Monday, March 31, 2008

Roundtable #5 - The Season Begins


Forget what the calendar tells you - Spring is over! The Nats are heading home, first to open the stadium with an exhibition match against the O's, then to open the "North American" season with the real thing against the Braves. (Ed-NOTE: The conversations took place from Friday to Sunday. As you know the Nats took both these games) It's an exciting time for the Nats and they really need to be putting their best foot forward.

Joining me in discussing the Nats this week are two-thirds of the girls from We've Got Heart. Kristen and Stephanie.

The general consensus is that this, or something close, will be the opening day lineup :

C. Guzman SS
Milledge CF
Zimmerman 3B
Johnson 1B
Kearns RF
Dukes LF
Belliard 2B
Lo Duca C
Perez P

With the exception of Wily Mo's injury time, any problems with that? Without delving into personal biases (yet), I only have one issue and that's with the guy on the mound. The Nats are re-introducing themselves to DC and America with Odalis Perez? He doesn't represent the Nats' future or the Nats' past, and he probably isn't even the team's best pitcher. It's "veteran respect" gone a bit too far.


I am pretty excited to see what the 2008 lineup can produce. I think we are entering the season with a lot of potential. Just think about it, last year at this time the Nats were expected to lose 100 games. Now with the lineup, the bench, and the solid bullpen this season, the Nats aren't a team to brush aside anymore.

I was pretty disappointed to hear about Wily Mo and his time-table for recovery. We saw him hit some monster blasts during Spring Training, and he looked poised to have a great season start. I am excited to see him back and playing everyday. With that said, I think we have a solid back up with Elijah Dukes, at least player wise. He will hopefully provide more offense than say Langerhans, so I don't think all is lost in left field.

I tend to agree on Perez pitching for the opener. For a team that makes such a huge deal about "the plan", Odalis just doesn't fit. I think the Nationals would make a much bigger statement by giving one of the young guys like Bergmann or Chico, heck even Redding after the season he had last year, the start. On this team full of young talent Perez does seem like the odd man out. I'm still not sold on the need for a veteran on the rotation. After John Lannan's Spring, it would have been nice to see him in DC on opening day.


You have to be excited about what Milledge and Dukes add to the lineup. I'd say Lo Duca is an offensive improvement over Schneider, but I'm not thrilled about him being part of our organization. Feels like we're all just holding our breath waiting for Flores. It certainly seems like we are heading in the right direction though. No more watching Fick and Langerhans pinch strike-out.

I guess I do see the value in having a veteran pitcher around -- but we've got some veteran guys in the bullpen that will continue to help shape pitchers and Randy St. Claire's influence can't be understated. I'm not sure I saw enough of Perez in spring training to make any predictions, but I'm certainly not convinced he's deserving of this big opening night start. I think as a simple match-up, it would have been nice to see Bergmann get the start -- with the way he handles the Braves' lineup. I'm expecting a good solid year from Redding and while I like Chico and hope for the best, I think Lannan really did deserve that spot.


Dukes can't be worse than Langerhans. I refuse to believe something like that is possible. LoDuca isn't great, but he isn't worse than Schneider at the plate. Anyone would be better than Logan, let alone a true prospect like Milledge. Fick is gone. Bacsik isn't wasting throws anymore. There is no place I can see a decline in talent. That's why the same the back of the head thoughts have gone from "Hope the Nats aren't historically bad." to "Hope the Nats get close to .500!" The Nats at the major league level didn't change as much as people may think but they never stepped back. Now that says something about where they started from but I think we all agree they should be better.

As far as Odalis is concerned I like having him in the rotation - the Nats have abused their bullpen the past 2 years. 2nd in the majors in IP last year, 3rd the year before, they need someone to eat innings or we're going to see a mass of arm injuries. While you can't expect Odalis to do it well, you can expect him to do it. But that's my complaint - he's an innings eater - not an Opening Day starter, even for a team like the Nats. He represents nothing more than bottom of the barrel filler. (That may in fact still be in line with the Nats current philosophy but they don't have to shout about it). Chico would have been nice, but I'm a Chico fan. But you know who also would have been nice? Shawn Hill or John Patterson.


It would definitely be nice to give the bullpen a breather this year -- especially because they aren't pitching at RFK anymore, which creates an added challenge. It's nice to know that they've all returned healthy. You can rest assured knowing you know what you're going to get out of them.

For Opening Night, Shawn Hill would have been the ideal. It's hard to watch him struggle with overcoming the injuries. I still have a lot of faith that he'll be able to put in lots of work this year. Unlike -- John Patterson. I realize it was a controversial decision, but I wasn't bent out of shape with his exit, just surprised. I have compassion for "my stuff just isn't back yet. I'm getting there." Instead, we walked into spring hearing about this excited, re-energized Patterson that was ready to go. Same as last spring. And then there was the flu debacle with the O's. There's been a lot of excuses with Patterson. I must confess, I missed his phenomenal 2005 season (cause I didn't live here yet). I do respect what he has done in the past and what he is capable of doing in the future.

Do you think if he remained on the roster right now, we'd really see him pitching throughout the season?


I am almost going to miss watching Fick swing away in those key moments. Langerhans not so much. I'm not a fan of Lo Duca, his abilities or his attitude. I'm not sure he understands that he's a place holder until Flores is ready - which in my opinion is sooner rather than later. I guess Lo Duca's bat has been better than Schneider's in the past, but with him coming off an injury, I'm really not expecting much. I am really excited to see Milledge in center field. I think we will see some magical stuff from him this year. I really like his enthusiasm. So I'm thinking we'll see nothing but improvements offensive wise this season.

Having Hill on the mound for opening day would have been a great way to kick of '08, his situation is unfortunate. When it comes to Hill, I feel like it's a roller coaster. When he's healthy he's the ace we need, but is he ever going to be able to pitch without pain? I'm hoping so. I'd love for Shawn to come back healthy and lead the rotation with wins.

I agree with Kristen, I'm happy to see Patterson go. I think the difference between Patterson and Hill is the response each give about their injuries. When Patterson was injured, or he pitched poorly, he was first to blame something else. There was the time he was sick, the time he got hit in the face with the ball, the time he didn't have enough time to rest, and so on. With Hill we get up front honest answers about his injuries and performances. I don't think Patterson would have made it a full season without a DL stint. I'm still hopeful that Hill will come back strong and have a great season.


Oh come on...Hill was more honest? Please. Patterson is a disappointment to a lot of Nats fans - they saw 2005, expected a stud pitcher and got an injured pitcher that actually projected other excuses when pitching through pain because he can't admit when he's not ready to go. Hill never got a chance to disappoint because fans never expected anything from him. While it may not accurately describe how you guys feel I'll stick to my guns and say that's where the majority of JP hate comes from.

Do I think he would have been pitching this year? Yes - but not effectively for the first month or two. John on the mound for Opening Day would have said something. It would have said "Here's someone that has been through the whole thing - from Montreal to DC, from RFK to the new park..." It would have been a nice moment. Whatever. Sometimes it's better for everyone involved if things move on.

I would have loved to see Hill on the mound opening day, also because what that would say. "Here's someone that's going to be the ace for the next few years" Instead he's injured again. Do you realize that Hill hasn't broken 100 IP since 2003? I just can't be optimistic about someone with that type of history.

We all seem to have the same tepid-at-best feelings about LoDuca, positive vibes from Milledge, what do you think about the way the MI ended up? Looks like Lopez is the loser here.


Fair enough. I know my absence in 2005 definitely colors my perspective on Patterson. I'm hopeful with Hill because I just really want to see what he's capable of - but your points are well-taken.

I look at Felipe and I see a former All-Star and I just can't figure it out. We've heard about the vague off-the-field problems and we've heard about his tough childhood, so you can see how the game is especially mental for him. You just want to see him snap out of it. Tremendous talent and potential, but these issues cloud his focus. I think he will turn it around. I just don't know when. He really needed to put up stronger numbers this spring.

With that said, I think the criticism is fair but way overblown. I want the two best guys to start at their spots -- and that would be Belliard and Guzman at this time. I just want Lopez to prove to his critics that his issues were personal, and not a question of attitude. Why would we want him to be satisfied and comfortable on the bench? He should want to fight for that position. I think media, bloggers and fans read too much into those comments.


Granted I also missed Patterson's 2005 season, but to my knowledge he had issues staying healthy before he came to DC. I guess I just got tired of hearing excuses and not seeing results. Ok maybe Hill isn't more honest, but isn't there just something about his sinker ball that makes you pull for the guy?

I'm with Kristen on the Lopez issue. I just can't understand how a slump can last so long. It's clear Felipe wants to play and I really think he has what it takes. I think the game means a lot to Felipe. His lack of performance is often criticized as laziness, and I'm not sure thats the case. I hope he gets the chance to turn things around.

I really liked how Guzman and Lopez worked last year, there were times they seemed seamless. It worked. I was impressed by Guzman's beginning last season, and if he had stayed healthy he would have had a great year. That's just the thing though, I'm wondering if he will stay injury free this season. He had an impressive Spring and it would be nice to see Bowden's investment pay off.

With Belliard, there is no denying he's a great player, but I think he's a bit like Odalis Perez in that he just doesn't fit with the plan. I do enjoy watching him play, and the flexibility he shows in his position is great. However for some reason, he is one player on the team that I'm indifferent towards. Its more personality wise, like attitude or something.


Belliard doesn't fit with the plan, but it's hard for me to see how Guzman does either. Guzman is 30 with only a quarter-season of decent baseball in like 8 years in his favor. Most of those offensive seasons were REALLY bad and that's not looking at 2005 (which I'll admit was an aberration). Of course he had that good quarter year last year, which makes it tougher to dismiss, but I think we'll see another middling season for him then out the door.

Felipe at least has a chance to be part of the future - but it's dwindling everyday. Since the other guys are really just stop gaps, why not let him play? Especially if confidence is an issue. I'd sit Guzman, but Belliard would be fine too. I'm not sure I get why in this instance the Nats are playing to win for now.


Have to say- I'm responding from Section 226! (ED Note : Kristen was replying from the Nats Orioles game)

I really have mixed feelings about Guzman given his history here. But his performance last season and this spring would merit another chance to see what we can get out of him.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a Reyes or a Hanley Ramirez? A young lead-off guy that can fly around the bases and put up great numbers? On that note, do we know the status of Esmailyn Gonzalez.? I don't know too much about him, but isn't that the kind of player they hope he becomes?

For now, I just hope All Star Felipe shows up in a week or two.


I think everyone does. Here's the issue: the Nats don't have a Reyes or Ramirez in the minors or even a Marco Scutaro or John McDonald. Unless something changes soon they are going to need to think hard about who's going to man 2nd and SS in 2009 and 2010. It would be great if that person was Felipe and that can't be decided with him on the bench.

Section 226? That's slightly closer than North Carolina right?

Ok so the new park is open and early word is it's great. Here's a question - will that matter? Does the new ballpark have a chance to reinvigorate baseball interest in DC? I hate to be fatalistic (ok
that's I lie, I like to be fatalistic) but let's face it. Interest the past 2 years was lagging behind where the team would like it to be. Is this combination of new park and legit young talent going to draw those 30K crowds, or does the team have to win?

(This is an honest question from someone not in or from DC)


The new park is really fantastic. We were in it for the first time yesterday, and everything was magical. I definitely think the new park will help reinvigorate baseball in DC. A lot of fans dealt with the...old charm, shall we say, of RFK and stuck with the team during those early months last season when the team struggled to reach 10 wins. The new park is as much a reward for the players as it is for the fans. Winning would be nice. The new park will hopefully not only draw more fans, but it will also give the guys some more incentive to win. I think the excitement of the new park will give them some more pep. Yesterday it was pretty obvious they all had an extra spring in their step. So I do think the wins will come this season, but I think the park will be a big draw for the team regardless of the win/loss record. DC is building something great, and its a pretty cool time to be a Nats fan. Kinda cheesy I know, but it really is exciting here.


There is no question that the park is beautiful and I think regardless of wins the honeymoon will last at least through mid-summer. Eventually, the stadium won't be enough. I hope though fans see that we are going in the right direction. You go to amazing parks like PNC Park and Camden Yards and it's sad. But with those teams, I think it's not just the win loss record. It's total lack of faith in the direction the team is heading, or maybe the desire to head in any direction rather than just getting by each year.

Everyone jokes about the plan - partly cause it asks a lot of fans. But at least there is a direction and not band aid solutions. We are in the process of building a good organization. Come watch it in progress. Don't expect to take the NL East this season.


So not World Series? I'll have to cancel my late October hotel reservations, then...

If not a 120 win season, what do you guys think is in store for the Nats in 2008? I've said my piece on my blog. 73-89. Same record as last year. I think this years team is slightly more talented than last years, like 5 games or so. (and ever moving in the right direction) That being said, last year the Nats got a little lucky. In response, I guessed they'd be a little unlucky this year, hence the same record.

Either of you on the .500 bandwagon?


I think this team is definitely more talented than last year, but it's always a tough division. The Mets, the Phillies and the Braves are all strong teams. I'd give the Nats a few more games than last year. I don't know if it was luck or Manny, but it was a pleasant surprise. I think, as Zimmerman said last night (ED - after the Opening Night win), they are sick of losing. They are going to do everything they can to get off to a good start. It was impossible to recover from last year's 9-25 deficit. I think with the new park, playing .500 ball is possible. So much depends on injuries. My prediction would be slightly less than .500 - something like 77 or 78 wins.


I'll jump on the .500 bandwagon. When we talked to some of the guys during spring training, their expectations were high for this season. I think the momentum of the new park can carry them pretty far. I was impressed with the line up last night, I hope the offense continues. Zimmerman's performance last night I think made it clear, don't count the Nats out just yet. I'm hopeful that the team won't be hit hard with bad luck and continue to play well from the start.

Thanks to Kristen and Stephanie for doing this!

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