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July 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The Nationals: First Half, 2009

Calculating midyear statistics for the Washington Nationals this year is complicated by the fact that their May 5 game against the Houston Astros was suspended in the 11th inning because of rain with the score tied, 10-10. The Nationals won that game on Friday evening, and it only took seven minutes to decide the outcome. The guy who had been on first base when the game was suspended, Elijah Dukes, has since been sent down to the minors. He was replaced by Nyjer Morgan, who scored a couple batters later thanks to an error by Astros infielder Miguel Tejada. It was a strange "walk-off" victory by the "home" team playing in the other team's stadium!

Including that game, the Nationals played their 81st game this year on Monday July 6, marking the halfway point of the season. They hit their "high point" on May 9, at which point they were 11-18, or .379. Since then, they have been struggling to stay above the .300 mark. Their [25-56 (.309) record as of the end of July 6] is the Nats' worst ever for the middle of a season. [They are currently 26-61 (.299).] In mid-2005 they were 50-31 (0.617), in both mid-2006 and mid-2007, they were 33-48 (0.407), and in mid-2008 they were 32-49 (0.395). Can you detect a pattern here? frown

Just about every aspect of the Nationals has utterly failed this year, most notably the bullpen. I kind of wish that they had retained Chad Cordero, their former closer, but he suffered a torn labrum one year ago -- shortly before I did the same! I hope it doesn't ruin his career. The young starting pitching staff has shown great improvement, one of the few bright spots. For the first two months, the Nationals were one of the very best hitting teams, but they went into a collective slump in June. Their fielding performance is downright atrocious, and some blame manager Manny Acta for not insisting that the team spend more time on fielding drills during batting practice. But above all, there is an unsettling lack of team spirit; the Nationals routinely waste run-scoring opportunities, and rallies are few and far between.

The way things stand, all the Nationals can hope for in the second half is to finish the season with a higher winning percentage than last year, .366. Is that too much to ask? See the compiled data on the Washington Nationals page, which lists some of the highlights of this agonizing season.

Washington Nationals: First Half, 2009 summary
Month Wins Losses NL East place
(at end)
Number of
home games
April 5 16 5 9 178,230 19,803
May* 9 20 5 15 324,970 21,665
June 9 17 5 15 384,966 25,664
July** 2 3 5 3 80,367 26,789
(First half) 2009 25 56 5 42 968,533 23,060

* incl. May 5 suspended game, finished July 9. ** incl. July 1-6 only.
SOURCE: My unofficial daily tabulations from MLB Gameday stats and newspapers.

Nationals ponder trades

If it's July, it must be time for the Washington Nationals front office to unload some of their best players, or at least those they can get the best trade deals on. In Wednesday's Washington Post, sports columnist Thomas Boswell recommended a "Major Overhaul," saying they should get rid of pretty much everyone on the team over the age of 28 or so. He bemoans the complete absence of unified team action, and is basically disgusted with the whole operation. I think his suggestion is going way too far, and it contradicts some of what he wrote in the past (for example, in December 2006) about the need to retain crowd-pleasing stars. He is correct, though, that a major housecleaning is in order.

Since positioning themselves for a race for the divisional title in mid-2005 (their first year in D.C.), the Nationals have slipped to fourth or fifth place every July since then. Last July The good news is that Adam Dunn is not on the trading block, but whether they will keep him for the two-year duration of his contract remains to be seen; go to

So that leaves the question of which Nats might be traded. Frankly, it's damn hard to find any players with enough experience to establish a real market value. The Nationals are basically a combination of veterans with mixed records and a bunch of young prospects, with hardly anyone in between. So, I suggest:

  1. Cristian Guzman (SS)
  2. Austin Kearns* (OF)
  3. Ronnie Belliard* (2B)
  4. Julian Tavarez (RHP)

* A trade prospect last year also. Kearns is making $8 million this year under a contract with a sharp escalation clause (see Feb. 2007), but he is currently batting under .200. No team on earth is going to pay him that much, so the Nationals will have to absorb a loss of several million dollars. Belliard is more tradable since he's not earning as much. Boswell thinks Nick Johnson should be traded as well, but I emphatically disagree -- partly for his worth to the team as a consistent hitter, and partly for sentimental reasons: He is the only player left on the roster who used to play for the Montreal Expos. Only three others (Cristian Guzman, Jason Bergman, and Ryan Zimmerman) played for the Nationals during their inaugural season in Washington of 2005.

Relief pitcher Jesus Colome was "designated for assignment" (fired) last weekend, a move which I'm sorry to say was a long time coming. He had an 8.40 ERA this season and although his contract was not renewed in December, he somehow made the roster during spring training. To replace him, Jason Bergmann was called back up from Syracuse.

Nats rampage, then choke

Every once in a while the Nationals act like a real baseball team, with multi-run rallies and solid pitchers who hang tough. That was the case on Saturday, as the Nats trounced the Astros 13-2 in Minute Maid Park. On Sunday, however, it was back to the old routine, loading the bases with only one out in both the sixth and seventh innings, but failing to score either time. In the sixth, Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez failed to drive in a run, and in the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn did likewise. Until the bottom of the seventh it was a tight game, with the Astros leading 1-0, but with two outs Kazuo Matsui hit a three-run homer that broke it wide open. Thus ended another would-be masterpiece by Jordan Zimmermann, who left the game. Final score: 5-0, and the worst part of it was that the Nationals outhit the Astros 11 to 6.

The mail bag

The Red Sox honored their former center fielder Dom DiMaggio in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park today. The younger brother of "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio passed away on May 8 at the age of 92. He never married a Hollywood superstar, and never worked as a pitch man for kitchen appliances, but he did complete a respectable career in baseball. See; hat tip to Bruce Orser. Nicknamed "The Little Professor" for his slight stature and spectacles, he racked up a .296 lifetime batting average with 1,680 hits over an 11-year career in Boston. (He served in the military for three years during World War II.) The elder DiMaggio, Vince, played for five different teams from 1937 to 1946, and died in 1986.

ESPN recently aired an irate declaration from Wade Boggs about how steroid users have tainted the National Pastime. Hat tip to Bruce Orser.

The Superdome is going to get another makeover, not long after current $220 million restoration project is completed. About $85 million more will be spent to provide nicer luxury suites and add 3,100 new seats in the lower bowl, which will be totally reconfigured. See I guess that means the current arrangement which allows for a reconfiguration into a baseball field will be tossed aside. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Finally, Target Field will officially open next April 12, when the Minnesota Twins play host to the Boston Red Sox. There will be a lot of red faces in Minneapolis if it snows that day! Maybe the Twins should retain rights to play indoor games at the Metrodome, you know, just in case...

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 13 Jul 2009, 9: 39 AM

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