Nationals Baseball: Was it that bad?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Was it that bad?

It's been over two weeks now since the season mercifully ended for the Washington Nationals. It was an odd ending for the Nationals since usually they finished strongly and left fans with a promise of a better day (even if that better day was only 75 wins)

In 2006 the Nats went 15-13 in September, and featured the "Charge of the White Brigade" as Nick Johnson, Ryan Church, recently acquired Austin Kearns, and Zimm all finished very strongly. This is the core of a very good offense!

In 2007 the Nats went 15-12 in September, played .500 ball after the All-Star break, and finally got the power threat they desperately needed stealing Wily Mo Pena from the Red Sox. This kid is going to mash 40 homers!

In 2008 the Nats went 14-15 in August, and in the final couple months saw Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes finish strong. The future is now! Other teams would kill for the young OF talent we have!

In 2009 the Nats went 14-15 in August and won their final 7 games, thanks in part to the recently acquired spark plug Nyjer Morgan. Finally the CF this team has been dying for! At least that'll be settled for next year!

This year though there was no strong finish. They last were close to .500 in July (12-13) and generally had been playing poorly since mid May. There were no young studs finishing hot. After a nice August, Desmond struggled and Bernadina tanked like a tanker full of Tank McNamara comic strips. After a super hot start Danny Espinosa leveled off at "he's ok". Wilson Ramos picked it up a bit, but then again you know he'll be splitting starts with the Living Dead next season.

Add to that the shadow hanging over the end of the year because of Strasburg's injury... and the growing inevitability of Dunn's departure... and Kasten's abandoning ship, and you get a September that would drive away even the most ardent fan.

In totality though, through the 20/20 ness of hindsight, was the season that bad? The Nats won 69 games, 10 more than each of the past 2 years. They did this despite the injuries to Strasburg, and Marquis, and Lannan, and Detwiler, and Willingham. They did it despite getting almost no production from 2 1/2 spots in the lineup and 3 spots in the rotation at any time. Desmond hung on enough to be encouraging. They introduced some young players in Espinosa and Ramos, who are actual prospects rather than veterans looking for a second chance or fill in guys from AAA that happened to have a strong month. The injured Lannan and Marquis looked healthy at season's end which bodes well for them being ok next year.

I'm not ready to call the season a success by any means, but a few weeks out and I'm ready to look at it with a lot more optimism. It was a tough year - mostly by design (Pudge AND Kennedy/Guzman AND no RF plan, all while starting a rookie at short? Really?! You really want to wait out the time until Strasburg and ZNN with Stammen, Atilano and Olsen? Really?!) Next year looks to be tough too. But in a different, much more appealing way. Start Desmond again, along with Ramos and Espinosa? Fill-in the rotation with 2 of Detwiler, ZNN, and Maya? That's not plugging holes with whatever you can find lying around. That sort of seems like a viable plan to find good young talent.

Of course, with that much variability in potential the Nats do need to make the moves we've all heard they want to. They need an anchor to the staff, and not a 200 IP, 4.00 ERA anchor and actual starter you'd like to call your #1. They need Adam Dunn, or someone with Adam Dunn like influence on the offense, helping to anchor the middle of the lineup. A good RF would help, even if it's only a nice fielder who can hit righties to complement Morse. If they can do all that though, 2011 looks to be a year worth watching. At least for the first few months.


Wally said...

I think that you are right, it was better than the last few years for more than just the added wins. I implied it a few posts ago, but having Desmond in there was a definite plus for me. He made as many WOW plays for me as Zim (of course, there were all the other times, but on balance, I'll take the trade off). Strasburg was the real deal, and there is still hope that he is roughly comparable when he returns. It also makes me feel a little more confident that Bryce will work out (almost said the H word). JZimm, who I have always liked, returned healthy from injury with the same velocity. Those are three big positives for me. At least I didn't have to watch Lo Duca or the Anti-Prospect Kory Casto any more (but they keep throwing JMax out there just to keep me slightly annoyed). And for me, no Manny es muy bueno.

But, like you said, it matters what they do from here. It is a very incomplete team with key elements that are getting older (Hammer), leaving (Dunn) or closer to leaving (Zim, SS and Zimm). I agree with your comment that they really need to make a move, or (imho) blow up everything, including trading Zim . I am weary, so I prefer the first option.

It seems certain that Dunn is leaving, so I would probably go after Werth, as surprised as I am to find myself writing that. I think that he will hold on to roughly his current offensive production through a 4 year contract while providing good D. Then I would get one of the older lefty 1Bs on a 1-2 yr deal (LaRoche, Pena, even Berkman). I think that is a lineup that should be able to survive Espy at 2B and No-Mo in CF. Bernie and Morse should make two decent bench guys getting 200 ABs in the right situations.

And then a top of rotation guy (two good SPs would be too much to ask, but they need two, I think). The first two moves are just money, so they can do it if they want. I still have doubts about their ability to manage the 3d one, but Rizzo seems to think that he can do something. That team should be able to be respectable, and maybe that buys time for JZimm, Desi, SS, maybe even Espy to mature into stronger players that can assume larger roles on the team.

Sorry, I don't seem to be able to speak in just a few words any more.

Wally said...

Ok, here is a quick one - would you trade Storen for Yonder Alonso? Would the Reds?

Harper said...

I think you're right about Werth and one of those guys being just money. I think occasionally you get a high priced talent that will turn down 10 million or so more (out of like 150 million) for a better chance of winning but Werth could be coming off 2 WS in 3 years so he shouldn't be focused on winning, and to those other guys the Nats should be able to make an offer than is not just 8% better. That should stabalize the offense (depends on the young guys) but that makes the starting pitcher even more key. We'll see.

If I were the Reds I don't make that deal now. Untested relief pitcher for decent minor league hitter is just too lopsided a deal. I would spend 2011 seeing ig he can play corner OF and is needed there and serving as Votto insurance.

I might make it in August if I'm in the pennant hunt, my bullpen stinks, and Alonso is either still in AAA or hasn't showed much in the majors.

Wally said...

I also think that Lee goes to the highest bidder. Not saying that it will be us, but I don't think that he is going to leave any money on the table for a winning team. I think that he will be more like Mike Hampton than Halladay (speaking contractually).

Wally said...

By the way, what do you make of the Rizzo extension? Do you believe Boz' take that the Lerners and Stank vetoed the Dunn trade? Pretty scary, if true.

Harper said...

Scary that Rizzo would trade Dunn for Jackson? Maybe. To me that screams that Rizzo had (and has) no intention of resigning Dunn. If that's the case you might as well get something for him and I like Jackson better than draft picks. Of course I like Hudson WAY better than Jackson and if Rizzo liked Jackson better than Hudson to me that's scary.

Anonymous said...

This year WAS better, for a couple of reasons: (1) to me, it felt like they were getting blown out/completely outclassed much less often (i.e., this was a bad ML team, but an actual ML team not a AAAA team); and (2) they were doing it with the kids leading the way. Not a Vinny Castilla or Jose Guillen in the bunch. The vets (Kennedy, Nieves, Harris, Mensch) were what held the team back. Clearing out the deadwood will improve the team.

That said, losing Dunn would be huge; to me it would make this team much less watchable. I do NOT want Werth - his home/road splits are terrible (2/3 of his HR were at home, and he hit .320 at home, .270 on the road). I don't think that investing heavily in a player who is likely a product of Citizen's Bank park is smart if you only play nine games a season there.

John C.

Wally said...

Harper - no, the scary part was an owner veto of a baseball decision (if true). Seems like a bad precedent.

Otherwise, I completely agree with your take. If you trade Dunn, I like players better than picks, and Hudson way more than Jackson.