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What’s your biggest concern?

Jun 16, 2010, 2:55 PM EDT

DETROIT — In the wake of the Nationals' 7-4 loss to the Tigers last night — their 19th loss in 30 games, by the way — I started thinking about what currently plagues this team.

My first thought was that the rotation (aside from Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez) has taken a step backward and isn't giving this club a chance to win as much as it did earlier in the year. But the starting staff still owns a collective 4.53 ERA. Not spectacular, but not awful by any means.

So then I thought a lack of clutch hitting has been the Nats' biggest Achilles' heel. But as a team, they're hitting .267 with runners in scoring position. That's better than their overall team average of .262.

So then I thought about the black hole in right field that has plagued the club all season and figured that was its most-pressing issue. But Roger Bernadina is hitting .378 this month, with a 1.002 OPS. And Michael Morse, since returning from the DL, is hitting .458 with a 1.302 OPS. So right field can't be the problem.

So then I figured it must be poor defense. But then I realized the Nationals rank 11th in the NL both in runs allowed and earned runs allowed. So it's not like the defense is costing them more than anything else.

At this point, I was developing a pretty intense headache, so I decided this might not be worth agonizing over. The answer might actually be simple: The Nats simply are an average team, in just about every facet of the game. They get good pitching sometimes,Read more »

  1. Slopitchtom - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    As far as I know they lead the majors in unearned runs allowed. It's the defense that's the problem. Keeping Adam Kennedy out of the line-up and only playing Guzman at 2nd would be a huge help.

  2. Jaxpo Nat - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    While JayB's biggest concern is backup catcher, I am more troubled by the fact that we only have TWO starting pitchers who can get through the 5th inning. That, to me, seems rather significant and something that sets us apart from… say… every good team in baseball.

  3. Bowdenball - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Let me preface this by saying that I'm generally happy this year. Things are far from perfect, but at least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn't look like it's miles away.My biggest concern, both for this year and into the future, is that the front office is chasing fool's gold with their "pitch to contact" strategy."Livan and Atilano haven't been "savvy," they've been lucky. Ground balls are nice, but strikeouts are a LOT nicer. And they don't lead to higher pitch counts … walks do. If they continue to think that Strasburg needs to cut back on the strikeouts to conserve his arm, that Lannan can be a #3 starter, that every rally will be magically killed by a double play and that hard-hit ground balls and line drives will miraculously find our infielders, we're all in for a rude awakening.Problems in the lineup, like we have in RF and 2B and the rotation right now, can be fixed with free agents or emerging talent. Problems with your basic approach to the game are not easy to fix. If we're building a pitching staff based on mistaken assumptions about pitching – which is what it looks like to me right now – that's a real concern. The staff would do well to remember that even the great sinkerball, ground ball type guys like Derek Lowe and Brandon Webb strike guys out at a very good clip. A staff full of John Lannans is never gonna get it done.

  4. Jim Hoy - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    I think the analysis that we are just an average team is spot on. Willingham is not a spectacular fielder. Nyjer Morgan has been mediocre this season. Play from RF has been inconsistent. Desmond is still learning. And Pudge can't play every day. Add in the pitching woes. I'm most optimistic about the pitching actually. Getting Wang and Zimmermann will change the makeup of the starting staff.We aren't going to the playoffs this year. But we aren't gonna lose 100 games this year. This team reminds me of the teams of the recent past who have done a 180 degree turn in their fortunes in a couple years (Tigers a few years ago, and the Rays). Next year, with a wise FA addition or two, and no crippling injuries to Baseball Jesus (Strasburg) and we will contend for a wild card spot.

  5. Jim Hoy - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    On further thought, how great is it that we can talk about what's wrong with the Nats? This is the first time in their existence that the reasons for poor play haven't been that they just stink.

  6. court - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    I would point to starting pitching (which has pitched over it's collective head so far, in my opinion) and the lack of a consistent lineup. Riggs seems dead set on giving everyone at-bats, but it's time to go with the best 8 (or 9 in interleague play) and see what happens. Who knows when/if Marquis, Olsen and Wang will be back, so in addition to Detwiller, the team needs to go get a starter as soon as possible. It's obvious that this team plays on the razor's edge, with no room for error. But another top of the rotation guy to go with Strasburg is crucial to carry the team from time to time.Forget about next year, all eyes are on the Nats NOW, so it's time to invest in Oswalt or Lee to begin to build a real fanbase. If you can get DeJesus great, but without a real 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, there are too many games this team simply doesn't have a chance to win. Martin and Atilano are not MLB caliber and I'm beginning to question Lannan (who's advanced stats have always suggested he's more smoke and mirrors than steak and sizzle). There is plenty of season left to make a run and the FO needs to move heaven and earth to put this team back in the race while people are actually interested.

  7. Jaxpo Nat - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    @Bowdenball – I disagree with your take on "pitching to contact." You seem to be arguing against pitching to SOLID contact. Of course if you constantly allow solid contact, your luck will run out. But people who advocate pitching to contact are talking about keeping hitters off balance, swinging at the "pitcher's pitch", disrupting their timing… all things that prevent SOLID contact. This is not luck, this is pitching skill. Recent examples – people like Greg Maddux, Tim Hudson, Tom Glavine, and Chris Carpenter – are not strikeout pitchers, they average 4-6 K's per 9, but they are/were effective and go deep into games. Indeed, Carpenter's K totals are up this year relative to last year and his overall performance, while still solid, is actually slightly worse from last year. No, the problem is not the philosophy. The problem is that the pitchers (other than Livan) we are trying to do it with suck – they are incapable of consistently hitting their locations – a necessity for pitching to contact.

  8. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    My biggest concern is that we break this team while we are trying to 'fix' it. No one predicted more than 67 wins at the start of this season….we're looking much better than that…why is that a problem that we need to 'fix' right now?

  9. Doc - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    A lot of stats to cruch here. Mark you were pretty much on before the season started when you predicted the Nats would be fighting to get out of last place. The good news is that the Nats aren't very far out of 1st place—and we are all pleasantly surprised by that. Earlier in the season, the Nats were doing better when their defense was more potent. Unearned runs is, at least to me, the most glaring culprit. No team is going very far with a weak defense. Again, though, they are not far away from improving their defense–AD proves that it can be Dunn! When ID went about 18 games without an error, we were clipping along.We are about 10 games in the W column short from going from 'just average' to being competitive.

  10. bdrube - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    The biggest problem RIGHT NOW is 2nd base where we have two aging veterans who have little range and whose bats are not big enough to make up for their defensive limitations. I could live awhile longer with the Bernadina/Morse platoon in Right Field if they would fix the gaping hole in the middle of the infield.

  11. natsfan1a - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    I got a headache just reading this post. Just kidding. :-) It actually kinda made sense to me. Maybe "average" indicates progress on the way to (gulp) "winner"?

  12. Les in NC - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    I would like to know what everyone thinks also. I suspect that when everyone here on this board tries to figure the 2010 Nats out, they will come to realize as you did, Mark, that we are just an average team top to bottom. THAT in itself is quite an accomplishment over recent years, but it leaves us wanting more and becoming alittle impatient when games don't go our way every night. (Atleast for me) One thing you left out, in my opinion, is that we have a manager, Riggs, that can be either too aggresive with his decisions to susbstitute or too passive, and plays what some called 'cronyball' instead of playing a 'hot hand'.Excellent evaluation as always Mark! Let's hope things start going our way a little more often in the future!

  13. greg - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    actually, anon, plenty of people predicted wins in the low- to mid-70s. as far as "fixes" go, i'm all for any "fix" that isn't just a "this season" fix. the suggestion above for oswalt or lee is half worthwhile. this team should *NOT* trade for lee (unless it includes a long-term deal). this team should be giving up *NO* prospects for rentals, only for solutions that last at least through 2011 and preferably 2012 and beyond. mark, i think you're right that this team has a whole lot of "mediocre," but not a lot of "stars" beyond zimmerman, strasburg, and maybe dunn. a couple of good, solid players. and a whole lot of mid-range talent. but we're not running out the god-awful, non-roster-invitee stuff we ran out the last two years. and that's the biggest difference right there. it's not a roster full of fringe players or players with potential, but with attitude issues, or players who had potential 5 years ago that still hadn't panned out.there's light at the end of the tunnel.

  14. Kevin Rusch, Section406 - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    Well, I think the team has a handful of "stars" — (Zimmerman, Zimmermann, Dunn, Strasburg) and a pretty solid bunch of solid regulars (Willingham, Desmond, Storen, Clippard) who can be counted on for the next few years. Plus Livo and Pudge are pleasantly beating expectations. So that's nice.RF might be able to get by, but we're either going to have to improve offensively at RF or CF. We can't get by with both being so weak.I agree with jaxpo — we need more starters who you can count on getting 6 innings from every time out. I'm delighted with Atilano and Martin's results, but every time they don't get shelled, I feel like we missed a bullet. Looks like Olsen's on the Patterson/Hill career path. Now, if we can just manage to hang around for another 6-8 weeks, there's 3 or 4 starters who could be coming back, and that could make all the difference. The bench is bothersome too. I know that should be far down the list, but those guys come up in high-leverage situations, and if we're not going to score many runs, that guy who gets a hit with 2 on and 2 out in the 7th could mean 3-4 wins over the course of a season.

  15. Kevin Rusch, Section406 - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    Oh, and I agree with Greg — don't give up anything that could be of real value for a rental. We have enough end-of-season help coming. I want any trade to be for someone who we can expect to be of value through 2012, at least.

  16. Big Oil - Jun 16, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    I'd echo Mark and Bowdenball, but also anon @ 11:26, too. It's a plesant surprise for the team to be playing as well as it has. And, I think not being happy with how things are is positive, too.I worry about Morgan's plate discipline, contact rates, SB rates and — sad to say — defense. Plus the rotation minus SS.

  17. Richard - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    Well, the Nats are inconsistent. Sometimes they're good or very good (e.g,. spectacular catches in the outfield), other times not so much (e.g., easy grounders muffed at 2B). Maybe that comes in part from playing some promising rookies and the rotation roulette with the position players that Riggs likes. Playing out of position would seem to be a bad thing. I've being thinking the Nats lacked clutch hitting until I read Mark's post re the .267 average in that regard. So, hmmm … Starting pitching is a problem, e.g., last night the Nats needed a very good performance from Lannan badly but … — but not so long ago the emergency starters were doing good. Oh well, I need to go get some aspirin for a headache so I'll stop here.

  18. Dan - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    They have a lot of bad players, more bad players than they should, and they keep PLAYING those bad players.Bad players: Guzman. Harris. Gonzalez. Kennedy. Batista. Nieves. Morgan (I'm sorry, but he's a terrible baseball player). Stammen. That's a third of the roster. They're not going to get better with stiffs like that on the team. They're significantly better than last year, and they've clearly turned the corner, but they've got a way to go.

  19. Uncle Atom - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    Whew, no time to read and absorb all the input here, but here's my big concern: defensive strength. The team started out on a better foot than last year, but I think the Nats are leading the league in unearned runs and errors because several positions are not manned by the same guy day in and day out. It's great that defensive drilling is a bigger priority this year than it was under previous management, but there are way too many position changes from day to day. Have a regular SS and 2B and CF and RF, and maybe once a week vary that lineup. And do more defensive drilling. Sure, 3/5 of the starting pitching is under performing, but giving teams 4 or 5 outs at least once a game isn't helping these pitchers.

  20. Theo - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    Biggest problem is lack of production at the top of the lineup. Low on-base pct. of top two hitters (and Morgan's propensity to run into outs) means Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham have nobody to knock in — and are coming up w/ two outs most of the time. They probably are the top "trio" in the NL in terms of home runs but would be in the middle of the list, at best, in RBIs. If your ERA is 4.5, you have to score five runs or more runs on any given night just to be .500. That isn't happening, because at most five guys are responsible for all of the offense. (And the league ERA is 4.43.)Morgan needs pine time. At least against left-handers. That strike-out last night on a fast ball six inches outside was pathetic. They traded Bonafacio for swings like that.Guzman cost another run on defense last night. And if he were the headpin, he couldn't reach a gutter ball. He must go. His .300 BA isn't doing much good if it's also his OBP. Kennedy's problems probably result from not playing regularly, as historically he has been good defensively. If he's lost it, then let Gonzalez play until he hits the Mendoza line.Lannan's location is miserable. It's not a pitch-to-contact problem, it's a problem of not putting pitches where batters hit them at fielders. A pitcher with a WHIP of, say, 1.4, is going to give up about four runs per nine innings. With four walks in the first four innings last night, he completely eliminated his margin for error. You almost hope it's an arm problem; otherwise, he's becoming Steve Blass without talent.

  21. JayB - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    Biggest issue is the Bench Players who Riggleman insists on playing too much. Harris, Kennedy, Wil N., ALL have hurt the team at the Bat and In the field. I think about 5 loses at least can be put on this issues (see Kennedy in Cleveland as an example). All have far to many ABs for at the determent of Morris, Alberto G. and the Team.Morgan and Guzman should be sold ASAP for anything they can bring because their value will never be higher than right now…..both are aging and losing skills right before our eyes.

  22. Pauloyd - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Gotta agree with Court on this one. Be careful not to really hurt the future, but with all eyes on the Nats now, and with St. Stephen clearly ready to contribute right away, we need to capitalize on the next few years…

  23. court - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    I agree that you don't get Lee without extending him. Oswalt has one more year on his deal so I don't consider him a "rental". By the way, we would get a draft pick for losing a "rental", so that would be figured in too.My point is that we need more firepower at the top of the rotation. Wang and Zimmermann will only replace Strasburg once he hits his innings limit, not complement him. With Oswalt, maybe we can get him without having to give up prized prospects by taking his salary. But how many untouchable propects do we really have? Norris? That's about it in my book. The system is stocked with bottom of the rotation guys, but no real ace types (which makes signing AJ Cole as important as Harper). Marrero doesn't have enough power for a corner position and Espinosa becomes more expendable with Desmond's emergence. Anyone on this board is a hardcore fan and probably has been for years, so in essence it doesn't matter what we think about this team. What matters are the 25K+ new fans that came out last Tuesday. Making a deal for Oswalt or Lee (w/ an extension) would help keep all the new eyes that only come out every five days. Without a real fanbase, the team will always be limited in what it can do with payroll. The future is on the line here, and I hope Rizzo can make something happen to ensure that this team competes for a playoff spot THIS year in an effort to convert the masses of Strasburg followers into Nats followers.

  24. JayB - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    I would start Roger B. in CF for the after trading Morgan and Alberto G. at 2B after trading Guz and paying his salary in hopes of getting some Back Up Catching in return. Morse has earned a long look in RF. He could be Jason Wyrth like player, late bloomer….lets find out.

  25. JayB - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    Agree with Court….They blew a lot of good will the past 3 years. Now is the perfect time to step up and spend to capitalize on the SS factor and repair the damage done in 2007-2009

  26. JayB - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    Kilgore is reporting Willy Harris is getting another Start…At least not at DH for god sake!Riggs says Nats are going to need him and must find a way to get him going…..my question would be why will they need Harris…where should he be playing and by the time he ever does get going will the Nats be playing for anything after his black hole in the lineup effect ends?

  27. Sec$39.99 - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    If the question is "Why do they lose?" then I think you're right: they are their record, and this is how good they are.If the question is what to do about it, then I think they need a deeper (as in more talented) bench, and JayB is right, some of those players are here, and some may be in Syracuse. You can't play the same eight guys every night. Teams that win, except when they don't have their best guys in, are mediocre. That's what a .500 team looks like; that's how you get to be .500.

  28. Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    Hallelujah! Nats are an average team. After 101 and 103 losses, average is starting to the look like the '27 Yankees. Ah, mediocrity. Ain't it grand?p/s with Royals, Orioles and a few other cupcakes coming up, Team Mediocrity might actually rip off seven or eight straight wins.

  29. Pat Boyle - Jun 16, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    I give them a C+. They just might finish above .500 for the season.

  30. N. Cognito - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    My biggest concern: The strike zone. Pitchers that can't hit it and hitters that expand it.We'll finish with about 70 wins, which is about right, with further improvements coming over the offseason.

  31. alm1000 - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    Problems are the rotation beyond Stras and Livo, not playing our best 8 or 9 (w a DH).I feel bad for Lannan because he has been our 'ace' for 2 years – 2 very bad years. In the first inning I knew it was another night where he would not give us a chance to win. Help is on the way for the rotation and I don't see Rizzo trading at this point for a starter because WE NEED MORE THAN I STARTER.What drives me nuts is not playing out best – or hottest players. Last Saturday Riggs sat Desi and Pudge and then added Harris as the DH. So, in effect we were going 6 against 9. Here is what I would do – play Desmond every day. Many players play 150 to 155 games. He can play with only the non-game days off. He does not need 2 or 3 days off a week. Use Morse in right a few games and to give Willingham a day off once a week. That puts Morse in the game 3 days a week and we have him – not Harris – as our best option off the bench. Play Bernadina every day. Play him in center the few days that Morse in in right. Let Kennedy and Guzman split time at 2nd. Kennedy lost us a few games but with regular play he will be better than Guzman who has lost us more games. Gonzales should be used as a defensive replacement at 2nd and a pinch hitter. Harris is strictly a defensive late inning replacement – no more starts and no more important situation pinching hitting.When Strasburg debuted we had our best line-up in. I think we played with that same lineup for 2 more days and we won those games. Then the switcheroo started and so did the losses.

  32. Carl the Optimist - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    This glass isn't full yet but it's closer to half full than to half empty.I divide the team into the Real Nats (the ones who'll be playing in 2-3 years) and the Fillers.Real Nats: Zimmerman, Desmond, Dunn (assuming management decides 40 HRS are more important than his fielding), Willingham. Pudge (until Norris is ready). Perhaps Bernardina (but pbly not Morgan). That leaves us needing a 2B and an RF, and they'll be available this winter. Of the Fillers, Morse and Gonzales are good backups; rest are not.Pitchers: Strasburg, Zimmerman, Detwiler (maybe). One of Lannan and Marquis (Livan in short term). Requiring one Free Agent. Bullpen: Storen, Clippard, Capps for 1-2 years.Bottom Line: With a RF, 2B and one starter, this team can contend by 2012!

  33. natscan reduxit - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    … I think you’re close in all the aspects you considered, Mark, but as you say, none is the over-riding culprit. My view is that they simply can’t put enough of these various items together in one game. The continuing refrain which suggests ‘just wait until it all comes together’ is getting a little tired. It’s mid-June, far past that time when the team ought to be able to get a balance on all aspects such that any given game is within winning.Go Nats!!

  34. FFX Gus - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    Team Defense is not that bad, especially vs. last year. Pudge has been major upgrade. Desmond, while erratic, has been upgrade over Guz with additional range. Bernadina etc. in RF has been upgrade over Dukes. Willingham and Dunn have improved dramatically. Zim is Zim. That means this year's defensive gaps start/stop with CF/2B. Bernadina to CF and Morse at RF might address OF issue until we figure out who the real Nyjer is and/or can figure out how to trade him. This brings us back to BDRube's point. The main issue with Nats, starting with Defense, is at 2B. Throw in the lack of production from Guz/Kennedy and this appears to be a great opportunity for Rizzo to address. Please find a way to trade Guz cause Riggs isn't going to bench him and then let Gonzo/Kennedy fight it out while doing everything possible to accelerate development of 2B minors. Time we give more chances to guys in minors (like Desmond last year) now to see what they can do rather than trade for a short term rental.

  35. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    I'm getting closer to the point of saying the manager is a big part of the problem.As someone asked before, why does the team need WH?? Why does it need Adam Kennedy? What good does it do to get these guys some at-bats now so they might have a hot streak in July when the team is 39 and 50?At this point, we have a very solid idea of what the players are, except for Morse and Bernadina. Find out more about them until September. Harris and Kennedy won't be part of a winner here, so it's even more ridiculous to keep playing them even though they suck. I don't think it's a coincidence the Nats are ranked a lot higher in AVG and OPS than they are in runs scored in the NL. You can either brush that aside as simply a lack of "clutch hitting". Or you could ask why time after time bad hitters come up in clutch situations when they shouldn't even be in the lineup in the first place. And that's on the manager.

  36. Paul Stephan - Jun 16, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    I agree with Mark. Compared to the last two years, we now have a major league baseball team. That is a great improvement. But it still is only an average major league team. Maybe the healing starters will get well, maybe Flores will come back as an everyday player, maybe Bernadina and Morse will develop into everyday major leaguers, maybe we will find someone who can both hit and play second base. When that happens, we will be a contender. But that is a lot of ifs. Still, it is so much better than the last four years of mediocrity followed by disaster.

  37. Bowdenball - Jun 16, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    Jaxpo Nat:While there are some guys who are successful without being strikout guys, they are the exceptions and not the rule. It's a lot easier to find successful guys who get a lot of Ks than it is to find the few exceptions you list- so why would you take an overall strategy aimed at finding the exceptions instead of one modeled on the rule? Furthermore, as you say, those "exceptions" like Maddux, Glavine and Carpenter still strike guys out at a rate of 5 or so Ks per 9 innings , which isn't to shabby. When they do that and they have exceptional control so their BB/9 numbers are really low and they give up relatively few homers, they can be very effective pitchers.On the other hand, the Nats' front office seems perfectly OK with guys like John Lannan, who as a 3.5 K/9 rate for his career. That is a model doomed to failure. If they try to find more John Lannans who they like solely because of their ground ball rates, they're going to get more guys who are simply not effective starters at the major league level. And if they try to push Strasburg in that direction, they won't be maximizing his talents. That is my concern.

  38. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    One concern is not Adam Dunn at first base. Some diss the man's defense, but his fielding pct. (.993) is very respectible. Only 4 errors all year and he's picking one the one-hoppers from Desmond and others and making the tags after catching the wild floaters from Zimmerman and making the throws to second base when necessary … the question is, why put Kennedy at first base for defense in place of Dunn when Dunn is at least as good as Kennedy.

  39. Doc - Jun 16, 2010 at 6:49 PM

    WOW MarkMeister, you really opened the floodgates of opinion. A tribute to the great efforts you are putting into "Nats Insider"! Over the season you've made some comments about how much better Gonzo does when he's in the field. Injury problems last year limited his performance.His hitting has improved too. Second half of the season, he should be installed at 2nd–better range and athleticism than Guz or Kennedy. And, of course, Morse should be given the full-time opportunities that Riggleman says he doesn't deserve, but his fans think he does, with Bernadina in CF. Morgan may never get any better. It's amazing how some baseball managers will stick with a player, even beyond his daily performance. It seems more so than in other sports.For everything else, we're just waitin' for guys to come off the DL.

  40. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    Certainly, as constructed, this is an average team… but that's awesome. All through spring training, most people (including me) said that if the team could remain withing sight of .500 until the break, that the 2nd half would be interesting… and that's right where it is. Most of us, I think, love Lannan and will always have a soft spot for him, but let's be honest, if he's on the first Nats team to make the postseason, it would be an upset. If everyone in the organization is healthy, he's no better than the 5th-best starter (which would mean being left off a postseason roster). Strasburg, Wang, Zimmermann, Detwiler, and Marquis are certainly better, and Livo probably is, too.Anyway, getting back to the question, I don't see any one glaring problem with the team that, if fixed, would transform the Nats into instant contenders. However, if by the trade deadline (or early August) the roster consists of Wang, Zimmermann, Detwiler, and Marquis (assuming all are healthy and pitching well) in place of the 4 most ineffective pitchers currently on the roster (starters or bullpen), plus a minor upgrade or two in the field/lineup… this is an above-average team that can make a push for the wild card.

  41. markfd - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:06 PM

    Mark – I agree the thoughts about this subject do give me a headache too. Here are my thoughts: – The club is overachieving based upon its performance last year. – The additions to the team of Strasburg and Storen improve th club not only now but years into the future.As for concerns – – Starting pitching scares me right now, Strasburg and Livan are the only guys right now who going into the game give us a fighting chance, the other three guys are just stop gaps. The reason I am not too scared is the rehab of Detweiler, Wang and Zimmermann, two of the three should be in the starting rotation in a month and a half, meaning there are two of omy concerns gone and Zimmermann will be providing some bullpen help in late August or September. – Hitting, I am not sure if there are holes in the lineup or holes in the way the lineup is on paper. There are a few guys who just should not be hitting where they are in the order, but that often happens with a rebuilding team so again I am not majorly concerned because Zim, Dunn and Willingham and IRod are solid day in and day out. If we can just rejigger all of the other parts of the lineup so we are consistent in the #1, #2, #7 and # 8 slots in the lineup we will turn some of those losses into wins.As far as future concerns, my biggest concern is second base, Kennedy and Guzman are the now not the next generation, our system does not have any guys who can make the leap like Desmond into the pros.

  42. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:16 PM

    They are not an average team at all. They have below average defense and below average starting pitching…Chris

  43. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:16 PM

    I agree with JaxPo Nat about getting the quality starts … and Riggleman made the same point last night. That was ***the key*** to the Nats getting 5 games over .500 once upon a time earlier this year. That was when Olsen, Atilano, and Livan Hernandez were getting them fairly regularly. John Lannan and Craig Stammen began to allow big innings and more runs than innings were pitched.JD Martin pitched into the eight last time out. He did allow more runs than innings pitched and he was hurt by errors. He has 1 walk and 1 HBP against 12 strikeouts. He is not doing as poorly as some claim. No, he isn't a power pitcher like Stras and JZimm but he can be an effective Livan jr. with that improved curve ball of his. Atilano needs to get back to where he was. I suspect that improves with Pudge behind the plate. Livan is still the MVP just after Pudge. Lannan was the only pitcher who seemed to insist on Nieves … yet he still had the same problems with Pudge finally behind the plate.So, what's the solution? Release Batista, he's the worst pitcher on the staff right now. Move Lannan to the bullpen to work things out. Bring up Detwiler when he is ready because he will be their only option unless a trade is made.What's been good about this "average" team Mark? I had the experience of listening to the Tiger's broadcast team. You all have no idea how much Pudge means to this team. HOF Al Kaline himself called the signing of Pudge Rodriguez the best free agent signing the Tigers had ever made. That is *Mr. TIGER their FOF to you". After losing 119 games the year before the Tigers turned things around. By 2006 they were in the World Series. The Tiger's broadcasters put the lion's share of the credit for this on the signing of Pudge Rodriguez. That's right folks. If you are Mike Rizzo and you want to take a team that lost over 100 games twice in a row, turn everything around to get to the playoffs as quickly as possible, what's the first thing you do? You friggin' sign Pudge Rodriguez. Brilliant move MIke!

  44. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    He did allow more runs than innings pitched and he was hurt by errorsMeant to say he did NOT allow more runs than innings pitched.

  45. Jaxpo Nat - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    @Bowdenball – I'm not saying Lannans are than answer. As I said, the problem is they are trying to "pitch to contact" with pitchers who can't locate. Not going to work. But don't pretend that it is easier to find your 7-9 KOs per 9 inning type pitchers than it is to find pitchers with less spectacular arms who can locate. That simply isn't true. You hold out for 3 more Strasburgs or Harens or Wainwrights and you will be waiting for 15 years (and suffering through a lot of Daniel Cabreras in the meantime – all power, no skill). No, we are going to need "pitch to contact" guys, it's just a matter of finding pitchers who can locate, and apparently Lannan and Stammen aren't such pitchers. It's your stud strikeout pitcher that is the harder pitcher to find.

  46. Doc - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    @Anonymous—The kind of stuff that J.D. Martin has made me also think a few weeks ago that he is a Livo in the making. Sort of a Livo Jr. Hope he makes it!

  47. Sunderland - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    Rigglesman tinkers too much. Defense stinks too much.Alberto Gonzalez needs to play 2B daily. Bernadina in CF and Morse on RF (against righties at least, if not full time).We need SP's desperately, but because of all the DL arms and AAAA arms we have, the FO will not go get one.(I'm not at all convinced they should, but I am convinced they won't)Guzman needs to be a weapon off the bench, and then traded for a bag of chips in July.I am sadly convinced that Nyjer will never be an MLB quality player.Wille Harris needs to go.And I am hoping that Lannan is hurt and he can return to his form of '08 and '09.And now, an original thought.One big issue we have is the state of our 40 man roster. We're hamstrung by it.We have 3 catchers, plus Flores. When Flores comes back, we can not release Coste (rules), so Nieves will have to go. This being the case, Flores will not come of the DL until September at the soonest.We have a couple guys at AAA that could help, Peralto and Lamdin, but we have so little wiggle roomin our roster. Sure, we could DFA Willie Harris, but then what do we do when Zimmermann, Wang or Detwiler are ready to come off the 60 Day DL? Even if Detwiler does not pitch in DC this year, he's coming off the 60 day DL pretty soon, so I would think that's when Willie Harris gets DFA'd.

  48. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:56 PM

    we can not release Coste (rules)They already released him? So your train of thought and logic fails?

  49. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 7:59 PM

    Peralta and Lamdin, Peralta definitely. Lamdin, probably not. Strikes out too much and doesn't field so well. Right now Boomer Whiting has a higher batting average. Think we should bring him up?Mangement was probably hoping Chris Duncan would find his way back. He would be a proven big left-handed power hitting right fielder and first baseman. He's not there yet. Bernadina is better than Mench. Gonzalez is way better than Lambin.Here's to sudden Desmond-like improvement on the part of Espinosa. Now, that's a horse of a different color.

  50. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 8:14 PM

    For the last month I have bemoaned that the Nats are inconsistent. One night, the bullpen fails; the next night, the starting pitcher lets up 5 runs in 3 innings; the next night, the bats fail. Then, after going through much the same analysis that Mark does (but at a 30,000 foot level instead of in the weeds like Mark), it occurred to me: the Nats are inconsistent because they are not good. They can be good at times, but not all the time, which is the problem. Just look at Stammen — he was lights-out one night, then does not pitch well for three starts, then he's lights-out again. He exemplifies the entire team: character, likable, effort, better than last year, still improving, but overall just not (yet) an above-average team.[sigh...] BG

  51. Wally - Jun 16, 2010 at 8:14 PM

    Mark – I think that your general premise is right, although I also would say that they are slightly below average, rather than an average team. And they have a larger chance of under performing this level in the 2d half, because I think that their pitching, especially the starting pitching, is not as good as their overall numbers so far. Yes, maybe all these hurt guys come back effectively this year, but I would take the under on that bet, and I can't see any reason for Livo and Atilano, for instance, to keep going the way that they have, other than continued luck.So it leads to the question that court was describing, what do you do? Buy or sell? It seems like most people here think that they should buy – capitalize on the SS buzz to build a fan base, no one is running away with the WC this year, so it is plausible to be in the race, some quality pitchers on the market, perhaps primarily obtainable for salary assumption. On the other hand, the sell arguments would be, I think, that they are numerous pieces away from a viable contender (consider it this way, what additions would you need before you wouldn't trade this entire team for a contender like the Cards, Dodgers, Phils, Braves, even the Rockies or the Reds? At least two more above average SPs, and a quality RF and 2B is my answer). Also, several of the better players, like Dunn and Willingham, should start to begin their declines soon, so that they may no longer be as productive when other parts are ready to go, like Norris, Harper, plus some others, so, the sell argument goes, trade them now while their value is at its highest, both in terms of their performance and their value to other teams (not a lot of sluggers on the markets, and as I just said, most teams feel like they have a shot this year). Weighing everything, if the Lerners are willing to spend for major league talent, both now and again in the offseason to fill their holes, I am in the buy camp. Like most everyone else, I am excited that they are playing reasonably well and don't want to see a return to 60 win seasons. But if they won't do that, I think that they should trade all their valuable MLB pieces except SS, Zim, Zimm, Desmond and Storen. I really see the choices as that stark.

  52. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 8:18 PM

    1. Now that Strasburg and Storen are in DC, which minor league pitchers should we be eyeing as future pieces of the youth infusion? 2. Which minor league position players should be be eyeing? 3. Does anyone know how Jeff Kobernus (sp) is doing at Hagerstown and how he is progressing?

  53. Anonymous - Jun 16, 2010 at 8:29 PM

    At the risk of agreeing with JayB – can we please have the same line – up for more than one day in a row? Players can't play good defense when they can't get used to their infield partners reactions and get to be a well-oiled machine. This is not little league where everybody gets to play – we need to chose our team, and unless somebody really needs a break, play them everyday.

  54. Anonymous8 - Jun 16, 2010 at 9:15 PM

    In a few words, starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching, and starting pitching.Starter #1, starter #2, starter #3, starter #4, and starter #5.How fast can JZim, Olsen, Detwiler and a guy named Marquis contribute to this starting rotation?

  55. K.D. - Jun 16, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    Mark, Actually you answered the question pretty well already. There really isn't one glaring need. With second base, Kennedy was very good at defense when he played everyday, though not a world beater at offense. What Guzman lacks in range he usually makes up in offense. Right field has been in flux, mostly offensively. Other than Zimmerman's uncharacteristic early run of errors they have been made by the "youth" of the team. Injuries have played a big role with Pudge, Olsen, Marquis. Lannan and Zimmerman all going down for a time. Really, they have the same issues all clubs face at one time during the season. They have to continue to play hard and learn from their mistakes, I don't foresee anyone giving up on this team. Ain't it great.

  56. Alan - Jun 16, 2010 at 10:01 PM

    Low OBP at the top of the lineup. There's nobody on base for the bashers, so they can be pitched around more easily. Look at Zimm's walks. Starting pitching and 2B/CF defense. Said enough already. 2B particularly with "pitch to contact" pitchers. Connecting theme – Guzman. Low OBP, weak D. Weak bench, to give JayB his due. A real void when Pudge is out and no LH power.

  57. LoveDaNats - Jun 16, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    Mark,Your analysis is spot on. Maybe they are average. But here's what doesn't make sense to me.At the beginning of the year they talked about how hard the Nats schedule was going to be at first while they played teams who were in last years post season and then it would lighten up a bit as they took on teams that had lesser records last year. It seems the opposite has happened. They really battled hard at first and now the teams they "should" beat are beating them.I remember reading about how much they hated to lose, how it made them mad.Is that even happening any more?You can almost feel the momentum shift when the other team scores big. The Nats bats go cold. Three up, three down and they go quietly.This has been THE most frustrating part of watching them. They need to get the negative stuff out of their heads and try and WIN THE GAME.Just my 2 cents.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 77 56 --
ATLANTA 72 65 6.0
MIAMI 68 69 11.0
NEW YORK 64 73 14.0
PHILADELPHIA 62 74 15.5
Through Sunday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
MON: Nats at Dodgers, 8:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Dodgers, 3:10 p.m.
THU: OFF
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
Full season schedule

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.

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