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FUTURE NOT TOTALLY SCARY

[April 26th] -- Going into Sunday's game against the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals are in last place in the National League East with an 8-16 record. I'm not suprised, are you? With almost a 7th of the season played, we're starting to get a feel as to how good (or bad) the team is going to be this year. If they keep at their current pace, they are going to win just 53 games, and that's just not going to happen. Several of the team's top players have gotten off to a slow start; when they heat up, the wins wills come at a faster rate. That said, the team's offense, when extrapolated out over a full 162 games, looks very much like some of the poorer teams over the past thirty years:

There are of course a couple of caveats within those statistics. There is no way that Ryan Zimmerman is going to continue to hit so poorly (though there is equally no way he's going to drive in 110 runs again with fewer baserunners to drive in). By the end of the year, look for Zim to be somewhere in the .280-20-75 range. Second, who knows where Dmitri Young and Ronnie Belliard will be come the All-star break. There is talk of Young moving to left field when Nick Johnson returns (and reports this morning seem indicate that Nick is suddenly making great strides towards regaining his leg strength). I'm certainly not against Young taking over in left, but I have these bad memories of Daryle Ward embarrassing himself in the outfield last year and don't want to see that repeated. He's averaged almost seven errors per 162 games played in the outfield. Compare that to Austin Kearns (who's considered a solid defensive outfielder), who has averaged six errors per 162 games. Can he get to enough balls hit to the outfield? That's the question, I guess.

Brian Schneider is getting off to his typically slow start, so don't look for him to be at .192 come September (but don't look for him to have 83 RBI's either). Austin Kearns will also have much better numbers by the end of the year. Though he isn't the stud that Jim Bowden thinks he is, he is a solid complimentary player for a playoff team. He is not, however, someone who can carry the Nationals through the difficult times. These are his career averages based on a 574 at-bat season:

AB:574 - H:152 - 2B:33 - 3B:3 - HR:24 - RBI:92 - SB:7 - Ave:.264 - OPB:.360 - SLG:.462

When healthy, the Nationals' 3-4-5 batters, Zimmerman, Nick Johnson and Kearns, are certainly good enough to generate enough runs for a contending team. Combined, the three of them will hit somewhere around . 295 and drive in 300 runs. They'll never hit a bunch of homers (80 seems to be their combined maximum), but they get on base and they drive in runs.

Right now (assuming the return of Nick Johnson), the Nationals have only one hole in their starting lineup - left field. Regardless of what's coming out of the mouths of the Nationals' big-wigs, the combination of Ronnie Belliard at 2nd and Felipe Lopez at short is the team's best double play duo. What do they do with Cristian Guzman? I don't know. When Nook Logan returns, Church will return to left and fill that hole, but will having Logan in center create another one? Probably. The team just doesn't have enough power and run-producing ability to keep Logan in the starting lineup.

Pitching is another story. I don't want to project the starter's numbers because - frankly - they are too scary to look at. A few things have come out of the first month of the season, however. First, the Nationals have two solid starters in Jason Bergman and Shawn Hill. Hill, who is 2-2, 2.76, isn't doing anything new. Although he finished last year 1-3, 4.66, he was the team's best pitcher before injuries took their toll. Before developing arm troubles, Hill averaged 6.5 innings per start, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks and striking out 3 per contest. his ERA was just 2.42. Once he was forced to pitch in pain, however, his numbers spiraled downward. In his last two starts, he threw just 10 innings, giving up 21 hits and 12 runs. When we look at Hill's numbers from last year, then, we should look at what he did before he was hurt. This year, he's averaged 6.2 innings per start, allowing 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4 - almost identical to his pre-injury stats from last year.

So we have Hill, and we have Bergman. Williams looks good one day and bad the next. The same goes for Matt Chico, but he's young and still learning. Chico could end the year with a 10-15, 5.50 record and it could still be considered a good rookie year.

So, the Nationals seem to be one everyday player and three starting pitchers (and probably, sadly, one closer) away from being a contender. I don't see that outfielder in the minors - the team needs an Alfonso Soriano in the outfield, not a Kory Casto. Enough with the supporting players already.

If the Nationals spend all of that saved money next year, get a couple of real pitchers and a solid outfielder, the team could win 85 games.

If if if if if. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


Comments:
Hey, Farid, did you hear the WashPost Nationals podcast give you a shout out today? Congrats for the pbulicity. He quoted the following passage "on air" (so to speak):

"So, the Nationals seem to be one everyday player and three starting pitchers (and probably, sadly, one closer) away from being a contender. I don't see that outfielder in the minors - the team needs an Alfonso Soriano in the outfield, not a Kory Casto. Enough with the supporting players already."

Hope your health is on the upswing!
 
Farid, I hope you are feeling well.

Check out Ken Rosenthal's article about Nationals management. It's a bit scary.

http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/6761858
 
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