Don’t worry, it’s almost over. The Nats are obviously a team that needs improvement, the time to start forgetting about this season probably started the second week in April. But what specifically needs improvement? Well, pretty much everything. But some spots more than others. Let’s look at where they rank in different categories and see how they stack up with the rest of the NL, starting with pitching:

Runs Allowed:13th
ERA: 13th
Ks: 11th

Lucky number 13! The Nats are pretty close to last in all of these pitching categories, although they are closer to middle of the road in Ks. Not close enough, but closer. The ranking seems even worse when you realize two of the teams behind them – Colorado and Cincinnati, play in hitters parks. So they have an excuse. It’s quite possible, factoring all of that in, that Pittsburgh is the only NL team with worse pitching than the Nats. But we kind of expected this. We didn’t expect the bullpen to implode, but we knew starting pitching was going to be dicey. I think that there is still a great deal of promise in the minors, and a glimmer of hope with guys like John Lannan and Collin Balester having some success at the major league level. Shawn Hill unfortunately can’t be depended upon, but throw in another minor leaguer and you have the makings of a decent rotation. 22 year old Jordan Zimmermann continues to impress in AA and could have a shot at the team next summer, if not next spring. Investing in starting pitching is important, and they shouldn’t ignore that. But it looks like it isn’t in as bad shape as the numbers may indicate.

On to the offense…

The hitting as also been atrocious this season.

Runs Scored per Game: 16th
HRs: 15th
Hits: 16th
BBs: 11th
AVG: 16th
OBP: 15th
SLG: 16th
OPS+: 16th

I mean, I knew the hitting was bad but come ON. This is awful. A few lowlights include the fact that their SLG is .362 (the only other teams under .400 are in the spacious NL West parks), their batting average is so bad that being 11th in walks only bumps them to second-to-last in OBP, the last place HR hitting team (Giants) still slugs .016 points better than them. Its awful. Some of this can be blamed on injuries, but lack of playing time from Nick Johnson and maybe even Ryan Zimmerman should have been foreseen.

So what should be done here? Well in order to improve power, acquisitions like Bonifacio and Hernandez certainly aren’t going to help. So they need to find it in the traditional spots, the corners and the OF. At first, Johnson provides a great deal when he’s healthy, but he isn’t healthy, and his contract runs out and the end of next season. Meanwhile, Belliard has done well but even his numbers haven’t been spectacular for a first baseman. Now, if he was playing 2B, his offense would be great. And this season has been great for him, but at 33 years old, with over 4500 career ABs, we can probably assume this, his best offensive season ever, does not accurately reflect his level of offensive production over the next season or two.

In the OF, they may have some solutions, they may not. The talk of the Nats all season has been Dukes. First it was whether he could stay out of trouble, then it was if he could ever hit, then it was if he was the best offensive player on the team, then it was reminiscing about how he hit when he wasn’t on the DL. If Dukes can stay healthy, he actually looks to be a special player. He hit just about .300/.400/.500 after his disastrous start (those numbers are from when he got his SECOND hit, discounting his 1 for 32 start). He showed power, patience and speed, he just needs to stay healthy. The other promising young outfielder, Lastings Milledge is showing that he can hit. He is streaky, but that’s expected from a 23 year old. He clearly has more power than many thought, and since coming back from injury he’s hitting an unbelievable .300/.355/.491. These kind of numbers would make him basically the best CF in baseball other than Grady Sizemore. He’s not that good, but it goes to show that he still could be a big building block on this team. Besides those two, Zimmerman, and the often mentioned Jesus Flores, there isn’t anyone out there who can hit and may actually be around when this team is more of a complete team. Austin Kearns has followed up an ok (although power-free) July with another bad month in August. I am not sure what’s wrong with him, but if Dukes and Milledge look like the real thing, Kearns certainly does not. I’m not even gonna get into Wily Mo, he was that bad. Hopefully it really was because of injury, and he can recover. We shall see.

As for the middle infield, they need to see if any of the young guys can hit at a major league level. If they can’t, something needs to be done to help this offense out. Whether it is getting a RF and 1B to pick up their slack, or investing in some new middle infield talent, something needs to be done. For now, if I was the Nationals, I would actively pursue a young power hitter than can play RF or 1B, even if he isn’t ready for 2009. I’d also keep an eye on those middle infielders. The defense they provide is great, but if there isn’t at least the ability to get on base, it won’t matter how many great plays they make, most teams score over 4.5 runs per game. So even if you have stellar defense and can hold teams to 4, you still need to get over that 4 rpg hump as an offense to outscore them. The Nats are at 3.71 right now.

By Charlie