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The cure for what ails you

When you've lost 14 of 16 games (and this is hypothetical, obviously, because no team that hoped to play .500 ball would go through a stretch like that), the way to get well is to face the following three pitchers, in succession.

Tim Hudson.

John Smoltz.

Johan Santana.

As Manny Acta has said frequently, the Nationals have to play near-perfect baseball to beat pitchers of that caliber -- or, at this point, beat someone like Scott Olsen, too. But that's who they face in the next three days, starting with Hudson (5-0, 0.80 ERA against Washington since 2007) tonight at Turner Field.

It's also worth pointing out that the Braves just swept the Dodgers, and that Chipper Jones told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Pretty much, I'd say this is the best series we've played in about three years." So there's that. Chipper, though, might miss tonight's game with a bad left quad.

In case you missed the gruesome details from Saturday and Sunday, I'll offer them again. (Question: Is it good when headline writers use the word "error" above the story about your team on consecutive days.)

Here's Manny Acta on that: "I still think my club is better than what we're playing right now. I know they're better than what they're playing right now."

I still think that's true, but there are major flaws here. One scout told me yesterday, "The Nationals will finish last -- and by a wide margin." Those certainly were the expectations going in.

The question is quickly becoming: Is this a "slump," or is this just who the Nationals are?

By Barry Svrluga  |  April 21, 2008; 10:10 AM ET
 
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Next: Analyzing a slump: Zimmerman

Comments

Some observations... Good to see Kearns getting rolling. Some really ugly games in Fla. Usually someone has to pay for a start like this... but Manny? Not his fault? Trader Jim? The Minors are way improved over the past two years. (although we have discussed the Major league product over and over - which he can be held accountable for) Do we keep the status quo for awhile longer?

Posted by: Section 304 | April 21, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Nasty slump.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 21, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Both, they are a bad team in a slump. They will play better, but getting to 63 wins is going to be tough.

Posted by: PB | April 21, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Who they are.

Who is to blame?

Acta for not doing more with the limited Talent. He was lazy during Spring Training clearly did not focus on fundamentals with Milledge. He was over confident that he alone could mold these personalities into a team without taking a hard line.

Jimbo for over estimating the talent level of Pena, Milledge, Lopez, Kearns, as well as not trading Chad and Young at relative highs in the market.

Stan is to blame for not taking out some insurance with some big name veteran CF who could give fans something to cheer for....Remember Alfonso made 2006 fun.

Lerner's are to blame for going against Stan's advice to bring in a new GM. This is likely the biggest error of all.

Posted by: JayB | April 21, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Or NAT-sy slump!

Posted by: 425 | April 21, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

They are who we thought they were!

Posted by: Denny Green | April 21, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Barry, how tough is it getting to write gamers about this team?

I mean they're not giving you much variety to choose from (unless, of course, you consider the errorful ways they lose)...thus, it must be getting old and increasingly hard to write captivating stories about losing effort after losing effort.

C'mon Nats, win one for the gipper (aka Barry)...give him something different to write about, it's "Spice Up The Beat Writer's Day Day)

Posted by: Corey | April 21, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Now, if they would only let us off the hook!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

That's who they are, unfortunately.

Overrated bullpen; laughable middle infield; vastly over-rated (by Jimbo Bowden) head-not-in-the-game outfielders; too many former Reds; "handle with care" starting pitching.

While I definitely agree with the concept of The Plan, it will never be executed as long as Jimbo is the one making the trades. The next step in The Plan should be a new GM who knows value when he sees it.

Posted by: Vandy | April 21, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Headline from Barry's gamer:

"Comedy of Errors is Tragic for Nats."

Now is the spring of our discontent. There is still time for summer to be made glorious.

Can we start now though? Please?

Posted by: Bob L. Head | April 21, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The Plan has everything to do with acquiring young talent. Milledge and Pena - JimBo's only two real plan-type acquisitions since the implementation of the plan - still have more upside than downside. Flores is seen as a success. Who, since the plan started, has been a failure?

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | April 21, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Let me talk WMP for a moment. Granted, the Red Sox are loaded and they did not need him. Still they let him go for a bag of balls. And he is our starting left fielder! The occasional flashes of brilliance WMP has displayed (not this year) do nothing to counteract the pretty solid data point over enough major league at-bats to show who he is. And I won't even go into his defense. WMP would be a good 5th outfielder on a contender. He's a guy you could throw up there to pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th with 2 out, down by a run, hoping maybe the pitcher throws it right where he's swinging and he ties the game. I REALLY would like to see Maxwell get a nice month-long look playing every day.

Posted by: Doctor Joe | April 21, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

All fair points, Doc, but that's why the Sox can't waste their time on him. The bad news for us is that we can waste our time and his upside means that if we find gold, it was worth it.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | April 21, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

This is Milledge's first full season in the bigs and he is only 23. Give him some time. WMP is trying to get his timing back. Give him some time. Zim will work it out. As for Kearns, I hate to say it but, I'm out of excuses for the man. He needs to start hitting the damn ball for power.

Posted by: Section 505/203 | April 21, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

506,

Kearns was part of Jimbo's plan and he signed him to big contract over several years. Young was Jimbo's as well, how is that working out? The real issue with Jimbo is that he is in love with players that you can not win with. Pena has huge holes in his defense. Milledge has no arm and no instincts in CF. Jimbo refuses to look for less flashy players who are have strong fundamentals ...the kind you win with.

Posted by: JayB | April 21, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

JayB's list is about right.

I would add that based on Bowden's comments about players to the media and comments about Bowden coming from Church and Patterson, that Jimbo routinely undermines Acta's authority with the team.

Posted by: PB | April 21, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Even with 3B and RF getting back on track, this is who they are. It's about the pitching, so a less than mediocre staff will bring the whole thing down, and that's what we're seeing. We knew it, we saw it, we've been talking about it. It is what it is, and to quote Big Tuna: you are your record. End of story. Just relax, and enjoy the fact that you can get in and out of the new stadium quickly.

Posted by: joemktg | April 21, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

If anyone had to walk the plank at this point, it would have to be Jimbo. His decisions are questionable, and doesn't seem to have much of a rep with other gms. Time to move the asst gm up! You can't have a person of authority working behind the scenes to undermine ANYONE in the organization

Posted by: 525 | April 21, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Come on, this is just a bad team all the way around. Zero upside at the plate, in the field, in the pen and only a glimmer of hope on the mound. Lets hope they get 63 wins.

Its to bad that it has had to happen this way, shame on Stan Kasten. Here's a guy who has zero clue about the DC Metro, runs around like a used car-salesman for months shucking his "ballpark entertainment value package" and we (baseball fans) get stuck holding the bag while we watch 4A'ers and a bunch of AA'ers fumble, bumble and stumble thru nine innings days after day.
Its not so much about patience, the Caps and Teddy Leonis perfected that, its about the history of baseball in the city and its poor relationship with a skeptic public, thats what Kasten doesn't get!
Sorry for being so frank, but its now year #4 and alot of folks have spent many a $$$'er on this team with at least an expectation that they will play hard and maybe even win a few from time to time. Right now that is not in the cards. So there you go, thanks Stan. Its going to be great fun again this summer having to fight off thousands of Mets, Phillies, Braves Fans and thank god its only a one time visit by the Cubs, because that group will show up in force this weekend. Meanwhile after the Caps and Wiz are finished w/their playoffs, the Nats will wallow around for a few weeks on the front page of the WAPO and by the end of July they will be buried in obscurity once NFL training camp opens.

Posted by: Tippy Canoe | April 21, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

They are not this bad, but, then, who is? The Plan is correct. Patience is required, and some of these guys will develop into core players on a contender. But, is Management sending too soft a message? Is Manny too in touch with the minor league philosophy, Development trumps Winning? Several of these games were lost when mediocre pitchers, working there second or third regular season start, clearly ran out of gas after an effective 4 or so innings, but were left in to work their way out of it. Nobody even warming. Zimmerman is apparently immune from criticism, and Kerns is treated like a developing star. Willy Mo's potential keeps him in there regardless of his effort.

I still believe in the Plan, long term, but I'm allowed to miss Frank Robinson and Jose Guillen.

Posted by: Section 209 | April 21, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

It's a slump and it's who they are. They are a young team with limited limited talent who will struggle to get out of a slump. There is no Chipper Jones, David Wright, or Albert Pujols on this team to carry them when the rest of the lineup slumps. There is no Santana, Smoltz, or Hammels to pitch them out of it. The best player is 23 and the second best player is coming off a year of rehab. The best pitcher has pitched 5 innings.

I remain a big fan of the team and will follow them avidly all year, but the flaw in The Plan is that you can damage your investment by neglect. Livan would have been a good investment. Loshe would have been a good investment. A hitting coach would have been a good investment.

And off on a tangent about the hitting coach: Given some obvious mechanical flaws in the swings of our players, wouldn't you want your coach to work on mechanics and not just mental approach? Zimmerman's swing continues to look long. Sometimes he seems to be off balance reaching out over the plate. I'm just a hack, but that's what it looks like to me. Pena seems like he's playing golf up their. Last year he went the other way and I think he was stepping more toward the plate. It's hard to see on TV, but he looked like he was stepping in the bucket a little over the weekend. And the next time Kearns comes up with a man on first, fine him if he grounds into a double play. I think he is trying to go to right to move the runner, but he seems to be hitting defensively. Just smack the ball - preferably in the outfield.

Posted by: NatBisquit | April 21, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

C'mon, the Plan is not Bowden's, it's Stan's. Kearns and Lopez were acquired before the Plan went into effect. They were either before or right after the Lerners bought the team, so you can't count them.

Dmitri and Belliard were signed to very short contracts. In fact, they're just the sort of free agents you guys keep saying the team needs to take up time until the kids are grown up. Young is a .292 hitter over 13 seasons, c'mon, don't be ridiculous.

Pena and Milledge both have enough upside that a team with no depth in the farm can afford to try them out for a year. I'm sorry, that we're not the stacked Red Sox and therefore we can't trade for only the sure fire hits, but get used to it. It's going to be at least ten years of this before you get there.

You say all the time that we can't expect anything worthwhile for our guys. So how do you propose getting a worthwhile team? We both agree that free agents are only place holders or last pieces, but since we're not needing only one piece and there's not necessarily anyone to hold a place for, what would you have the team do?

Take risks on players that haven't panned out elsewhere and see what shows up while working on the farm through the draft and minor league trades. It's the only thing that makes sense.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | April 21, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

1, 5, 6, 2, 2, 0, 5, 2, 0, 3

Those are the number of runs scored by the Nats in their last 10 games (2 wins).

I don't care how good or bad your pitching is, you're just not going to win many games with this kind of offensive output.

Posted by: e | April 21, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

It makes you question how many pieces of the puzzle they actually have in place. In Spring Training we were talking about finishing .500 with 2009/2010 as possible years to contend. Now, that looks to be much farther off. How do we go about getting the pieces that aren't yet in the organization?

1 - Draft - The doom and gloom of the first 3 weeks has many of us looking ahead to the #1 overall pick in 2009. With several pending free agents, how many of them will be worth compensation draft picks?

2 - Trades - Fine. Who? If our Major League roster is collectively incapable of playing better ball than they are, then who has value? Is there ANYONE on the ML roster right now that is considered untouchable? If you could get a legitimate middle infield prospect, a power hitting OF prospect, and a SP prospect in return would you trade Zimmerman at this point?

3 - Free agency - yeah right.

Something is dreadfully wrong with this roster. If the FO really considers this to be the foundation of a team that is supposed to contend in two years then this club is in serious trouble. The seats at Nationals Park will not start filling up until the product on the field is worth coming to see. With the way the club is built, with the way this club is playing, we're in real danger of becoming the consummate example of how to blow a once in a generation opportunity to build and inspire a fan base with a brand new stadium.

Posted by: MKevin | April 21, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Season in, Season out,
Good game, bad game,
No hits, lots of hits,
Winning record, losing record,
None of it matters:
Who they are,
Is my team!

Posted by: Identity Crisis | April 21, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Loser
------------------------
Season in, Season out,
Good game, bad game,
No hits, lots of hits,
Winning record, losing record,
None of it matters:
Who they are,
Is my team!

Posted by: Identity Crisis | April 21, 2008 11:34 AM

Posted by: Anonymous | April 21, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

It's who they are, but they won't be THIS bad -- at least not individually. The sum of the parts may still be zero.

I have to give my wife credit. She is a novice baseball fan of 2 years, but after last year when she saw what was going on in the offseason she immediately pointed out that the chemistry would suffer and a team as 'not good' as the Nats needs chemistry to overachieve. I believe she said "It's one thing to be lovable losers, but when you take the lovable away you just have losers.' I still would have traded for Milledge but losing Schneider really hurt in the leadership department. We have no-one but Zimm and Kearns who are struggling and Captain Red-Ass who couldn't lead a drunk to a bar.

Posted by: GoNats | April 21, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Okay, just a reminder, Zimm is 17 for 79 (.215). If he goes 4 for 4 against Hudson (stranger things have happened) he's 29 for 83 (.253). Talk about him not being part of the future is premature.

Posted by: Section 506 (Before moving) | April 21, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I agree with 506. One of ESPNs fantasy columnists did an analysis of his career numbers plus BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and was pretty convincing in his argument that Zimm would end up just fine.

Posted by: GoNats | April 21, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think I have this figured out. The Nats are just following the Caps' blueprint! All they need to do is win tonight and they'll be 6-14 -- the same record the Caps had on Thanksgiving when they fired their coach and began a turnaround for the ages.

OK, we're not firing Acta. But Bruce Boudreau was the quintessential career minor leaguer who came up, changed the organizational philosophy and became the catalyst that ignited four young stars.

Who is our Bruce Boudreau? If Zimmerman is Ovechkin, who plays Semin, Backstrom and Green for the Nats?

Posted by: Bob L. Head | April 21, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

This is who he Nats are as assembled by JimBow, who hasn't ever met an overswinging hitter he didn't like. The Nats have a lot of guys with big swings who are unable, or unwilling, to resist the urge to go to the plate and try to grip it and rip it. Opposing pitchers know they don't necessarily have to throw a pitch in the middle of the plate to generate swings and misses.

Posted by: leetee1955 | April 21, 2008 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I keep saying it's early in the season, but I didn't expect them to play so poorly and with such a seeming absence of emotion. Regardless of whether this is adjusting to new chemistry or if this is how they are, it's hard to watch (or listen to, my own preference) night after night. The only thing that makes the broadcasts palatable right now is Charlie and Dave. I'm disappointed in how lackluster the team is on the field, and some (many) of the after-game comments are so lame, I just skip over them now.

Posted by: samantha7 | April 21, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

It would be nice to think that the Nats could replicate the Caps season, but the Caps had a couple big advantages. More than half of the Caps division made the playoffs, only 1/4th of the NL will qualify. The NHL Southeast division was the weakest in the NHL, the Nats are playing against much tougher competition.

Posted by: PB | April 21, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

You read in all these gamers that 'just one or two plays being made here or there' and the Nats would've won 'a very winnable game'. These games are mostly in our division. In reality if we play a strong game and the Mets or Phillies play a strong game -- the should still win. Is it possible we are having such a poor start playing against division rival that are not playing well yet either? If so this summer could be cruel.

Posted by: GoNats | April 21, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Identity Crisis, I liked your contribution. Re. the Loser reply, I guess that we all have our own opinions in that regard. To me, a loser would be someone whose sense of identity/self worth was determined by the fortunes of their chosen team.

Posted by: natsfan1a | April 21, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

btw, new post up.

Posted by: natsfan1a | April 21, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

IOW, I don't think that "Identity Crisis" is a loser.

Posted by: natsfan1a | April 21, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Our Bruce Boudreau is going to have to be Wil Nieves. Lo Duca's injury lingers, the pitchers love pitching to Nieves (a former shortstop and a coach-on-the-field type), and he somehow manages to hit .240. Zimmerman hits .300 for the rest of the season and ends up with 30 dingers and 100 RBIs. Milledge continues to be an offensive threat (.280, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs, 20 SBs), cures the gaffes and moves over to left (sorry, WMP, I'll try to find a role for you someplace but this script calls for ...) Justin Maxwell to come up and play a stellar CF, and John Lannan to become the ace.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | April 21, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Bob L.....Interesting you bring up the Nats, Caps Comparison.

WTEM has a guest on last week discussing what was the turnaround point for the Caps this year. The guest, a former Cap and TV color guy said it was change in Coach. His take was the old coach had come to accept losing and had excuses for everyone. The new coach came in and said right away that the goal was winning games not learning the game.......sound familiar?

Posted by: JayB | April 21, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

To clarify, I'm not suggesting cutting bait on Zimmerman. I think he's one of the very few pieces of the puzzle that happen to be on the Major League roster at this time. However, when attempting to build a team from the ground up, you sometimes have to be willing to deal guys like him if you can get 2 or 3 longterm puzzle pieces in return.

I'm not advocating a Zimmerman trade because I think he's overrated, nor do I think his current slump has anything to do with his value to this franchise. I am suggesting however, that this team may be further behind in the rebuilding process than a lot of us thought. If you're truly hoping to rebuild through the draft and trades, you sometimes have to make moves that are painful in the short-term (e.g. trading away the face of the franchise) if you can get true value in the long-term.

If this is who this team is collectively, it's time to start taking a hard look at the individual pieces, their value, and how they can be used to improve the team for the longterm (be that by playing 3B here for the next 20 years or by being traded for 2 or 3 guys who can fill in other holes for a long time).

Posted by: MKevin | April 21, 2008 12:28 PM | Report abuse

The trade with the Mets doesn't look too good right now for the Nats. Give me Brian Schneider over Paul 'steroid' LoDuca anytime. Heck, Ryan Church is playing better than Lastings.

The Nats are, deservedly, the worst team in baseball right now. And may be for the entire season. Might have to go start watching the P-Nats instead.

Posted by: Wallpass | April 21, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Why are they the worst team? Team wide batting slump and an abhorrent bullpen so far. Last 5 games and our SP lines:

- Operez: 6ip, 1r unearned
- Hill; 5ip and gives up 1 run himself, then the bullpen blows the save and lets 3 inherited runners score
- Redding; 6ip 4erfor his worst line of the year but 10ks and some luck wins the game
- Lannan: 6ip, 3hits no walks 1er and 11ks and we LOSE
- Chico; 5ip, 5er, 10baserunners and 3hrs ... i'm about ready to see Balester take over for chico.

But, the point is, we've gotten 3 excellent starts, one decent one and one horrible one in the past week. The Nats need to learn how to turn good starts into wins if they want to succeed like last year.

I'll be the first to admit: i thought that we are a better team on paper than last year, far better rotation, better hitting talent,and there was no way we'd be worse. Maybe chemistry has more to do with it than I thought.

Posted by: Sec131 | April 21, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

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