Washington Nationals' Second-Half Hope Already Fading Fast

Farid RushdiAnalyst IJuly 9, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 13:  Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals waits for his hat and glove in between innings of their game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on May 13, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The 82nd game of the MLB season is very special. It's the beginning of the second half of the season. Theoretically, teams can a set aside a dismal start and say, "From here on in, boys, it's a whole new ball game."

The Nationals lost in their 82nd game Wednesday afternoon, 10-4 to the Colorado Rockies, through another assortment of rumbling, bumbling, stumbling, and tumbling.

The Nationals didn't start a new chapter. They didn't even turn a new page. They're just fleshing out the worst story ever written.

What's that you say? The '62 Mets was a worse team? Well, perhaps. But they were lovable. In fact, their unofficial nickname was the "Lovable Losers." Mets fans smiled as they got hammered night in and night out.

I'm not smiling, and I don't think you are either.

Look, I've been writing about the Nationals since their first winter in Washington, long before the players donned their "Curly W" caps. I have been so optimistic about the team's future that some readers have taken exception to my rose-colored analysis. One commenter said I reminded him of that always smiling guy on those Encite commercials.

But I've got to tell you, I'm beginning to wonder just exactly what's happening in Nats Town these days.

Manny Acta continues to trot out raw rookie Ross Detwiler every five days. And every five days, he gets squished like a bug on my windshield. Yes, I see the talent. Yes, I think that once Detwiler figures out his delivery release point, he's going to be a solid major league pitcher.

But he hasn't yet, and I've seen nothing that shows me he's beginning to figure it out.

In Syracuse, former first-round pick J. D. Martin is 8-2 with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP (base runners allowed per inning). Garrett Mock is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA, but he has been near-perfect since he returned to the starting rotation.

Detwiler gives the Nationals no chance to win. Martin and Mock, while not as talented, are a better answer right now.

And boy, do I get a strong case of the shakes when I see Adam Dunn penciled in at first. Dunn is a tremendous power hitter who is terrible at first and almost adequate in left. He has shown time and time again that he doesn't have soft hands or quick feet, which means he isn't a first baseman by trade.

Managers seem to think that slow-footed, power-hitting left fielders can be hidden at first. Ted Williams tried it too. In 1968 and '69, Hondo played the equivalent of a full season at first base and committed an outrageous 21 errors. Dunn has played 136 games at first during his career and has made 19 errors.

Dunn belongs in left or in the dugout. Nowhere else.

I could go on forever.

But let's not look backward. There is nothing we can do about the Nationals' 24-58 start. Let's look forward.

What can be done to keep the team from being forever named in the same breath with the aforementioned New York Mets?

Not much.

Former general manager Jim Bowden had a vision. It wasn't a particularly good one, but at least he had an end game. He collected a bunch of outfielders that he was going to trade in spring, bolstering the relief corps and solidifying the middle infield. But he lost his job and Mike Rizzo took over before Bowden could finish what he started.

Rizzo is going to be a great general manager, but he has a totally different view on how to build a major league baseball team. His moves, at least so far, just don't mesh with Bowden's.

So the Nationals started the 2009 season with no hope of winning. The bullpen was too thin and the outfield was too thick, and as a result, both areas have underperformed.

All the Nationals can do is to rid themselves of the dead-wood relievers and begin the process of seeing who is, and isn't, ready in their minor league system.

The Nationals have been trying to showcase Austin Kearns and Ronnie Belliard in hopes of finding someone—anyone—who will take them in a trade. I'm afraid that come Aug. 1, they are going to go the way of Felipe Lopez and Paul LoDuca.

And then the team is going to have to do something that I know they have no intention of doing: Fire Manny Acta.

For the last couple of months, several of the players have begun to sleepwalk through the season. Many have suggested that Cristian Guzman's 12 errors are because of declining skills. If that's the case, how do you explain Ryan Zimmerman's 12 errors or the six errors by both Anderson Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez? Even slick-fielding Nick Johnson has make seven miscues.

Loss after loss after loss has been met with unbridled stoicism by Acta. He's putting his players to sleep. They aren't paying attention. Picture trying to make a long throw to first with Kenny G playing in your head.


If the Nationals fire Acta and replace him with someone more bellicose, it would be like replacing Kenny G with Aerosmith.

They'd be alert, awake, and aggressive. Oh, they'll still lose, but they'll look better doing it.

I think most of us can live with all the losses, but we can't stand to watch the team act like all those wide-eyed, brain-numbed people in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." 

The Nationals have the talent to win 35 games between now and October, which would give them 59 wins for the season.

In other words, they would duplicate their performance from last year.

Wait. That's not a good thing.

But there is really nothing else to do but wait and see what happens. Rizzo's vision of the Nationals is far different from the one Jim Bowden was building. Expect to see wholesale changes on the major league roster over the winter.

What will the team look like come Spring?

I have no idea.

Jesus Flores will be catching. Ryan Zimmerman will be at third. Adam Dunn will man left. John Lannan and Jordan Zimmermann will lead the starting pitching.

Other than that, it's a crap shoot. It's wait-and-see redux.

Now, you may have noticed that this column was written in a meandering style with no rhyme nor reason along with many errors. It was done on purpose.

This one time, I decided to write like the Nationals play.


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