Three weeks into the 2008 season, the Washington Nationals find themselves in last place in the NL East with a dismal 5-14 record. A few readers here may remember that shortly before this season began, I wrote a piece predicting that the Nationals would end up division champions at the end of this season. For the first time in human history, fans for both the Mets and Phillies found common ground: to antagonize me for my optimism for Nationals' glory. Despite the fact that many such fans are gloating with "I told you so" exclamations at my expense for the Nationals' dismal start, I stand by my prediction. I still think that the Nats have the tools and weapons at their disposal to make a bold run for the division crown this season. Remember, a baseball season is 162 games long, not 19. Plenty of baseball remains this season...PLENTY!
Now, I am going to issue a Report Card for the Nats based on five categories: hitting, fielding, baserunning, starting pitching, and relief pitching.
1. Hitting = D- : The Nats have failed again and again thus far in coming through in the clutch. Although the Nats have had glimpses and patches this season of offensive prowess, there have only been a couple innings thus far where they have collected more than 1 hit. Lastings Milledge has been the only bright spot offensively so far. Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson have failed to be the clutch players they are supposed to be. Since coming off the DL, Wily Mo Pena is 3 for 23.
2. Fielding = D+ : A team cannot commit 3 errors in one game in a losing effort to the pathetic Florida Marlins and expect to have respect. In addition, Ronnie Belliard's abominable fielding error at Shea Stadium with 2 outs in the bottom of the eighth inning allowed for the Mets to come back and tie the Nationals in a critical division game earlier last week. Little mistakes like defensive miscues explain why the Nats lost 4 consecutive 1-run defeats a few weeks ago.
3. Baserunning = F : Since when does a 23-year old get a "green light" on the base paths to steal at will? PATHETIC! Lastings Milledge has ABUSED that right already by being picked off the base paths twice and in addition being caught stealing third base in a critical inning at Shea Stadium last week.
4. Starting Pitching = B+ : This is the only bright spot for the Nationals so far. Tim Redding has 2 wins already. Odalis Perez has cashed in 3 quality starts so far and should have had a win on Opening Night if not for Paul Lo Duca's lazy pass ball in the ninth inning which allowed the Braves to tie the game. John Lannan, who was called up to replace the already struggling Jason Bergman, struck out 11 batters in a single solid start against the Mets in Shea last week and also should have had a win until Belliard's textbook fielding error in the eighth.
5. Relief Pitching = F : The Nats currently have no closer. Chad Cordero lost his closer role when his fastball was being clocked at 76 m.p.h., which was at least 12 m.p.h. slower than his fastball from last season. Manny Acta named John Rauch as the new closer for this season. However, Rauch already has 2 blown saves.
This Report Card is dismal; however, I stand by my prediction that the Nats will win the NL East. They do have weapons to pull off an incredible winning drive through the summer months. Unfortunately, they are going through growing pains currently. Let the hits come where they may!