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Now, continuing with the Nationals 2007 season player preview, on to the sad business of looking at the Nationals pitchers. Manager Manny Acta recently has said he doesn’t know his rotation, although Patterson appears to be lined up for game 1. In the meantime, let’s look at the definites for the staff.
There is little question, he’s a good pitcher. He’s considered the Ace of the staff, and while on most teams he might be considered a #2 or a #3, here he is definitely the #1. His stats are limited, he’s had one full season, and he was great that year. Unfortunately, even in that “full” season, he was on the 15-day DL. Patts just can’t stay healthy. The last time he was really healthy, he was very good, had close to 200 strikeouts, even pitched a shutout. But 2006 he got hurt again, so what’s to be expected? If he’s healthy, expect a very good pitcher, a potential Ace because he may yet breakout (his age and experience level make the timing perfect). He’s got a very good fastball with some movement, and a nasty curve. Nothing like watching a baseball break a perceptible several feet on television. His ability to pitch well is not questioned, it’s his ability to pitch at all that leaves everyone worried.
Cordero has been a terrific closer over the last couple of seasons. There is no doubt he can keep up being great. The only question is whether he will keep this up on the Nats. A top of the line closer is hard to find, and that means Washington should keep him. Or it means they should trade him when a big team with a big farm system (Boston? Atlanta? LAD?) is desperate. If the Nationals were a year away from greatness, they should keep him. If they are several years away, they should dangle him. But they should remember, he is a very good closer, that’s hard to find, so they need to make sure they get something good for him.
Well, that’s it. Everything else is a question mark. But there are some other guys that are sure to pitch this season. A couple of potential starters include Shawn Hill and Mike O’Connor. This duo has some striking similarities, at least in elbow strength. Hill started out dominant last year, ended terribly, and hurt his elbow knocking himself out for the season – and that was all before July. He’s got great movement in his pitches, and he has been very good everywhere he’s stopped in the minors. And he throws into more ground balls than flys, which is good. He’s an “upside” guy, that the Nats are hoping will break out. After Tommy John surgery, 2006 was good, he made some great starts, and pitched well against the Yankees, LA, and Philly. His Ks/BBs ratio, which is something that statheads love to look at to project pitchers ability in the majors (say what you will about Billy Beane and the A’s, he sure can pick young pitchers), was quite good in the minors. 4/1 is considered very good, he was closer to 3/1, but still not bad. He is not a real strikeout guy, but he has very good control, and doesn’t walk many. O’Connor was even more exciting last season, as he didn’t allow more than 3 ERs in his first 9 starts, but his K/BB of 1.45 in that time is not so impressive. Then he got rocked when pitching with a sore elbow (sound familiar?), pitched well again at the end of the season, then had surgery. He gave up quite a few HRs in his short time pitching and gives up many more fly balls than grounders (RFK may have helped his numbers as fly balls tend to die there) and his control isn’t perfect. He may not have the upside of Hill, but he’s shown he can pitch in the majors and pitch well. He’s going to open the season on the DL, so when he’s back he’ll probably come out of the pen for a while, but as this rotation will be in flux, he should get his chance. These two pitchers have shown flashes of being special but each has yet to put it together for a full season. If Washington hires an assistant coach in charge of elbows, they could have 2 decent starters on their hands for several years.
The rest of the potential staff is a mix of the not-so-new guys, the potential guys, the mysterious “I’ve think I’ve heard of that guy” guys and others. Tim Redding has had one good major league season so he’s penciled in to start, but he puts too many people on base to be great. Once a promising young pitcher with the Cards, Jason Simontacchi is still trying to make a major league comeback after shoulder surgery in 2004. Jerome Williams was once touted as Maddox-style control pitcher… he has consistently thrown too many walks in the majors to succeed like that. Billy Traber is yet another Nats pitcher that is older than most people think (28), and he’s also had Tommy John surgery. He gets hit a lot, but doesn’t walk many people, and he can strike people out. With some good fielders behind him, he may be decent.
The relievers are also a mystery, and there will be a good amount of movement between the pen and the rotation. Luis Ayala was great and then had elbow surgery, so nobody knows what he’ll be. But if he’s as good as he used to be, expect an ERA under 3, very few walks, and a very good feeling if Washington’s winning to start the 8th inning. Acta has stated he doesn’t want to overwork Ayala, which is good news for someone who should have a bright future. Ryan Wagner came over with Lopez and Kearns and was once supposed to be a top notch closer. Not likely, but he does give up a lot of grounders (good) and pitched ok last season and at 24, he’s still young enough to mature. Micah Bowie is 32 years old has never showed much promise, floated around the majors… and then pitched very well in AAA and the majors last year. He’s gotta prove that his good numbers weren’t a result of a small sample size, because eventually if you’re mediocre, the breaks catch up with you (Aaron Small). Matt Chico could be good, he’s still young as well, but he gives up a lot of fly balls. He has a nasty habit of falling behind in the count and throwing it right down the middle to try to throw a strike. Maybe in RFK those will end up as long flyouts. Brett Campbell pitched his way up from single-A to the Nats last year and over the course of that season had 16 saves and an ERA under 3.50 in the minors.
There are more pitchers that will be seen, this is just a taste. But rather than examine the few hundred potentials, it may be better to wait until Acta sets his roster, and comment from there. Next week let’s examine the outfield, see where they are strong, and where they are making mistakes…