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NATS CONTINUE PUSH TOWARDS 72

[September 17th] -- It took me two innings to recognize him, which was really two innings too long for a team blogger. But sure enough, there was former National Brian Lawrence on the mound for the New York Mets last night. Really. He was a National. Well, sort of. Does one day count? He injured himself on the first day of spring training last year and we never saw him again in a Nationals' uniform. This picture, taken moments after both he and the team found out about the season-ending-before-it-began injury. was the highlight of his time with the team. I had predicted great things for Lawrence. I thought he'd be the #2 starter behind Patterson and I predicted a 13-8, 3.89 season.

Missed it by that much.

I knew he signed a minor league contract with the Rockies last winter, but hadn't heard about him again until last night.

How 'bout them Nationals?!

With 67 wins, the Nationals now need to go 5-7 the rest of the way to surpass last year's win total of 72. Think they'll do it? I think that if they beat the Mets one more time in this series it should be a lock. The Nationals are now two games up on Florida for "worst of the East," which really amazes me. By all accounts, the Marlins lineup is much better than the Nationals; they have all those young players at the major league level now that we (hope to) have in the minors. As of right now, Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Willingham, Cody Ross and Jeremy Hermida all start on the Nationals. If I was really honest, I'd also choose Miguel Cabrera over Ryan Zimmerman (at this moment in his career). The only National who would be on my team is catcher Brian Schneider. And the pitchers? All young, and all pretty good.

So how come they are in last place? Now, what was the name of that manager last year ...?

Tim Redding's star isn't glowing quite as brightly as it was a month ago. I think we're now beginning to see the real Redding, a pitcher who can be dominating but usually isn't. At least, he didn't last night, allowing 4 runs and 6 hits in 4 innings (though to be fair, his last three innings were very good). I think his chances for staying in the rotation next year remains only because Joel Hanrahan hasn't been able to find the plate in 3 out of his last 4 starts. It seems that managers tend to forgive pitchers who give up too many hits, but not pitchers who give up too many walks.

And that would be Hanrahan. And oh, by the way, he's pitching tonight against John Maine. Will he continue to miss the strike zone? My guess is that - if past performance is any indication - that he'll come back with another beauty of an outing and tantalize us yet one more time before breaking our hearts one more time.

Apparently, friendship never ends. Remembering his good friend Ryan Zimmerman's struggles with the glove a week or so, David Wright decided to honor him by throwing wildly to first himself, then getting his team to commit three more miscues along the way. Four errors in game. Wow. Your welcome, Ryan.

That doesn't even come close to the six they committed two games ago, however. That's ten in two games. That's really very, um, Washingtonian of the Mets. That's also four losses in a row for the Gothom's, and the Phillies - the team of Del Ennis - are only 2.5 games back in the standings (Aaron Rowand hit his 25th and 26th homers of the year by the way, making him even more expensive as a potential free agent).

The Nationals drew less than 19,000 last night. The Mets are in town, RFK's days - like sand in an hour glass - are slowly dwindling down and the boys are playing for pride, and the team draws one of their smaller crowds of the year. Had to have been the Redskins - Eagles game, which is a shame. The Nats are the clear #2 team in D.C.. Just look at the Washington Post's sports page. Even on off-days, the Redskins get front page treatment while Nats game stories are buried on page three or four.

Until the press, and some of the fans who don't know better, fans who grew up as baseball orphans, think Nationals first, this is going to continue to happen. My greatest hope would be a playoff game in the new park in a year or two with 41,222 fans in the stands while Fedex Field is looking a lot like Dolphin Stadium during a Marlins' game. Okay, of course that'll never happen. But a few empty seats .... please .....

Speaking of the whole football - baseball thing, the Nationals announced that the press box in the new park will be named after Shirley Povich. That's wonderful. Povich was "the voice of baseball," meaning that unless Povich said it was so, it just wasn't. If Povich anointed a young rookie, he was going to be a star. It was kind of like Howard Cosell. No matter how good your team played, no matter how good a particular player did, it was just as if it didn't happen unless Cosell talked about it on Monday Night Football. By the way, kiddies, dig this: Back in the first few years of MNF, no one could show taped highlights of the games until after MNF's halftime, when Cosell would narrate that week's highlights. Warner Wolf would show still images of Sonny and Billy and Chris and Jerry as he reported on channel 9. Can you imagine that today? I can't remember for sure, but I suspect the NFL threw that bone to MNF to coax them into doing the game. Most of my friends thought an NFL game on Monday night was pretty weird, and it took us a while to warm up to the idea. But man, the first time Dandy Don Meredith sang "Turn out the lights, the party's over" (indicating the game was no longer in doubt) I got chills. The first time he sang it for the Redskins, by the way, was during their 38-24 win over the Los Angeles Rams in 1971. That was the first meeting between the two teams after the big trade and all the "Ram-Skins" stuff was still very hot.

But, I have digressed. Looks like I too can become a feeble-minded Redskins minion at the expanse of my beloved Nationals.

Ryan Church!

Aaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

See? It happens every time. Just say his name and people's faces begin to contort and toxic gasses emanate from all kinds of orifices. Manny said a couple of months ago that he knew what Ryan Church had to offer, and he wanted to see what Nook Logan could do.

What if that had never happened .... what if Church had remained in the lineup for the rest of the season. What kind of numbers would he have put up? Take a look (based on 580 at bats):

AB: 580 -- R: 71 -- H: 154 -- 2B: 49 -- 3B: 2 -- HR: 18 -- RBI: 80 -- OBP: .342 -- AVE: .266

Now, if Manny Acta knew that's what he could get out of Church, and knew he'd be able to produce those types of numbers, then why did he put in a guy who has the same batting average but could never come close to any of those other numbers? Sure he's fast, but that speed doesn't translate very well to defense when Logan continues to make bad reads on the ball.

It seems to me that Ryan Church is a better starter and Nook Logan a better 4th outfielder.

Here is what next season's outfield could produce (tinching up the stats a wee bit for the new, slightly smaller park):

LF - Wily Mo Pena: .275 - 35 - 100

CF - Ryan Church: .268 - 20 - 80

RF - Austin Kearns: .274 - 25 - 85

Um, what's wrong with that exactly? With the smaller outfield, Church's lack of speed in center will be more than made up for by his better fundamentals. And Church's numbers aren't speculative. Over a full season, here is how his last three years would have looked:

2005: .287-18-84 (.353 OBP)

2006: .276-28-95 (.256 OBP)

2007: .266-18-80 (.342 OBP)

I know that Ryan Church isn't the sexy choice for centerfield next season (is that the first time you've seen the words "church" and "sexy" in the same sentence?) but it may be the wise choice. Were the Nationals to sign, say, Torii Hunter, for $14 million a year, they'd get six or seven more homers and ten to twenty more RBI's (plus a great defender) at a net cost of about $13.5 million.

As much as I want the Nationals to prove to me that they will sign big-name free agents, I'm just not sure that center is the place to do it. Now, I'm not suggesting I have the answer because I don't. I just can't see spending that much money on that much more offense.

What do you think?

It seems that Mike Rizzo - through Jimbo - is trying to pull of some more "minor transaction" magic. The Nationals claimed Diamondbacks pitcher Enrique Gonzalez off the waiver wire yesterday. Gonzalez, 25, had a bad year in Arizona, both in Phoenix and Tucson. Prior to his 8-10, 5.15 2007 'AAA' season, however, Gonzalez had a career minor league record of 25-19, 2.89. During that time, his hits + walks per 9 innings (WHIP) was never higher than 1.31 while striking out almost 8 batters per 9 innings.

Who then, do you believe? Do you accept his bad 2007 as a sign of regression or do you trust the previous six seasons of solid work plus his former boss wanting him in Washington. Two years ago, he was the Diamondbacks #11 prospect. Garrett Mock was #9 and Matt Chico was #20.

It gets interestinger and interestinger.


Comments:
.275 for Pena really?

That would be awesome but I think .260 is wishful thinking.
 
You're absolutely right that .275 is wishful thinking IF Pena's recent attempts to hit the other way, to soften his swing with two strikes is nothing more than a passing fancy. If he goes back to his old ways, .260 is perhaps wishful thinking as well.

If not ....
 
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