Sunday, July 24, 2005

Doubt is but the beginning, not the end, of wisdom

Yes, that's from a fortune cookie.

Is it applicable for us, the fans of our Washington Nationals, who dropped an excruciating 4-1, 14-inning decision to the Houston Astros earlier today? I don't know.

Here's the situation as of 11 pm ET on Sunday night:

Team    W   L   PCT   GB
Atl. 55 44 .556 --
Wash. 55 44 .556 --
Phil. 52 47 .525 3.0
Hou. 51 47 .520 3.5
NYM 51 47 .520 3.5
Fla. 49 47 .510 4.5
Chi. 49 48 .505 5.0

As we well know, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, the Mets, and Florida are all playing for two possible slots, whereas Houston and the Cubs have only one route in.

Let's forget Atlanta. They're tied with the Nats and, for all I know, will do what the Braves always do and surge late in the season. The Braves are immaterial, anyway. The Nats are holding at least a three-game lead on everyone relevant to their postseason hopes. It's these other teams we need to track.

If you asked me, given an even playing field and about a 60-65 game span, if the Nats are as good as any of those teams "below the fold," and I'd probably answer no. (Well, I have my doubts about the Cubs, who are currently blowing a game in St. Louis.) But that's not the situation: our team has a three-game cushion, at a minimum. That is certainly not a secure margin, but it is something with which to work.

Let's take the Phillies, since they are currently the closest competitor. Suppose the Nats went .500 the rest of the way; well, we can't suppose that. Okay, let's suppose they went 31-32 in their 63 remaining games. To force a wild card play-off (-in, really) game, the Phightin' Phils would have to go 34-29 the rest of the way, which is a .540 pace, which is better baseball than they've played to this point. It only gets (albeit marginally) tougher for the other "below the fold" teams. Unless one of the wild card competitors gets really hot, then even fairly mediocre play should keep the Nats in the hunt until the end.

I'll throw up a couple of caveats at this point:

1. As is their recent custom, the St. Louis Cardinals have pretty much run away with the NL Central. (That is why, in essence, more pressure is on the 'Stros and Cubbies.) The Cards are also fairly banged up. Fortunately or unfortunately for the Nats, the Astros and Cubs play the Cardinals in September. On the bright side, it is the Astros who have a lone three-game set. The Cubs, the Cards' traditional rivals, face off seven times---and I can't imagine the Cardinals rolling over for those games.

2. The NL East teams all play each other in a bunched-up, round-robin type format from here until the end. It's entirely possible that one or two teams could get hot and leave the others in their wake; in fact, in what can only be described as a dream sequence, I sort of predicted it.

Anyway, three games are three games; they'll only take you as far as you make them. Or, for a less-trite way of looking at it, what do the Nats need to do to make those three games hold up:

1. Acquire a bat.

There's absolutely no choice in the matter. In fact, the only limitations are organizational frugality, stubbornness, and immovable millstones. We're way, way beyond impotent at shortstop . . .

[Program alert: Speaking of which, Neifi Perez (Neifi Perez!) just hit a grand slam for the Cubs. A grand slam?!]

. . . but, outside of a purported and potentially dicey comeback attempt by Barry Larkin, is the team going to upgrade there? You'd have to think it, as Guzman's 2005 offensive limitations (now there's an understatement) have to be apparent even to Jim Bowden. Yet, if a shortstop with even a modicum of offensive sock were considered a priority, why is Bodes still making moves for outfielders? To place our hopes in a 41-year old who at any rate might not be in playing shape until it's too late makes about as much sense as believing Hans Gruber hijacked a building for the purpose of freeing some goons from the Asian Dawn and Liberte de Quebec. Yet, here we are. Either Bodes is derelict in his duties, or MLB has hung the franchise out to dry.

And what about third base? Vinny Castilla, defense aside, is now both old and bad. He's hurt and has straddled the line between able and disabled; in that sense, he hurt the team terribly in the Houston series, as he assumed an active roster spot but was not capable of anything resembling action---his attempts at such notwithstanding. It's sadly ironic that the other mid-level veteran free agent third baseman on the market this past winter (who, I will repeat, signed for less money and only one year) was desired by several members of Nats Nation and was just traded (I think?) to a contender. But we have no such luxury. Not even organizational alternatives are given a smidge of attention. Nope, if Castilla is deemed fit to play, he'll play---and play in a thoroughly mediocre offensive fashion, at that.

Scratch off shortstop and third base. Unless Larkin signs toot sweet and break-dances with Ponce de Leon, there is not likely to be an offensive upgrade at either position. What about catcher? Schnieder's not bad---no upgrade coming there. Second base? Vidro's in the lineup for his offense, though one couldn't tell from his recent performance. Outfield? You've got to be kidding; if Bodes acquires another, the Justice Department is going to start an antitrust probe.

First base? Hey, that's Nick Johnson's spot, and he's expected back in the lineup on Tuesday. Barring Barry, I am betting that Nick Johnson is our de facto offensive acquisition. (And even that entails a negative, as Ryan Church more than likely will grab some bench.)

2. Other stuff

I don't mean to be cursory here, but aside from acquiring another bullpen arm or picking up an "impact" starter to round out the rotation (the former being much more likely than the latter, especially given this team's finances), there's not much to add. Well, there is one more thing:


That about covers it, gang.

Can it be done? Can the Nats hang on? Sure. Is it likely? I'm starting to doubt it. Frankly, I feel foolish for being so sanguine just a matter of weeks ago.

Then again, doubt is only the beginning of wisdom. Some wise Chinese man once wrote that. Or maybe it was an unfeeling megacorp. Eh, close enough.

Problem is: we need both hitting and pitching (a sure starter or another bullpen arm) yet to get hitting we'd probably have to give up pitching and vice versa.

We're either going to have to give up the farm or choose one over another. I'd choose to get another bat, too, but we're going to have to give up Armas and something else. Then who's going to start? Sunny Kim? Might work in a pinch but not every fifth day.
True. But the hitting was awful yesterday (and has been for awhile now), so it felt timely. ;-)

And you're right: we've got little with which to trade, and if we do so, we're almost certain to give up Armas.

I was okay with the Spivey trade at the time, but it haunts us a bit now. So, too, does Rauch's injury. (And so does the Day trade, though it looks like F-Robby wasn't going to pitch Ohka or Day, anyway, so maybe the Spivey trade is a nullity now, but I digress.)
The Atlanta game is one tonight, and I can't watch it.

And we all know who’s fault that is: Comcast, Cox and Angelos.

But finally there's a grassroots group that's going to stick it to Comcast, Cox and Angelos.

But to be successful, they need our help.

Check out and make sure to sign up.

If enough people sign up, it will send a powerful message to Comcast, Cox and Angelos, and we might finally get ALL of the Nats on television.

We've got to put some pressure on. And the only way to apply pressure is to speak out. And the best way to speak out is through

(And just to prove that the group is legitimate, look for their ad in the July 29 edition of Roll Call or the August 5 edition of the City Paper. More ads will follow.

Seriously. Take a minute. Visit and sign up now!
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