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81 down, 81 to go

So while I wait for US Air 3596, I figure it'd be worth giving a cursory look to the first half of the season. The 3-2 win this afternoon - basically provided by Jesus Flores and Mike Bacsik, and not some indication that there's a big turnaround afoot - put the Nationals at 33-48 for the first 81 games. I'm no math wiz, but that would appear to me to be 66-96 for the year.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share - as I think I have before - that I predicted 62-100 prior to the season. So they're ahead of that projection. But, then, as Brian Schneider told me today, "I don't care what you predicted."

The most interesting thing about 33-48? It's the exact same record as the 2006 Nationals after 81 games. (The 2005 team, you might remember, was 50-31 at this point. That's still a bit hard to fathom.) This year's team lost five of six over the last week to get to this point. The 2006 team lost nine of 10 - three to Boston, two of three to Baltimore, three to Toronto and one to Tampa Bay - to fritter away the momentum created by Ryan Zimmerman's game-ending homer off the Yankees' Wang on Father's Day (still my second-favorite RFK moment, trailing only Opening Night 2005).

Here are the key players from 2006 who haven't appeared in a single game for the 2007 Nationals, off the top of my head: Nick Johnson, Alfonso Soriano, Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas Jr., Daryle Ward, Marlon Anderson, Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro, Gary Majewski, Mike Stanton - to name a few.

Here, then, are the raw stats from both years through 81 games. (Note: The rankings from 2006 are through June 30th, when the Nationals had played 81 games. The rankings from 2007 are through yesterday (Stats LLC won't have updated rankings until after play Sunday night), but the raw numbers I updated through this afternoon's game. Rankings for starter/reliever splits not available with my Stats LLC account.)

2006 (with rank in NL)
Batting average: .253 (16th)
Homers: 85 (seventh)
OBP: .325 (14th)
Slugging: .407 (13th)
Runs: 352 (T13)
Doubles: 152 (sixth)
SB: 43 (ninth)
CS: 29 (first)

Errors: 62 (third)

ERA: 4.83 (13th)
Strikeouts: 488 (11th)
Walks: 314 (second)
Opponents' average: .270 (10th)
Starters' record: 24-34
Starters' ERA: 4.85
Bullpen record: 9-14
Bullpen ERA: 4.78

Batting average: .247 (15th)
Homers (16th)
OBP: .310 (16th)
Slugging: .363 (16th)
Runs: 301 (16th)
Doubles: 144 (11th)
SB: 26 (15th)
CS: 12 (T13th)

Errors: 57 (fourth)

ERA: 4.78 (14th)
Strikeouts: 452 (14th)
Walks: 290 (fourth)
Opponents' average: .268 (10th)
Starters' record: 20-37 (16th)
Starters' ERA: 5.22 (15th)
Bullpen record : 13-11 (seventh)
Bullpen ERA: 4.14 (10th)

What the heck does all this tell us? Well, to me, with so many of the pitching statistics similar - particularly the overall ERA - it seems to me that it might be remarkable that the 2007 team has matched last year's version. That's 51 fewer runs in 81 games, or more than half a run a game. This year's team is last in almost every meaningful offensive category.

Given all that, are you just happy they're not embarrassing anybody? Or - as several players told me today - do you think they should have won more games over this first half?

By Barry Svrluga  |  July 1, 2007; 8:39 PM ET
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You're the best. Thanks for being such a professional and so passionate about baseball. Initially, you seemed sceptical about blogging, but it sounds like you enjoy the connection with the fans.

Keep up the good work. Your readers are anxious to know where the Journal rates in the Post's standings. Are we higher than DC United?

Posted by: At the Beach with the Rest of the Journal staff | July 1, 2007 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm happy we're not being embarrassed, but I still think it's a travesty that the ownership was willing to piss away this season. When people are happy about 33-48, that's a problem.

However, I'm still excited about the future.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 1, 2007 9:19 PM | Report abuse

With those stats, we should have maybe 25 wins. With half the payroll of last year, to have an equal record is surprising. Me thinks it will all catch up to us in the next 81. Perhaps your 62-100 might still be very realistic Mr. S. even optomistic I fear.

Posted by: SC Nats Fan | July 1, 2007 9:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the players, they should have won more games, including two in the past week. The infamous "what was he doing?" Nick Logan game vs. Cleveland and Friday night's game in Pittsburgh when inexplicably Matt Chico was lifted pitching a shutout and Langerhans lifted after hitting a home run. Add the game in Cincinnati when they were ahead by six and lost....there's three games without even trying very hard.

I appreciate the work Barry and you make good points, but from my point of view, watching every game, the vaunted bullpen continues to be as big a problem as the offense, if not more so. Exactly why a bullpen that blows so many saves is considered a strength of the team.

Posted by: Ray | July 1, 2007 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Hey everyone, I missed you all while I was in Boston. It's hard to get a score up there ("what, there's a whole LEAGUE of teams?!"), so I missed out on Friday and Saturday's pain. I'll give you my Fenway report tomorrow morning, for anyone who cares.

What do these numbers tell us? We should go up next year! We should expect a free agent to be hauled in, looks like we need a big hitting center fielder. We've got a bullpen and a starting lineup situation that can stall effectively until all our prospects are ready (how about that Chico! The most under appreciated Nat, I maintain, though he may be cursed). With the addition of the BH (big hitter) we can certainly stall with what we have next year (Guz and Nick Johnson added in, don't forget).

That means 2008 should be a passable run at .500 and 2009 will be ready for a push at the post-season.

Keep the faith during 2007, the plan actually looks really good right now. Being isolated from this weekend's series has allowed me to view these numbers Barry provided free of the gloom.

Just drink the Kool-Aid, you'll feel all better.

Posted by: Section 506 (After moving) | July 1, 2007 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Here it is, this week's Games Behind/ Games Ahead rundown. If you take a look you will see that things aren't really as dire as they appear. Three different teams are within one game of the Nats and nine are within 5 games (not to mention the Bankees only 5.5 ahead!). It's still plenty plausible to finish ahead of the O's for the third consecutive season.

The bad news is, it will be worse before it gets better. The red-hot Cubs aren't even on the list anymore (remember when they were below the Nats, pre-Lousplosion?) and Milwaukee never has been down in the cellar.

As usual this list is to be used solely for the purpose of proving the Nats aren't historically bad or even the worst in baseball so all know-it-all sportswriters (save the sage Barry, who doesn't even qualify as a know-it-all) can shove it.

Rank (W-L), PCT (GB/A)
30. Cincinnati (31-51), .378 (-2.5)
29. NATS!!! (33-48), .407 (---)
28. Tampa (33-47), .413 (.5)
27. Kansas City (34-48), .415 (.5)
26. Texas (34-47), .420 (1)
25. Houston (35-47), .427 (1.5)
24. Pittsburgh (35-46), .432 (2)
22. Bal'more (35-45), .438 (2.5)
21. Chi Sox (35-43), .449 (3.5)
20. St. Louis (36-42), .462 (4.5)
19. Florida (38-44), .463 (4.5)
20. Yankees (37-41), .474 (5.5)

Posted by: Section 506 (After moving) | July 1, 2007 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the Yankees should be ranked 18.

Posted by: Section 506 (After moving) | July 1, 2007 11:31 PM | Report abuse

For every game we feel like we ought have won, there's one or two that it's still impossible to believe we won (Peavey twice, Speigner v. Santana) etc.

Sameways, as much as its easy to feel like Zimmerman, Kearns, and Lopez ought to produce more next half, it's equally easy to believe that Bacsik, Bowie, and lord knows who will be pitching will not be able to produce at the level they have.

Posted by: Sam | July 2, 2007 12:30 AM | Report abuse

Based on the way they have played, the Nats have been lucky to win as many games as they have. Based on the way people like Zim, Kearns and Flip should be playing, they should have won a few more than they have. It's a toughie.

My feeling is that the hitting will improve over the second half, but the pitching will regress.

Posted by: Lindemann | July 2, 2007 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Barry, for this topic, and to 506 for the GB/A. Free fall ain't purty, is it? (But the glass-half-full read is not out of line.)

Sam said it best last night: the Nats sneaked through several curly Ws they should not have got away with. Not just SD and Minn, either; recall how we gigged the Marlins and made 'em pay for every mistake in the May series. That's when I really started to feel that these Nats were wanting to prove a thing or two.

Schneider to Barry: "I don't care what you predicted."

That's the spirit that wins ball games, at the very least doesn't drop a hundred.

Posted by: Hendo | July 2, 2007 7:56 AM | Report abuse

I think we should have won a few more games. We're going to lose a few tight ones when CHadley comes in and challenges people [he doesn't have the stuff to just blow everybody away, so some of those games are gonna be lost]; I accept those losses.

But we've lost a few games where we've gotten to the late innings and put runners in scoring position and have LAMEly failed to score -- those are not games you can willingly accept letting get away.

GAHDAMMNIT I love this game!

Posted by: Muleboy | July 2, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

You guys were right. PNC Park is AMAZING! Awesome, awesome park. I had the best baseball weekend in my life.

natsfan1a, thanks for the Parkway East tips. We were able to avoid the mess.

Saw Don Sutton and while he was signing for the girl next to me, I grinned widely and said "just one beef, Mr. Sutton. It's SCHneider." He must get a lot of crap about it because he barked at me something like "you people listen and all you can find is one little mistake, but you don't even know what happened in the bottom of the 5th, do you?" I froze. Wasn't expecting hostility. Took a minute to recover and I mumbled something like "just trying to look smarter than you" or something lame to that effect.

Tried to go up and get Barry's signature on his book. He's better guarded than the players (got 9 of their signatures!).

The best part, though, happened to my friend Amy sitting next to me. Saturday night, bottom of the sixth, Paulino fouls off and the ball lands in her lap. literally. She never saw it, it never bounced, nobody tackled us. She knew it was coming our way because arms were going up, and I ducked and covered but she never saw the ball off the bat. I turn, look at her face, bright red with pure shock, she reaches down by her leg and pulls the ball up. She said it hit her elbow, armrest and thigh at the same time but never went anywhere. Just sitting there in her lap. She's got a little strawberry on her elbow, but according to her, it was well worth it. I agree.

There were a TON of Nats fans. It was awesome.

The walkout was so lame. A lot of people got up to leave, more than the normal inning ending restroom and snack break, but it didn't even leave a dent in the crowd. I think they even got a fair amount of boos from the people who stayed.

I missed you guys!

Posted by: NatsNut | July 2, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Barry, for the first-half summaries in the blog and 35 center. The offensive stats are scary, but I'm encouraged that the team has the same record as last year after the payroll slashing. I'm not embarrassed that they didn't do better over the first half, but I also like that Schneider went all Tommy Lee Jones/Lt. Girard re. the dire predictions (i.e., I. Don't. Care.) But, um, the wording "game-ending homer off the Yankees' Wang" was kinda (unintentionally?) funny. Just saying.

Posted by: natsfan1a | July 2, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Took a baseball mental health day yesterday to go to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, always a fun way to spend a day. I was pleased to see lots people sporting their Nats gear there.

I'm sorry that I missed Flores' first major league homer (one of many to come, I'm sure) and Bascik's good start. Welcome back to our wandering Nats fans and thanks, Sect. 506, for the new GB/A. Oh, and, last but least, congrats to our All-Star, Dmitri!

Posted by: natsfan1a | July 2, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Barry et al:
Thanks for the mid-season update.

To echo a previous poster's request: Does anyone have any news on the planned fan walkout for Saturday's game?

Personally, several clubs deserve a similar treatment: Royals, Reds, Orioles, Indians (until recently) and Rangers. At least the Nats have an excuse of building a team from nearly scratch that was pillaged by MLB. What's the Royals and Pirates excuse? Their fans are too kind.

Nice win Sunday - Ayala got the outs but let two score on fly balls. Tough to say effective but, it turned out to be enough.

Posted by: PNC Fan Walkout | July 2, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

First, love the Journal, keep up the great work! Second, Kasten's right that knowing that Acta and Bowden (under Kasten's control -- no Preston Wilson trades) are keepers is a lot to know. So strategically, this team is way ahead of last year's even though the record's the same. Very satisfied so far.

Posted by: JHM | July 2, 2007 9:24 AM | Report abuse

PNC Fan Walkout: See my posting, about 3 or 4 above this one.

Posted by: NatsNut | July 2, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Heres my thing, if we were going to be a bad team, thats one thing. Id rather get ripped apart every game like in the Tigers and Braves series than to watch us lose games like that first one against the Pirates. The fact that Acta left Rivera in the game after coming in and issuing a 4-pitch walk is still puzzling to me. It was obvious he did not have his stuff, and sure enough the next batter smashes a triple, which essentially ended our chances of winning that game. In other words, its more painful watching a team overachieve so badly and then still come up just short. Its very frustrating, although, it has made for an interesting season. Thanks for the blogs Barry, I really enjoy reading them at work.

Posted by: Jason | July 2, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

natsfan1a: "Took a baseball mental health day yesterday to go to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, always a fun way to spend a day. I was pleased to see lots people sporting their Nats gear there."

Yeah, I was down at the Folklife Festival yesterday too, representing in my red Curly W hat. Big crowd there, about as demographically and culturally a representative cross-section of DC as you could ever hope to find. In addition to the many Nats caps I saw, I also saw several from other MLB teams. But guess what? No Orioles. I guess all the many DC O's fans were at home reading the Post to catch up on the latest doings of their team. Well, as they say, if you don't get it, you don't get it. And when it comes to the heavy Orioles coverage in the Washington Post, I just don't get it.

Posted by: Section 419 | July 2, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

What is with the hatred of the Post's O's coverage? Does it really hurt anyone? Is the assumption that the space would be used for Nats coverage? I can't fathom what we would realistically expect a paper to add to a gamer and notebook, that space would go to some other sport or some other baseball teams (such as Red Sox and Angels coverage).

Furthermore, a huge portion of the Post's readership is in Bird-land. If they want to keep rooting for a team that's going nowhere, that's their problem, but they are part of the Post's readership. Does anyone seriously expect the paper to make a decision that alienates their customers?

So, to review:
1. it doesn't hurt the Nationals, if anything it helps them because the Birds look so much worse than the Nats
2. it does hurt the Post to not cover them

What is with all the griping? Get over it and read the O's news with pleasure (at how the Nats are so much better) instead of like big babies.

Posted by: Section 506 (After moving) | July 2, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I can preach it round or I can preach it flat. There have been times when pure luck produced wins. But, basically, I think the players are right. Cut the blown saves by half (which would be quite good but not entirely unrealistic) and the team is at about .500. Is anybody still talking about Cordero as trade bait? When Benitez blew seven saves in 28 tries, the Mets practically gave him to the Yankees who quickly passed him on to Seattle who let him go at the end of the season.
And, oh, the times Zimmerman, Kearns and Lopez have disappointed. I don't care if they all hit .250 forever, but I do want to see Zimmerman and Kearns at least drive the ball with men in scoring position.
I still have faith in Manny. Things don't always work out, but he tries to get everyone playing fundamentally sound baseball, including getting the most out of every at bat. That (and a rotation that includes Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz in their primes) is what it takes to win ball games. The Yankees this year, the Red Sox last year, the Mets, Dodgers and others in years past provide plenty of proof that big bucks alone are not enough to insure a winning season.

Posted by: Salty Dog | July 2, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I was representing in my navy Curly W hat. I did see some people with O's gear but only one or two of them. I probably saw more Red Sox gear than O's gear, but the Nats fans were in the majority (as they should be there).


Sect. 419 said (in part): Yeah, I was down at the Folklife Festival yesterday too, representing in my red Curly W hat. Big crowd there, about as demographically and culturally a representative cross-section of DC as you could ever hope to find. In addition to the many Nats caps I saw, I also saw several from other MLB teams. But guess what? No Orioles.

Posted by: natsfan1a | July 2, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

NatsNut quotes Don Sutton on mispronunciation: "He must get a lot of crap about it because he barked at me something like 'you people listen and all you can find is one little mistake, but you don't even know what happened in the bottom of the 5th, do you?'"

Ow. Not the way to encourage the fan base. Don, please see Barry for some chill pills.

Posted by: Hendo | July 2, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

to Hendo on being a baseball fan:
I'm still relatively new to real baseball fandom but I'm starting to get the feeling that only forums (is the plural fora?) like this are encouraging of it. Well. I guess they love us for our ticket sales. But besides that I'm noticing it's easy to feel like a psycho loser when waiting to see a player or get a signature. Really, I could care less about the signatures, I just wanna talk baseball. The players mostly can't be bothered, though they were pretty accommodating this weekend. They'll sign but they don't seem very happy about it. Mr. St. Claire seemed a little annoyed --there were only a few of us around at that point, and nobody was being a jerk or acting weird. And yea, Mr. Sutton pretty much put me in my place: I'm a nobody. As great as it was to see all these players up close, get my hat signed, etc., I was still left wondering if I were more a pain in the neck than anything (until I buy my ticket, of course). Not complaining, just wondering if this is something you get used to as a fan?

Posted by: NatsNut | July 2, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Natsnut, you are so right. While there are some players who gladly sign in a good mood, the majority does it at the bequest of ownership. The best signature I ever got was Barrys down in Vierra this spring with his book. He was very gracious and accomodating, that is, once I maneuvered around the idiotic security guard.

Posted by: SC Nats Fan | July 2, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Interesting question, Natsnut, one I was just thinking about this morning.

Baseball players usually come up through minor league towns where they've been billeted with area families and treated with favor by the local press (which may be looking for something more interesting to fill its pages with than, say, the school lunch menu, and is thus incented to kindness).

Once the athlete hits the majors, he's under a relentless and critical spotlight in the largest media markets in North America. Particularly for those not naturally gregarious, maintaining a certain measured distance from the press and public can be vital to their sanity.

I've lived near minor league towns around here, and worked with minor league booster clubs. And of course I now live on the DC line. The transition that players have to make from minors to majors is pretty jarring to them and can seem to represent a personality transplant to those who "knew 'em when." It's really not; it's just self-protection.

As far as autographs go, I tend to defer to kids. I'm at the game most every night; the kid may not have another chance for years. But that's me. (I do collect a few.)

I don't know how this all translates to media people. It especially disturbs me that Carpenter, on the air, has actually encouraged people to catch him and Sutton at RFK to get their scorebooks signed -- and then Sutton reportedly snarls like that. There's a disconnect somewhere.

Posted by: Hendo | July 2, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"While there are some players who gladly sign [autographs] in a good mood, the majority does it at the bequest of ownership."
Posted by: SC Nats Fan | July 2, 2007 12:06 PM
Could be worse -- could be at the INquest of ownership.

Posted by: Willie Gandebol | July 2, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Well, next year, Don Sutton will still be in the Hall of Fame, but he might well not be in the Nats booth.

Posted by: cevans | July 2, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

"The Yankees this year, the Red Sox last year, the Mets, Dodgers and others in years past provide plenty of proof that big bucks alone are not enough to insure a winning season."

Very true. On the other side, the Angels, the Braves, Twins, and Oakland As show that consistent winning via able management is possible. It seems to me that the margin for error in building a playoff team is huge. Most "brain trusts" in baseball have tried hard and failed miserably. I find the Phillies, for example, remarkable for their strenuous efforts and utter lack of success.

Those in DC who are confident that Lerner/Kasten/Bowden have the wherewithal to replicate the results of the very few consistent playoff contenders are certainly optimists. More power to you.

Posted by: JohnR (VA) | July 2, 2007 4:13 PM | Report abuse

50-31 .. .yea right. and when I graduated from high school I had six pack abs. But that was so very long ago...

Posted by: i hate walks | July 6, 2007 7:25 AM | Report abuse

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