Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Are the Nationals for Real?

Will the Nationals stay above .500 for the year? Did anyone expect them to be over .500 after 21 games? It's been a nice story so far, especially for Washington fans who experienced such a dreadful year last year. But there is caution here. While the Nationals are doing a lot of things right, there is a lot of question marks and overachievers to this point.

First, let's point to two old guys doing unbelievable things. Livan Hernandez has an ERA and a WHIP that match exactly at 0.87. That's hard to fathom. Hernandez has been a base hit machine over the last half a dozen years and he's only given up 19 in 31 innings? Maybe the old Cuban National has found something and maybe this will continue. But it's hard to believe. And what of his battery mate? Ivan Rodriguez is batting .400 with a .422 OBP. Remember, this is a guy who hasn't had on On Base Percentage over .300 since 2006. He hasn't changed much as he only has 3 walks over 60 at bats and he hasn't hit a homer yet. It's hard to believe that a 39 year old catcher won't go into a batting tailspin some time soon.

The Nationals need to get Ryan Zimmerman back. He's one of the best young players in the league and his absence puts Adam Kennedy in the line up full time. But hamstring pulls are unpredictable. Let's hope he can get back soon. Adam Dunn is starting to hit after a slow start. He still walks a lot and has a .375 OBP despite his low average and he is starting to hit the long ball again. He should reach his career norms.

Josh Willingham is a nice player and has a good, smart bat. He won't stay as high as he is, but he'll have a solid year. Nyger Morgan has actually under achieved to this point, so he can and should get better, which is one encouragement. Christian Guzman and Ian Desmond are pretty dead on for what you'd expect from them. Alberto Gonzalez has been a nice surprise and there is no way of knowing if he will be this good.

So over all at the plate, the Nationals are decent and though Pudge should come back to earth, they will score a decent amount of runs, especially if Zimmerman can stay in the line up.

The bullpen lacks depth at this point. Tyler Clippard has become a very good reliever. Now that he has cut down his walk rate and is still striking out more than nine per nine innings, he's a nice weapon in front of the amazing Matt Capps. Who would have thought this guy would be among the leaders in the league in saves? He had a brutal year for Pittsburgh last year after a decent one the year before, but he's been outstanding thus far. That will bear watching though as he just has never been THIS good before.

Elsewhere in the bullpen, Jesse English and Sean Burnett are decent enough, but Brian Bruney has been an aching disappointment. His wildness is just off the charts as he's walked 12 batters in 10 appearances. Bruney has never been a strike machine, but he's never been like this. If he continues to struggle, the Nationals will have to make some tough decisions.

The Fan thinks that Livan will have a decent year. He won't be as good as he is right now, but he'll be solid. That is a big leap of faith though. But he seems to have found a comfort zone and whatever he is doing is working. He's a very smart pitcher, so if he can physically get what his mind is telling him, there is no reason to believe he won't be at least moderately effective.

Atliano had a nice start in his debut, but his future success is a huge unknown. One thing that is known is that the other Nationals starters have been a mess. Marquis was awful before going on the DL. Mock has been slightly less than average. Stammen has been brutal as has Lannon. Olsen certainly isn't the answer as he proved last week. What the Nationals could use is one Stephen Strasburg. Judging from his minor league results thus far, he has nothing to gain from being down there. It's time to put him in the rotation and use guys like Stammen or Olsen to be ready for long relief as you limit Strasburg's innings.

Over all, the Nationals have had a nice run, but their run differential of 90/102 leads one to believe that they are still a sub-.500 team. It would be cool if that was different, but it doesn't seem likely.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Livan and Ivan are playing out of their minds right now. I like Clippard a lot. Establishing himself as one of the best lefty relievers in the game. Zimmerman is killing my team; he can't stay on the field. Capps is not killing my team.