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Off to Cooperstown. Please hold down the fort.

So quite a performance from Mike Bacsik, no? I mean, seven innings from him is good anytime you can get it. But in the situation the Nationals are in -- what with the bullpen throwing 18-2/3 innings over the previous three days, and a doubleheader on Saturday -- it was vital. Absolutely vital.

(Podcast's not up as I post this, but find it tomorrow. Manny Acta absolutely needed this kind of thing. Also will be in the rewritten gamer when it gets on the site. Clue: If there's no quotes from Bacsik and Schneider and Church, et al, then it's not the rewritten gamer, but the early version.)

Here's the Nats' lineup for Game 1 Saturday (added 9:43 a.m.):

Lopez -- 6
Jimenez -- 4
Zimmerman -- 5
Young -- 3
Kearns -- 9
Church -- 7
Flores -- 2
Logan -- 8
Redding -- 1

I'm driving from Manhattan to Cooperstown today. The Post's baseball staff has our equivalent of the "wheel play" on this weekend. Dave Sheinin would, of course, normally be staffing the induction ceremonies at the Hall of Fame, especially with Cal Ripken Jr. going in. Sheinin covered Ripken for years, broke the story that he would retire, and in some ways should be there.

But Sheinin is out west covering Bonds, and as I'm typing this, he has already hit No. 754. He's been on the road with Barry for a week now, and I hope for his sake that Barry wraps it up soon (though I secretly wouldn't mind being on hand Aug. 6-9, when the Nats are there, to witness history). Anyway, with Sheinin out west, that puts me in Cooperstown and O's writer Adam Kilgore at Shea for the Saturday doubleheader and the Sunday game.

So because I may or may not be able to update the Journal over the weekend -- and I won't have any inside-the-clubhouse stuff -- I leave you with a weekend assignment, and I ask you to make sure things stay tidy around here while I'm away.

We're 102 games into this thing. There's 60 games left. Remember when Jesus Colome was a key member of the bullpen? Remember when Shawn Hill threw five no-hit innings on May 11? Remember when John Patterson started on Opening Day, full of optimism?

Let's pick our three biggest disappointments from this season, and our three biggest pleasant surprises.

I'll start.

Disappointments:
1. Nick Johnson's inability to play. This says a lot about my admiration for Johnson -- the way he plays the game, the way he carries himself in the clubhouse. But I really believe he fundamentally changes a lineup that's as weak as that of the Nationals. It's not just the 46 doubles he hit last year. It's not even just the .428 on-base percentage (though that's huge). It's how many pitches he sees, how he helps his teammates by wearing out the pitcher. I agree with Manny Acta: Forget Zimmerman, forget Soriano. Johnson was the most important cog in the Nationals' lineup a year ago.

2. John Patterson's inability to pitch. He came to spring training saying he wanted two things: 30 starts, 200 innings. It is July 28, and he has seven starts and 31-1/3 innings (not to mention a 1-5 record and 7.47 ERA). It's really too bad. The guy's in suburban Toronto right now undergoing a slew of tests and treatments, and I heard today from someone who knows him well that he is happy with the way things are going up there. But he hasn't been pitching, and therefore hasn't helped his team, during a season in which he was hoping to be the leader on the staff.

3. Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez: Neither would say he has lived up to his own expectations. Kearns, who the Nationals want to be a run-producer, has 41 RBI. Lopez, who came to camp as the obvious choice as the leadoff hitter, is back there by default. But the .362 OBP from his stint with the Nationals last year is gone, replaced by a .299 OBP (through Friday night) that won't get it done. If they are truly key pieces of the club's future, they have to perform much better.

Pleasant surprises:
1. Da Meat Hook: Is there any other choice? Probably not. Dmitri Young became a legitimate all-star. He had two more hits Friday night to raise his average to .335. Since May 17, he is hitting .392 without a single leg hit. That's hard to do. He's started the year as a brutal first baseman, but he has worked at it and become serviceable. Throw in his story of redemption, and despite what you might think of his forthcoming two-year extension, he's the only choice, in my mind. (This from a guy who wrote about Larry Broadway on the first day position players reported, saying this was the time for the guy to step forward. Not so much.)

2. Ronnie Belliard: I've said this to several people recently. I saw Belliard last year in the postseason, but Aaron Miles was playing for them some, and Belliard wasn't a huge factor. I didn't really have a handle on him from his Cleveland days. And when he arrived at spring training, I was struck by his ... well, by his 38-inch waist. "This guy can play anywhere in the infield," Manny Acta said. Quietly, I wondered how. But he has been a consummate professional, turns the double play really well (anybody see the 5-4-3 he turned Friday, one nicely started by Zimmerman?), and he gives a quality at-bat almost every time up. I think it's hard to argue the two-year, $3.5 million deal isn't decent, because the guy can be a bench player or a starter. But y'all might disagree.

3. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Don't get me wrong. I'm not wowed by what the Nationals are throwing out there. Keep in mind the rotation, beginning Wednesday, was Matt Chico, John Lannan, Mike Bacsik, Tim Redding, Joel Hanrahan and Billy Traber. How many Nationals fans -- outside hardcore Journalites -- could rattle that list off the tip of their tongues? But go back to May 15, the day after Jason Bergmann nearly no-hit the Braves. Patterson and Shawn Hill were on the disabled list, and Bergmann was headed there. Yet the Nationals' ERA since that day is 4.71. Spectacular? Far from it. But it's 11th in the N.L. in that period, and I would have guessed -- without all those guys in the rotation -- that it would have been not only much higher, but last in the league by a mile. Plus, all of this is going to give us the opportunity, before the year's over, to look at Lannan and (I believe) Collin Balester and, perhaps, even Ross Detwiler. The bullpen's ERA, since Day One of the season, is now down to 3.69, which before Friday's play ranked sixth in the N.L. Throw in some of the performances in the minors -- and please, check out those starters for short-season Class A Vermont -- and the entire organization seems to be a long way from those days of inviting 37 pitchers to camp.

Those are off the top of my head as I watch the Giants-Marlins games, wondering about Bonds's fate but also about the fate of my boy Sheinin. You guys might have better ideas. Lay 'em on me, and I'll try to check in from Cooperstown.

By Barry Svrluga  |  July 28, 2007; 1:08 AM ET
 
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