Thursday, April 19, 2007

O.K. They're not that good, yet. The Nats were the Nots (or the Naughts) again, for eight innings today. John Patterson was in trouble during each inning that he took the mound, with the Phillies hitting him HARD. Patterson gave up an extra-base hit in each inning, including four doubles and a home run. He was also wild, with four walks and a wild pitch. Ultimately, Patterson was charged with three runs in his four-plus innings.

On the other side of the ledger, Jaime Moyer really quieted the Nationals' bats, until the ninth inning. In that respect, you have to give the Nats credit for not just folding their tents. Down 4-0, Ryan Zimmerman led off the ninth with a double, and Dmitri Young doubled him home. The Phillies brought in Tom Gordon to squelch the rally, but the Nats kept battling. Austin Kearns was hit by a pitch. Ryan Church hit a bloop single to load the base with no one out.

The Nats' faithful were on their feet, trying to cheer the next three runs home. Alas, it wasn't enough. Robert Fick flied out, as Young tagged up to score the second run. Brian Schneider grounded out to the second baseman, and Chris Snelling struck out, looking at a nasty curveball, ending the rally and the game.

The lessons of today's game: The Nats aren't nearly as bad as they looked in that first week, but aren't as good as they have looked over the previous week. They're missing on a few cylinders, and that is why they will be a cellar-dweller from start to finish.

The pitching: Patterson was supposed to be the Nats' top pitcher -- their 'ace.' He isn't even a good number 3 pitcher right now, and the Nats need at least that from him. Shawn Hill could prove to be not only the best pitcher on this staff, but a pretty good pitcher by any standard. Jason Bergmann is looking as if he has put it together enough to be a good no. 2 or no. 3 pitcher. If Patterson can step it up, the Nats' could live with the maturing rookie, Matt Chico, and the struggling-to-get-it-back-together veteran, Jerome Williams, in the no. 4 and no. 5 slots. Right now, that seems questionable. Patterson has the talent, but he is coming off a serious injury -- it might take awhile for him to regain his sharpness.

On offense, it's also pretty simple. The Nats need more consistent production from Ryan Zimmerman, but one expects that this will come. Where the Nats can be expected to struggle is with the outfield production. Ryan Church was hot for awhile, now he's cold. He's a streaky hitter. Too streaky. Austin Kearns is a good overall player, but he's not a clean-up hitter (where he started the season), or even a fifth-spot hitter. He's the kind of guy you can have in right field, if you're getting all kinds of offense and power from the other outfield positions, and from the corner infield positions.

Right now, the Nats are at least one, maybe two outfielders short. If Nook Logan can fill centerfield, and hit like he did before he was hurt on opening day, the Nats could get by with that, so long as Church becomes more consistent. Chris Snelling isn't going to be a major contributor, and Michael Restovich isn't likely to be, either. The Nationals also need more production from the catching position. Schneider is showing signs of coming around, but, once again, he made a crucial rally-killing out. He does the right things, hitting behind the runners, etc. It's just that except for his home run, yesterday, and a good game earlier in the week, he hasn't hit the ball squarely. Far too many of his outs have come on weakly hit balls.

The Nats seem to have some of the answers already in place, but probably not enough of them to be consistent winners this year. In baseball, though, there's always next year.

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