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What a week

Where to begin? I mean, really.

I would say it's one thing to be prepared for such a start/season, but it's another to endure it. Going around the clubhouse after yesterday's 3-1 loss, everyone stuck to the "it's early, it's early, it's early, it's early, and - oh, by the way - IT'S EARLY" mantra. And yes, it's early. Fine.

But there are some bad signs here. Everyone knew the starting rotation would be - um, how to put this? - suspect. But in the two starts over the weekend, John Patterson and Shawn Hill pitched 11-2/3 innings and allowed five runs, a respectable 3.86 ERA in those two starts. (And even Jerome Williams was one pitch away from having a very solid start on Friday night. That pitch ended up over the left field wall, but we won't be picky.)

So the major problem right now: The offense. I'm planning on dealing with this in the $.35 edition of the paper tomorrow, so I won't go into too much detail here. But in seven games, the Nationals have scored more than three runs just once. Once.

I remember Frank Robinson (remember him?) used to talk about a lineup having that had one player around which the whole thing revolved, one player that the opposing manager had to think an inning ahead about. In Robinson's mind, even Alfonso Soriano didn't quite reach that level last year, in part because he was most comfortable hitting leadoff, meaning even if a pitcher dreaded facing him, he would probably come up with the bases empty. We're talking about a Pujols, a Miguel Cabrera, even a stretch of Chipper, Andruw, McCann and Francoeur (which we'll see this week).

Who is that person in this lineup? Zimmerman? Maybe. But I'd argue he has to duplicate last year before he's considered that. My point: Top to bottom, there are several solid players who could play for many different teams (Kearns, Lopez, Belliard, Zimmerman). But there's not exactly that one player who makes the crowd sit up and the opposing pitcher cringe. People would say all offseason, "This team's going to play a lot of 8-7 games, aren't they?" And my standard response was, "How are they not going to be 8-3 or 8-4? Seven runs is a lot to score."

Anyway, I guess that's not so much DMTP but WGTBITP (What's going to be in tomorrow's paper).

I noticed a few of you questioning Manny Acta's fire/cheerleading/general demeanor. This is something to watch, but Acta addressed it the other day.

"I'm talking all the time," he said about his demeanor in the dugout. But he said he would not just be an yammering cheerleader. "It's not like, 'Give me an N! Give me an A! Give me a T!"

Acta said he was "a lot more volatile" in his younger days, and he used to get ejected quite a bit. He was 24 when he started managing in the minor leagues. But he got a call one day from the Houston farm director who basically said, "You're being paid to manage. If you're not there, you can't coach these guys, you can't develop them." So he calmed down and remained in the game more.

Still, I'd put the over-under on Acta getting tossed at two (2) games this season. You guys decide what you think.

Housekeeping: Please continue to check out the postgame podcasts, if you haven't already. Once you get through my yammering there's some decent sound from players and Acta, etc.

"Washington Post Live": I'll be on the Comcast SportsNet show this afternoon from 5-6:30 p.m. I hope they're prepared to talk a lot of Nats, because I don't know anything else. (Sample snippet: "So, Barry, what do you think of Gilbert Arenas's injury." "Well, Russ, I'll tell ya, it's nothing compared to when Nook Logan got his foot jammed into the center field wall." You get the idea.)

I leave for Atlanta in the morning. Team leaves tonight. I'll check in frequently from down there. Have a much, much better week than the Nationals did.

By Barry Svrluga  |  April 9, 2007; 11:01 AM ET
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Next: A Minor No-No


Barry, How do I get to the podcast? I tried the link in your entry this morning and got a message that the page could not be found. Can I see this on my computer or is it only for something I don't have? I would like to see it if it is possible with my equipment. Thanks.

Posted by: thunderstrucknatsfan | April 9, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Try getting it here:

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | April 9, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I'll take the "over" on Manny. It won't be a lot, but it will probably happen 3 or 4 times.

Posted by: Cosmo | April 9, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I mentioned this in the chat last week, and Barry scoffed, but it is an absolute waste to have a rookie hitting in the 2 hole. It is hugely important for the first two hitters to get On Base. Basically, the best hitters should hit 1st through 5th gradually shifting from ability to get on-base towards power. Lopez is a perfectly decent lead-off hitter. After him should be Zimmerman, Young, Kearns, Church, or maybe Curch, Zimmerman, Young, Kearns. Just take those four and go left-right-left-right however you want. There's a good article at hardball times.

Posted by: bythenumbers | April 9, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I scoffed at the idea of Zimmerman hitting second. I absolutely believe the lineup's best hitter should hit third, and it's not even close in this lineup.

My guess: We see Belliard hitting up there before any of the other guys.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | April 9, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

With the first pick in the 2008 draft, the Washington Nationals select.......

I have to agree with your assessment--its the offense that is suspect (not that the pitching is super and if they get behind one more time I might have to start watching more Orioles games--but hold up, they stink too! Loved the Shenin piece in yesterday's $1.50 paper). It seems that the Nats have some decent hitters--is the struggle individual or collective?

Also, I would like some draft coverage as that seems to be one of the key pieces to "The Plan"...and maybe us fans lone sense of hope this year. Enjoy the ATL and say hi to T.I. and Ron Mexico

Posted by: jonathan | April 9, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Barry- When Rafael Furcal comes off of the DL, the Dodgers are expected to release SS-2b Wilson Valdez. Granted we're not talking about an established star here, but he's got some speed, he's versatile (the Dodgers have been playing him some in the OF and he's a solid middle infielder) and he hits righthanded. If Valdez is released, do you think he'd be someone the Nats would pursue?

Posted by: Hondo Lives | April 9, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Zimmerman is your best -I started to write ONLY- RBI guy. Why would you put him 2nd, where he follows the 8-9-1 hitters, who by definition--8, 9--aren't getting on base much, or taking extra pitches behind the leadoff hitter when he gets on? And the 3 hits in front of the cleanup/best power hitter, so why put a guy who can,t reliably get from 1st to 3rd on a single because he is slower than Carlos Baerga? And I'll take the OVER on Manny getting tossed, only because his stomach probably isn't strong enough to finish watching every game.

Posted by: cevans | April 9, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

the ,slower than Baerga, would be Young, not Zimmerman.

Posted by: clarification | April 9, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Valdez is 29, but still, interesting. Who would you cut/send down/DL? Casto again?

Posted by: cevans | April 9, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I'll take the over, remember Lou Piniella with the Devil Rays? Give it a couple weeks... we'll see some volatile.

Why do I get the feeling that no ones really interested in this year and 2008 is when we'll see dividends. I've been a Skins fan for too long, I'm not used to a "patient" front office and offseasons where we don't overpay old people instead of letting them all go...

Posted by: Dorf | April 9, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

The offense isn't really a huge problem though. They've hit a bit. They're getting XBH. They're walking. They're just not getting that one big hit when they need it with runners in scoring position.

It could be that they're pressing and a team of choking dogs. It could be that they're just unlucky. Or it could be something in between.

When those hits finally drop in, they'll be losing 7-5 instead of 7-1.

Posted by: Chris | April 9, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Is it time to talk about the warm-up routine of the strating pitchers yet? I noticed this weak "first inning" trend in spring training but thought I was reading too much into it. Now however - after a week of falling behind quickly but seeing some strong subsequent innings I have to wonder. Especially since it seems to be a staff problem and not just an individual (ala Glavine). Are we on a standarized warm-up routine under St. Clair or is there significant individual differentation in preparation?

Posted by: cmc in Iowa | April 9, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Hey Barry, I'll be one of the (probably) few Nats fans at the game Thursday night. Think we're sitting left center field.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 9, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

If we keep going, we're going to look like the Florida Marlins of the last couple of years, at least their minor league teams anyway. With Josh Wilson already here, Livan Hernandez here and gone, why not pick up Wilson Valdez. He and Wilson worked well together in AA-Carolina in 2003 and that team won the league championship. Then again, that team also had pitchers that could hit and power from all over the place (Josh Willingham and a guy named Cabrera for the first half of the season) and pitchers who went far in the games (Donnie Bridges-former Expo-and a guy named Willis). Good team, good chemistry, think they can do something here? NAH. But it might bring in more fans from North Carolina!

Posted by: More Former Mudcats/Marlins | April 9, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Nice podcast, Barry! Very impressive. I'm a listener from now on.

(And no, this is NOT your mother or any other relative/close friend)

Posted by: Juan-John | April 9, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Beginning to wonder if it isn't the difference between the bull pen mound and the regular game mound that is causing these pitchers their first inning problems. This is not new for the Nats because last year they were really lousy in the first innings of games. Gotta be something they are preparing wrong.

Posted by: Dancer | April 9, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

It could be that the starting pitching staff just stinks, generally.

Posted by: John U. Dite | April 9, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Off the current topic, but back to the lack of customer service... anybody know how to get off the telemarketing phone list for tickets? We get called once a week - they leave messages on our machine - about tickets, and we're already part of (someone else's) season ticket package. I keep getting the run around trying to get us off the list... The guy who calls us doesn't have the ability to take us off... ridiculous. Thanks to Barry and everyone else for this great Nats blog.

Posted by: CJ | April 9, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

CJ: Talk to "someone else" and see if they have the direct line to their ticket rep, and then complain directly to the rep. Dunno if it'll help, but might be worth a shot...

Posted by: Juan-John | April 9, 2007 7:49 PM | Report abuse

$$$ = W. Ya gotta spend a little cash & discard the trash if you want to win. It appears this team is like a 30 month CD, we just have to wait for it to mature to get the benefits.

Posted by: SC Nats Fan | April 9, 2007 8:39 PM | Report abuse

SC NF, that would make the Cubs ... ? magic beans? Brigadoon?

Posted by: Willie Gandabol | April 9, 2007 9:41 PM | Report abuse

A pyramid scheme?

Posted by: Chris | April 9, 2007 11:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not enough of an armchair manager to suggest how Manny should (or even could) fix the lineup to create more wins but I see this:

- I'd rather get the funk out now than two or five months from now. Let's have our big slump behind us by the time we start wearing shorts to the park.

- We leave an awful lot of men on base. It seems like every game I've watched there's been a point where one more hit would have at least kept us in the game.

- Our starting pitching has been good in a "good value" sense, but not outstanding and surprising kind of good that terrifies opposing hitters. I know a lot of us optimistic types were hoping to get a taste of that before the hard reality of the season set in. Oh well.

- What is it with the first inning? Last year it was the red jerseys.

Barry, can you find details on how many four-pitch walks our pitchers have delivered this season versus how many strikeouts? It seems that a surprisingly high number of the walks aren't the result of a long battle, but just a lack of strikes.

Maybe Mitchell Page has some insight on who the fearsome batters on this time are/could be?

Posted by: i hate walks | April 10, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I'm pumped for Matt Chico's start today. The Chicosphere is abuzz.

Posted by: matt b | April 10, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

How did the team react to your adjective "putrid," Barry? I personally did not like it, though of course I think you do a great job overall.

Posted by: Marion Park | April 10, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Hey Barry,

Why do all of the other sections of the "Sports Columns and Blogs" have the writer's picture, while yours just has the Nat's toilet-seat logo ?

Your lady-fans want to see you !

Posted by: grrrrlpower | April 10, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the Chicosphere certainly is abuzz! What a great website!

Posted by: Greg Williams | April 10, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

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