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[March 24th] -- For the umpteenth time, spring training stats and standings are meaningless.

That said ....

With a week of spring training remaining, the Nationals have already won more games this year than last, and they have done it without Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro, Tony Armas Jr, Pedro Astacio and Ramon Ortiz.

Could it be that they're doing better this spring because those guys aren't around any more?

An article was published the other day portraying team president Stan Kasten as being "miffed" that reporters are predicting "doom-n-gloom" for the 2007 Nationals. "What are they seeing that I'm not?" asked Kasten.

Well, I see it. I'm just not sure I believe it. The team's offense will likely be better than last year. Although Alfonso Sorinao is long gone, it is expected that several players, Brian Schneider, Cristian Guzman, Austin Kearns and Nook Logan, will be better than the players they've replaced who were on the opening day squad. The bench, and the relief corps, are still the strengths of this team.

So it all comes down to the starting pitching. If they pitch well, the team can make a run at .500. Oh no, they won't get there, but they'll come close. 76 wins? 78? Granted that's going to take some doing. Not only is John Patterson, Shawn Hill and Jerome Williams going to have to pitch well all season, the Nats would then have to get all that Jason Simontacchi and Matt Chico have to give (or Levale Speigner). However, if it's just Patterson and only one of the Nationals' version of the "Dirty Dozen" who come through, then it's going to be difficult to reach 67 wins.

But really, it doesn't matter if it's 65 or 75 or 85 games won this season. It's kind of like buying to model car kit and, when sitting down to put it together, not seeing the hundreds of faceless parts, but rather what they'll look like when everything fits together perfectly. The Nationals are at the "parts laying on the desk" level. Before long, we'll have the chassis together and begin to install the front seats and the dash board. Soon, we'll be painting the body a fire red with blue and gold interior trim. When the finished product goes on our shelf, we'll likely forget what it looked like before we started.

Part of the sense of ownership in a team is watching it be built. "I remember when ..." we say to the comers-on. "I remember when Brian Schneider was the catcher. He was pretty good, but nothing like Jesus Flores. And Nick Johnson was great, but he was always hurt. Chris Marrero hasn't missed a game in two years.

Like that.

Enjoy putting your model together. Just be careful not to sniff the glue, or you might think you're watching the '27 Yankees.

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