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SURVEYING THE SCENE

[April 24th] -- Nineteen games into the 2007 season, the Nationals are playing about as expected; not particularly good. With a record of 6-13, the team is on pace to forge a 51-111 record. Of course, the team is going to win many more games than that; the early season sample is just too small to worry about. They play well for two or three games in a row, then get blown out over a weekend. Par for the course as set out by Jim Bowden and Stan Kasten. I can certainly live with it.

There are some positive stories coming out of RFK thus far, perhaps more than any of us thought would happen. Ryan Church is hitting well, and his defense in center is much improved. The team's right side of the infield, Dmitiri Young and Ronnie Belliard, are playing about as well as any of us could have hoped (It'll be interesting to see what happens to the two of them when Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman come off the disabled list). Rookie catcher Jesus Flores has shown that his defense is major league ready, and his arm seems even stronger than Brian Schneider's.

The starting pitching, a concern last fall, is still a concern. John Patterson can't get his fastball anywhere near 90 mph and his "stuff" just isn't good enough to get major league hitters out without his heater. Maybe he'll return to his 2005 form, but maybe not. At this point, I'm leaning towards the "not." Jerome Williams continues to show that, while he has major league talent, he just can't win with it. Shawn Hill, however, is another story. He is performing like the pitcher the organization believed he'd be when he first took the mound for the Expos in 2004. Of the starting pitchers, Jason Bergman (who impressed me in 2005), looks most impressive. In 16 innings, Bergman has allowed just 11 hits while striking out 15. Those are super-star numbers. The 11 walks, however, are not. This isn't a new problem for the 25 year old; he walked 38 in 83 innings in 2005-06. His problem, however, is a good one. His stuff is so electric that is moves too much.

And then there's Chad Cordero. He looks bad, doesn't he? In 9 innings, he's given up a whopping 22 baserunners, almost 2 1/2 per inning. Prior to this season, Cordero - who always gives up a lot of baserunners - has averaged 1.2 runners per inning, enough to keep us on the edge of our seats. This year, however, we're off the seat and on the floor barfing. Cordero is giving up 2.4 baserunners per inning. I'm worried that the league has figured Chad out. When you're fastball tops out at 91 mph, you have to be able to spot it at will, something Cordero is no longer doing. Hopefully, he'll warm up with the weather.

It's interesting to see how the many former Nationals are doing around the major leagues this year. Jose Vidro is batting .276-2-7 for Seattle. Jose Guillen, who promised a monster year for the Mariners, is at .217-1-2. Wow. After looking studly during spring training, Tony Armas Jr. has reverted to his old self in Pittsburgh. He's only 0-2, 18.90. Ramon Ortiz, however, is surprising everyone in Minnesota. He's 3-0, 2.05 in 22 innings. Though I doubt he'll keep that up, it's a good start nonetheless. Brendan Harris is batting .360-2-5 in 25 at bats for the Devil Rays. I've always believed that - given a chance - Harris would be an above average every day player.

Remember all those pitchers that Nats' fans wanted the team to sign? You know, those veterans who could have been signed for next-to-nothing, guys who would have been better than who we ended up with? Well, Tomo Ohka is 0-2, 7.02. Jeff Weaver is 0-3, 13.91. Steve Trachsel is 0-1, 5.19. These guys (and others) might have looked good in the starting rotation, and their additional cost might have convinced some of the team's fair-weather fans that the Lerners will indeed spend their money on players, but the team wouldn't really have been any better. Further, we're learning things about our starters that would have gone unnoticed had they been buried in the bullpen or demoted to Columbus. Matt Chico has shown, for example, that he has the talent to win at the major league level (though he's also shown that he's just as likely to get hit hard at this stage of his career).

The Nationals are going to win 65 games this year, maybe more if Alex Escobar, Nick Johnson, Nook Logan, Cristian Guzman and Luis Ayala come back sometime soon. With their additions, the Nationals will either trade away some of the veterans (Belliard, Guzman) for prospects or create a team with a very deep bench. There isn't much talent in the minor league system, but within the lumps of coals are a few diamonds in the rough.

Stay the course.

Around The Minors: Kory Casto, who looked lost in his brief stay with the Nationals, went 2-4 last night for Columbus and his his 2nd homer since being demoted. I was one many who believed that Casto didn't need any time in 'AAA' and was ready to start in left for the Nationals this year. Oops ..... Joel Hanrahan, who Bill Ladson said in our interview earlier this year that could become a pretty decent starting pitcher, pitched 5 innings of shutout ball last night, allowing just 2 hits while striking out 5. His ERA is now just 1.69. How much longer will Jerome Williams keep getting clobbered in Washington while Hanrahan dominates the International League before "something" happens? ..... Josh Whitesell, starting his second year with Harrisburg, hit his 4th homer last night and is now batting .348. If Larry Broadway doesn't start hitting soon (.173, .648 OPS), Whitesell just might find himself a Clipper .... John Lannan is easily the Nationals' best minor league pitcher this year, and yet I don't remember him at all from last year. Lannan, who went 6-8, 4.76 for Savannah last year, is now 3-0, 0.47 for Potomac. In 19 innings, he's allowed just 10 hits and struck out 13 while walking just 2 batters. A few more quality starts and he just might find himself in Harrisburg .... Perhaps the biggest surprise this year is Mike Daniel, who is Hagerstown's best hitter. Daniel, who batted .249 for Vermont and Savannah last year, is batting .317-5-18 with 4 steals. The 22 year old is on pace to hit 40 homers and drive in 135 runs while garnering 30 stolen bases.


Comments:
Saw Lannan pitch against Frederick on Friday night, and yeah, he's really something special. I didn't know the name going into the game, but you'd better believe I left knowing who he was and soon knew all about him. If he can stay healthy and consistent (two very big ifs, admittedly), I think he has the stuff to make it.

Also, I'm really glad you're back, and hoping your health continues to improve.
 
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