jordan Zimmermann - Nats Top Prospect went from Single A to Double A last week.

Justin Maxwell - He is fast and has been hitting just okay with Harrisburg, however, he has alot of potential.

You know me - always trying to find something positive in a bad situation. :)

Nice photos by the way. ha ha ha

Dylan said...

Sounds like the anti-Rockies expansion experience; great new park but no hitting (v. no pitching in Denver, pre-humidor). C'mon Wily Mo! No one to protect Zimmerman, or is he nose-diving on his own?

D. Berkowitz said...

The more things change...the more they stay the same. "Washington -- First in War -- First in Peace -- Last in the National League!

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