Since last week’s discussion wasn’t really about the Nationals per se, we have some 2 weeks of play to discuss here. The most important thing is that the Nats have found a way to score some runs. Ok, the most important thing is that they have won 5 games over the last 2 weeks, putting them on a pace to lose just under 100 games. With the way the team has played so far, keeping the losses in the double digits would be something of a miracle. But the run scoring part is nice because we wrote on this page that they could put some runs together with the lineup that they’re using.

The Bats

The players that are hitting really well right now are some of those who were expected, and some that are surprises. Ryan Church is batting .299/.373/.552 which is incredible for a CF. Belliard is hitting less impressively at .284/.314/.358. This is about what could be expected from a hot Christian Guzman. No walks, almost no power, but a decent average. The difference is Belliard usually has an OBP about .050 higher than his BA, and he rarely has slugged under .400. So right now, with a poor start, Belliard is what Guzman could be. On the other hand, Belliard has room for improvement. Lopez (.308/.368/.348), and Kearns (.261/.346/.377) have hit alright, but they haven’t seen any power yet. This is troubling because without extra base hits and HRs, especially for Kearns, the Nationals are having problems stringing together enough singles to score more than a run or two. Zimmerman(.231/.277/.301) has started out very slowly. These guys are the heart of the order, more is expected of them, and more will probably be delivered. Chris Snelling, on the other hand, has started out strong. Hitting .231/.388/.385, he appears patient, but (it’s a theme!) needs to hit with more power. He has 1 of each kind of extra-base hit, a few more doubles or HRs would be nice to see in order to figure out what we can really expect from him. Also, he started out so poor that his numbers are a bit skewed. Removing week 1, where he went 1 for 8, he has since hit .265/.375/.441. While it’s a small sample size, Snelling is actually hitting. Remember, it is early, but hot starts are important to keep guys like Logan and Guzman on the bench. It is Belliard’s job, not Lopez’s, to convince Acta that Guzman must stay out of the lineup. Lopez is too talented to sit, Belliard is the borderline guy, so he has to hit even better.

Young in VT hatFinally, Dmitri Young is (again, as we suggested) using his bat to show that he’s a better option that a slick-fielding type at that position, batting an impressive .290/.408/.500. If he could keep this up, the Nationals would probably still want Nick Johnson in the lineup, and wisely so. Johnson is younger, a better fielder, and over the course of a whole season, a better hitter. People may doubt Johnson’s ability to stay healthy, but he was great all of 2006 until his collision. The collision wasn’t normal, it was a freak occurance, it’s not like Nick tweaked a hammy running to second. Anyway, this means that Young is trade bait, and if he can keep swinging, the Nats could get some young pitching from a team that is desperate for a first base bat to make the playoffs (Yankees? Angels? Giants? Tigers?)

The arms

Not surprisingly, the pitching staff has had its ups and downs. Shawn Hill has been downright impressive 2.98 ERA in 18.9 innings. His injury looks minor, and good thing, because they need him. Bergmann has looked good, and there has been a mixed bag besides that. Rauch hasn’t looked great, but he isn’t walking people. Same with Jerome Williams, Ryan Wagner and Chad Cordero. The rest of the bullpen and pitching staff has had issues giving up too many walks and not striking out many people. Take out Hill and Rauch, and the team gives up as many walks as strikeouts, which is very bad. To put this in perspective, last season the Nats ranked 12th in the NL in giving up walks (the higher the ranking, the less walks) and 15th in striking out players (the more the better, of course). Even with these atrocious numbers, they didn’t approach a 1/1 K/BB ratio, in order to better understand what this means, take a look at what teams did in 2006:

K/BB Ratio ‘06

The numbers aren’t exact, and there are exceptions like the Brewers, both color Sox, and the A’s, but for the most part, the better ERA teams have the best K/BB ratios. One thing that happened in both leagues was that the team with the worst ratio had the worst ERA. The point of this? To emphasize that without throwing strikes and getting strikeouts, this pitching staff is in trouble and will remain at the bottom of the league.

What up with Patterson

Patterson hasn’t picked it up yet and that is worrisome. His location is off and that is worrisome. But he can’t throw above 89 mph right now, and that is downright scary. As a guy that used to hit 95 on the radar gun, 89 is pitifully slow. He used to get by on this 95 mph fastball with good movement, and a biting curveball. Neither seems to be working right now, and while plenty of pitchers came back from injury and turned from a “thrower” into a “pitcher” that isn’t what you want to see out of Pats. There is just no telling if he is crafty enough to get by with a 89 mph fastball. Thankfully, nobody thinks the Nats are going to win the division this year so he has some time to work it out. But he needs to work this out, even if it’s on the mound, at some point before the end of the summer. If he waits until September to start pitching well, questions will remain and the Nationals, who plan on starting to win a few games once they get to their new stadium, need to know what they can get out of him.

A Few Non-Nats Notes
Everyone has been talking about Alex Rodriguez, and there isn’t much to add to the discussion, except this. At this point in the season, A-Rod has 7 RBIs in the 9th inning. In 2006, during the entire season, he had 5. That’s right, he has more 9th inning RBIs in 2007 than he had in all of 2006. Watching his approach to the plate, his attitude, and his new shortened swing, he impressive. While it’s still highly unlikely, how popular would A-Rod become among the majority of baseball fans if he were to take the tainted single season HR record from Bonds? A non-juicy HR record would be nice.

Finally, a pretty interesting article in the New York Times about the difference between the AL and the NL. Perhaps the most interesting part:

a typical A.L. hitter moving to the N.L. can expect to gain about 10 points of batting average and on-base percentage and 20 points of slugging percentage. A.L. pitchers switching leagues will usually have their earned run averages decrease because of the absence of the designated hitter in the N.L… that the E.R.A. of an A.L. pitcher switching leagues is likely to drop by 0.25 runs more than can be accounted for by the D.H.

Pretty interesting, although it may be more interesting to see how much the ballparks have to do with this as well.

By Charlie