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This is who they are

May 31, 2010, 1:27 AM EST

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman's two solo homers accounted for the Nats' entire offensive output.

SAN DIEGO — We can analyze the Nationals' 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Padres today til the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. We can lament this team's lack of offensive depth. We can harp on Adam Kennedy's throwing error. We can question umpire Bob Davidson's vision on Matt Capps' 1-2 outside fastball to Nick Hundley, a pitch that could not have been placed any better by Capps yet was called a ball and set the stage for Hundley's game-winning single on the next pitch.

But sometimes we tend to overanalyze these things. The Nationals had an opportunity — make that plenty of opportunities — to win today's series finale at Petco Park. They came up short. Just as they've done a number of times this season.

Every game this team plays comes down to the wire. Of the Nats' 51 games played so far this season, 30 have been decided by two runs or fewer. The trend has only picked up over the last month. Twenty of their last 25 games have been decided by two runs or fewer. (They're 9-11 in those games.)

Maybe it's just time to come to the following conclusion: This is who the Nationals are.

They're a decent team — not a great one, not a horrible one — that plays tough almost every single night and almost always gives itself a chance to win. Sometimes it wins. Sometimes it loses.

Clubhouse members will point out they've faced a difficult schedule in the season's first two months, and emerged with a respectable 25-26 record.

"Any time you play teams that were in the playoffs last year or are going to be close to the playoffs this year, there's not going to be many blowouts," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think when good teams play good teams, it's close. One run, two runs, three runs. If you get aRead more »

  1. Anonymous - May 31, 2010 at 1:35 AM

    what kind of dramatic altering of events could we possibly hope to see? well played, Zuckerman.

  2. Mark Zuckerman - May 31, 2010 at 1:37 AM

    Anon: Can Strasburg solve the Nats' offensive woes?

  3. rmoore446 - May 31, 2010 at 1:59 AM

    A very wise appraisal of where the team is at this point in the season. The taste of success has made the team and its fans hunger for more than average, even in the wake of two 100-plus loss seasons. And that is as it should be.Here's hoping that the slumps begin to ease, our starting catcher returns on a hot streak and the phenom fulfills a big chunk of his promise.

  4. Suicide Squeeze - May 31, 2010 at 2:28 AM

    I'm embracing the angst, coddling the apprehension, and reveling in the rally caps. Helluva a lot better than the series of oh-my-God-what-was-that-face-into-your-hands moments from last year….

  5. Anonymous - May 31, 2010 at 2:42 AM

    At least we aren't Baltimore. That's HOPELESS!

  6. Nate - May 31, 2010 at 4:22 AM

    Is there any interest in the recently DFA'd Winn?

  7. natscan reduxit (reporting from the road) - May 31, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    … this is as reasoned an account of the Nats' year thus far as I've read. Not too much mud-slinging, nor too much star-gazing, but a vision of the team which makes us fans want to keep on keeping on, cuz who knows what lies in store with the next series and beyond. Thanx Mark.Go Nats!!

  8. Dryw - May 31, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    I agree with almost everything you say, except for your conclusion that the Nats are "a team without a lot of offensive punch." Ok, I know they haven't shown it yet, but I'm not ready to concede that this is the nature of this year's team. Zim and Dunn haven't consistently been doing what we know they're capable of, but they do provide some serious offensive punch when things are going the way they should. Willingham, as you pointed out, has gone from a respectable hitter to a whole new level. Even if Pudge doesn't hit .325 the rest of the year, he also has been a consistently respectable-to-strong hitter. Desmond has shown some potential. Nyjer SHOULD return at least to respectability if not to where he was last year. So that's six player who should be able to provide some decent offense. If the Nats can get even 3-4 of them clicking at the same time, there's a good chance for us to show some much more acceptable run totals before this already vastly improved season is out.

  9. Doc - May 31, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    The Nats have come a long way from being 59 games below .500 to being 1 game off that mark. Rizzo and company went about those improvements that primarily impacted BP pitching. That made sense, and has been primarily successful. They made some attempts with starters with the Great One in the Draft, and a couple of guys who are on the DL.There was no real intention, between the last season and this one, to impact the offense. They signed a bunch of guys, many of whom are playing in the minors. The Nats offense has also been let down by Morgan's lack of performance and the failure of the released Dukes. If both those guys had come through, in the past 2 months, the Nats would probably be in first place!

  10. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    And this is why I have been saying since Dec. 2009 when Dukes refused to go back to winter ball….they had to and still have to go outside the organization for a proven RF who can hit 30 HR, drive in runs and play a good RF. It is just a joke that Rizzo has not been given the money to fill such a key void. Maxwell, Harris, Morse (never even give a shot) Roger, Guzman…..sure your happy with that options Mike.

  11. Positively Half St. - May 31, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    I don't know that Randy Winn would be better than Kevin Mench, who is at least hitting for average in Syracuse. If we are looking for offense within, though, Chase Lambin might be worth a look. He plays 3rd at Syracuse, but is more a utility man like Willie Harris. He is hitting for average and power, and perhaps could translate that for the big club.

  12. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    Pos. 1/2 St……that is just such a old loser Nats way of thinking……call up some 30 something career loser….maybe we can get Cory Casto back!They need to over pay in taking on a bad contract for a short period of time, that way they do not need to give up much in prospects.Magglio Ordonez type deal. And for the love of God get SS into the rotation…just wasting him to save money at this point.

  13. natsfan1a - May 31, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    "Sometimes it wins. Sometimes it loses." You forgot "Sometimes it rains." Think about it. :-)Seriously, nice piece. I never expected them to be where they are at this point of the season, so I'm with Kennedy on that one. In fact, I was just babbling to my husband yesterday afternoon about how they were in most games to the end rather than being blown out (uh, did I just jinx them? Okay, I'm taking that one back.). That said, I also think that Dryw and Doc make good points regarding our offense.

  14. natsfan1a - May 31, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    Oh, and props to the 'pen for their work yesterday.

  15. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Jose Guillen…He is a head case for sure but he did nothing but play hard here in 2005. For nothing more than Cash for this year only he could be starting in RF the rest of this year. 11 HRs and over 30 RBI's for a really bad team. Come on Rizzo it this so hard?

  16. LoveDaNats - May 31, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Thanks for the dose of reality. I was starting to imagine great possibilities. But I would rather have these 2010 Nats than 2008/2009.

  17. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Mark,RF is still killing the team. If they got any reasonable production from RF say Jose G type numbers what do you think the record could be this year.

  18. Anonymous8 - May 31, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    Three days ago the accolades and interviews and talk of All Star start piling up for Josh Willingham and I think he had a 6 game hit streak and a bunch of HRs in the last week.Then Josh goes cold in 2 straight games as Dunn and Zim heat up.This team can't seem to get everyone hot together. This team can win without offense at the top of the lineup and I think once Nyjer gets out of his FREEZE, this team will get on an offensive roll.

  19. Mark L - May 31, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    Sometimes management has to ignore the juvenile rantings of some fans and see what they got with some of their players. It's not always pretty, but the right thing to do. This is the best year to be a nats fan since 2005 and learn to enjoy it for what it is.

  20. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Is anyone surprised that Maxwell and Roger B are not any type of solution? Both are too old to be prospects at all. Both are CF at best neither will ever be an answer in RF. They no it, they are just being cheap by not taking of salary this year to put a better product on the field. Being better than 103 losses is not a reason to be satisfied.

  21. raymitten - May 31, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    Someone really suggested Jose Gullen? He ruined the clubhouse in '05, and Rizzo has spent a year and half undoing all the damage Bowden did in this regard (see Dukes, Milledge, etc.) The improvement in the clubhouse has been a big reason for the improvement. This suggestion dosen't even pass the laugh test.

  22. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 1:33 PM

    No he ruined the clubhouse in 2006 when the team was bad. On a winning team he fine. He expects everyone to give their best….is that a bad thing for this club? Mark what you you say about Jose on this club?

  23. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    yea, your right…who needs 11 HR and 33 RBI from our RF slot. A second Josh W. would not help win any of these one run, low scoring runs…..what was I thinking.

  24. seamhead37 - May 31, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    It's baseball wisdom from way back that to succeed you have to play .500 ball against the best, and beat up on the worst. So far we've played 70% of our games against winning teams, and we've held our own. Let's see how we do against the Houstons of MLB before we start dreaming up panicky roster moves. Good post, Mark

  25. Arlington Big Fish - May 31, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    A propos of nothing previously discussed in this thread: does Nieves ever set up the target any place other than low & away? It's something I started noticing a couple of days ago, when Dibs was on another one of his tirades about Nats pitchers needing to bust some folks inside.

  26. Anonymous - May 31, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    How do you deal with the emerging problem of having a head case in CF? Bring in another head case for RF to take some of the load off him. Yep, JayB has ALL the answers, doesn't he?JayB=Moron. Hey, that wold look good on the back of a customized Acta#14 jersey, wouldn't it?

  27. Anonymous - May 31, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Mark, thanks for the good note. I should remember to appreciate the current Nats. On another subject, some have said the Nats are good hitters that aren't hitting right now. Yet the Nats' hitting coach is usually praised in public by the players, management, MASNites, etc. Shouldn't the hitting coach take the blame for the Nats lack of production and the "funks" Nats get into and are unable to get out of? The last Nats hitting coach was forced to walk the blank — without much appreciable change in Nats hitting.

  28. 51 games into the season - May 31, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    JayB doesn't get the message right most of the time as Jose Guillen would not have been the answer but I think his underlying point is the Nats had no Plan B back in Spring Training when Rizzo cut Elijah Dukes loose.The team is still paying the price for not having a Plan B, and the problem is more evident with the inconsistent play of Nyjer Morgan.The teams best solution so far in RF has been Bernadina who looks lost at times. All in all, I was thrilled that the Nats at the 50 game mark was 25-25. With a long way to go in the season, I look forward to Pudge coming back with Strasburg joining the rotation and Jordan Zimmermann hopefully in August.Maybe the Nats will be buyers at the trade deadline and will get JayB his RF!

  29. strug - May 31, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    They had a Plan B for RF in ST. It was to give the opportunity to Maxwell, Bernadina, Harris or Morse to step up and grab the job. Just because that Plan B hasn't (yet) worked out, that doesn't mean Rizzo didn't have a plan. If his Plan B had been to go out and sign some washed-up FA like Dye, that plan could just as easily have failed if the FA didn't step up or got hurt.Rizzo has a plan. We know that. We also know that JayB doesn't have a clue.

  30. JayB - May 31, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Plan A was Maxwell, Roger, Harris, Morse and so on…..That was his choice….now I want to see plan B…….and he has none.

  31. Avar - May 31, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Personally, I'm thrilled that we've gone from a 100+ loss team to a .500 team in one season. And it's pretty clear we are at least a .500 team, we're not playing above our capability. As others pointed out, we've played mostly good teams and are .500, once the schedule evens out, I think we'll be consistently above .500. That is a fantastic turnaround. Give Rizzo another off-season to upgrade the offense and figure out which starting pitchers to hold on to and this team could actually contend for the division.

  32. Anonymous8 - May 31, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    Strug, sorry, good teams don't break Spring Training with those 4 part-time players as a Plan B. Yes, that was Rizzo's plan, just not a good plan.Morse hasn't even been given a chance so not sure what's up with that? Justin Maxwell has been discussed ad nauseum and as much as I like Willie Harris, he isn't hitting is weight either.If Nyjer Morgan was playing like he was in July 2009, then having RF simply as a low offense/high defense position may have been accepted.Can't succeed long-term with 2/3 of your outfield producing at a .200 batting average.

  33. Anonymous - May 31, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    I will pay to see this team. My rule: if there is an even chance of seeing a Nats win, and a better-than-even chance of seeing a close game, I'll spend the money to drive to DC and buy tickets. It has always been that way, and I've been a Senators fan since 1951, when I could first say "Mickey Vernon". Clearly, this team doesn't hit much. The defense is tight, the bull-pen has improved, and the starters don't make me cringe when I see their names. They are respectable. That's good. John Welch

  34. natsone_va - May 31, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Bring in Jose Guillen!!! Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose!!!!!!!!Or at least put Morse out there in right for a week and see how he does.Mark, what's your though on Guillen?

  35. Dryw - May 31, 2010 at 3:54 PM

    natsfan1a, thanks for adding "sometimes it rains." I was itching to do the same. Mark, you know you left us hanging with that one…. ;-)Oh, and I definitely want to chime in with the ".500 is way more fun than I ever thought it would be" camp! These Nats are just fun to watch.

  36. natsfan1a - May 31, 2010 at 4:01 PM

    You're welcome, Dryw. Yeah, Mark left that one hanging right over the plate for us. :-)I'm also in the .500 is way more fun camp.

  37. rmoore446 - May 31, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Strug said: "If his Plan B had been to go out and sign some washed-up FA like Dye, that plan could just as easily have failed if the FA didn't step up or got hurt."Well, now that you mention it the Nationals did make an offer to Jermaine Dye back in the Spring. So Rizzo's Plan B may have been to sign a free agent but when Dye turned down the offer, we ended up with Plan C, the platoon of bench players. This is just a reminder of the often forgotten offer to Dye. Not sure if he had signed, it would have been the answer but Plan C certainly isn't working.

  38. Mark Zuckerman - May 31, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    To all those who want Jose Guillen back…1) He was perhaps the most-divisive player the Nats have ever employed, one whose presence fractured the clubhouse in the summer of 2005, right as things were turning south.2) Nearly every player Mike Rizzo has added over the last 15 months has been touted for being a good "character" guy and positive clubhouse influence. Guillen does not fit that description.3) There's a reason a guy like Jose Guillen has played for nine different teams in 14 years. And made the playoffs only once.

  39. Mark Zuckerman - May 31, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    Oh, and to all those who wanted me to finish off the "Bull Durham" quote with "sometimes it rains" … I was THIS close to writing it yesterday. Couldn't go through with it.

  40. natsone_va - May 31, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    Ok, then no Jose it is. Thanks for the response, Mark.

  41. prettyvacant - Jun 1, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    If Guillen was really that much of a cancer and has been continuously employed (if not by the same team), then how bad was Dukes? If no one else better is available, would we really be worse off bringing him back for another chance? Is our clubhouse not strong enough now to handle one fairly talented irritant? What in the world did Dukes actually do (which we weren't told about) that was so horrible no one in baseball wants to give him an opportunity? He smashed some of the hardest-hit liners (a few even for HRs) I have ever personally witnessed, and clearly the platoon has failed to take up the slack at the plate thus far. I agree that if Nyjer reverts to form, and if Pudge can stay in the lineup, then we may be able to survive the platoon, but those things aren't givens, as we've seen.

  42. Anonymous - Jun 1, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    Guillen doesn't play a good RF any more. He's too banged up.





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