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Hope and Hype in the NL East, Part 4

Mike SteffanosSaturday, February 24, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


We continue our quick looks at the NL east with a preview of the one team that has no chance of competing for the division title this year.

Washington Nationals
Two years ago, in their first season in Washington, the Nationals managed to ride the enthusiasm of their fans to compete for a playoff spot and finish with a .500 record. They couldn't keep that momentum going in 2006, finishing twenty games below the break-even mark, and it promises to be even uglier as they head into their third season in the nation's capitol. The Nationals are rebuilding, but they don't even have many major league ready prospects to give a look at this season. As a life long Mets fan, what Nats fans are facing in 2007 is depressingly reminiscent of no-hope years gone by in Flushing.

Rotation: Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas, Jr. and Ramon Ortiz have all moved on. The oft-injured John Patterson is the putative ace of the staff. After a promising 2005 season that featured 31 starts and just under 200 innings, Patterson managed only 8 last year, spending most of 2006 on the DL with a forearm injury. He's good if he can stay healthy, but I wouldn't bet the farm on that. Beyond Patterson, the remaining options include a disheartening bunch of retreads, projects and kids with modest talent.

Bullpen: Chad Cordero is one of the best young closers in the game, though he's not likely to get a lot of save opportunities. Luis Ayala was one of the better young setup men in baseball from 2003-2005, but he missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. 6-11 righty Jon Rauch is the one other dependable arm the Nats have. He's solid, if unspectacular. After that, it's as much of a scrum of modest talent as the rotation picture.

Nick Johnson, the Nats' best hitter, is likely to be out until June rehabbing the broken femur he suffered last September. Ryan Zimmerman will look to build on his terrific rookie campaign. Cristian Guzman will attempt to win back the shortstop job after missing all of 2006 with injuries. If he does, look for Felipe Lopez to take his indifferent approach to fielding over to second base. Brian Schneider is dependable behind the plate, and Austin Kearns showed signs last year that he might finally be able to live up to his promise. While there are a few decent bats left in the nation's capitol, it's doubtful they'll score enough to offset their woeful pitching.

Much has been made of the talent Omar Minaya traded away while trying to make the playoffs in a last-ditch attempt to save the Montreal franchise. While that has certainly hurt the Nats' rebuilding efforts, what has hurt even more was the neglect of the farm system in the years that MLB ran the club. Under stable local ownership at last, Washington is in the process of rebuilding their scouting and development. Considering that greater Washington is a large market that will support a good team, I would expect things to change for the better in D.C. in a relatively short period of time. However, this year is going to be excruciating for their fans in a manner that will evoke long time Mets fans memories of those pathetic late 70s - early 80s clubs. It would take a miracle for this team not to lose 90 games this season.

Next week we'll wrap these NL east previews up.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (4)

Maybe the Nats are purposely saving their glory years for the new park? Me, I'm just glad there's no such thing as an "Expo" anymore, particularly because of those boot-nasty godawful uniforms! Remember the hat? Oy.

The one thing that will make the Nationals interesting this year is obviously Manny Acta. He had some quotes out there linked on another blog (can't remember who) wherein he sounded like a down-in-the-dirt, knowledgeable yet entertaining sort of guy.

Somebody's got to finish last--just glad it ain't us.

Hey, Geezer, play nice! The Expos were quite beloved in Montreal for quite a few years. Awful luck, an awful ballpark, plus Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria (and Claude Whatshisname, the owner before Loria) conspired to kill off a franchise that had managed to field some interesting, capable teams.

I followed the Expos at one remove, as today I follow a few teams other than the Mets. At various times it wasn't so hard to imagine what happened to the Expos happening to the Mets, excepting for the fact of New York City being a market that Major League Baseball wouldn't abandon tice. Engaging in that mental exercise inspires real sympathy for those folks for whom the Expos meant something.

And, for the kids in the audience, let me mention that back in the 70's, the teams that were always reported as ready to move out of town were the Cleveland Indians and the San Francisci Giants, both successful franchises today despite Mr. Sabean's best/worst efforts by the Bay. In an response to an earlier post of Mike's, I proposed that an organization is at least as responsible for the success or the failure of its prospects; and that goes double for where the responsibility lies for the success of a franchise. Cleveland is a damn good baseball town; it was the Indians that almost killed baseball in that town. It was more of a group effort in Montreal, but it wasn't from a lack of baseball interest.

Pause now, while I pour a glass of LaBatts on the carpet in memory of absent friends.

(But those uniforms were hideous, I'll give you that one.)

dd - I think the 1994 strike killed les Expos as much as Selig and Loria.

dd - I think the 1994 strike killed les Expos as much as Selig and Loria.

>

Yes. That was most of the luck part I mentioned.

The sight lines and the distance from the field that the fans had to live with at Olympic Stadium didn't help either. But Loria sent a dagger to the heart, Bud enabled him, and I ain't forgetting.

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