Washington Nationals Mid-Season Review

David BergerContributor IJune 25, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 13:  Josh Willingham #16 of the Washington Nationals bats against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on May 13, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

What's positive to say about a team that is on pace to break the all-time losses record, held by the Mets for the last 47 years?  Actually quite a bit.  There are a number of brights spots on this team, but they almost all come with glaring weaknesses, and that makes Josh Willingham (pictured) the poster boy for your 2009 Washington Nationals.

There has been plenty to say about the Nats pitching woes, particularly in relief. The Nationals's bullpen not only has blown numerous leads, but they blow them in spectacular fashion. Their 17 blown saves and 39% save completion rates both top the charts for the NL. The bullpen has been abysmal... there's really no other way to put it.

However, the starting rotation is showing signs of life. John Lannan has been exceptional (by Nats standards), Shairon Martis has had his moments, and Jordan Zimmerman's K/BB rate is near 3. Ross Detwiler, fresh up from AA, has also looked promising.  But let's be honest, Steven Strasburg can't get here soon enough.

There are plenty of players on the Nats who can hit, including a few like Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn and the aforementioned Josh Willingham who can outright mash.  Unfortunately 3 of those 4 should be playing 1st base, and that's inherent in the Nats overall problems.

The Nats are 14th out of 16 in the NL in defensive efficiency (turning batted balls into outs), and lead the league in errors with 65 - 50% more than the league average. Dunn  has 8 errors, the most of any outfielder in the NL, and on par with Alfonso Soriano. Willingham has only 2 errors so far, but that number seems charitable, considering the balls he just doesn't get to.  Kearns is the only above average defender in the outfield, but has not shown a consistent ability to hit the ball.

The Nats also give away the extra base at an alarming rate.  Washington catchers are throwing out only 25% of base runners (again, near the bottom of the league), making steals an extremely attractive option in close games.

So, the only way the Nats can win games now is outslug and outlast their opponents. The trading deadline should bring opportunity for the Nationals to really consider how they will build for the future.

  • Either Willingham or johnson needs to go, with the survivor playing 1st base. With Johnson's injury history, I think it's time to sell high on him.  Besides, if Willingham is too much trouble, then it's Dunn who moves to 1B
  • Relief pitching:  A housecleaning is in order, but it's probably not too easily done.  Watch the waiver wires as much as you can, but there's no one in the bullpen who should keep too many personal items in their locker.
  • Starting pitching: Don't want to rush Strasburg, but he's sorely needed. If you can get Pedro or Ben Sheets to come in and showcase for awhile, all the better while you wait for the next young crop of talent.
  • Anderson Hernandez doesn't hit enough to be a major-league regular. Willie Harris and Ron Belliard are too old to be the long term solution. This needs to be addressed in the offseason, and shouldn't be too expensive to figure out.
  • There has been progress from Elijah Dukes. I'm exited to see what the 2nd half brings for him.  He has the talent to be an anchor for this team - he just needs to match that aggressiveness with more patience for swinging at piutches in the strike zone.

In all, there are pieces in place to keep this team from shattering the record of the '62 Mets, but they'll give it a pretty good run, unless they can find a way to stop the bleeding in the 7th 8th and 9th.