Daily Jolt: Nats Still Look Like Disaster
General manager Jim Bowden is long gone, but the mess that he helped create in the nation's capital is still festering. It's bad enough two whole days into the season that by the time the Nationals return to Washington next Monday for their home opener any glimmer of optimism might have already gone dark.
Who said hope springs eternal anyway?
The defense has been ugly. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman -- a guy once compared favorably to seven-time Gold Glove winner Scott Rolen -- has made two throwing errors already. Lastings Milledge continues to take circuitous routs to fly balls. His constant zig-zagging in center field helped Emilio Bonifacio score an inside-the-park home run on Opening Day and nearly a second on Tuesday (it wound up a triple), again raising concerns that he'll have to move to a corner where his bat may not play.
Predictably, the Nationals' pitching has been brutal. John Lannan and Scott Olsen, serviceable back-end lefties in most rotations, have allowed a combined 14 runs -- all of them earned -- in the team's first two games.
The bullpen hasn't been too much better. In fact, until free-agent addition Joe Beimel came on to pitch a scoreless seventh inning Tuesday night, only one Washington pitcher that had actually appeared in a game this season had an ERA of 0.00. (And we're only on Game 2!). The Nats have allowed runs in seven of 16 defensive innings this year and have surrendered six home runs and 13 extra-base hits.
Of course, there won't be many people surprised if there are a lot of two-game stretches that look like that on the pitching side for Washington.
What was supposed to change in 2009 was the offense.
Zimmerman is healthy after an injury-plagued 2008. Nick Johnson is too. Josh Willingham was acquired in the same trade that brought Olsen to D.C., home-run-hitting machine Adam Dunn was signed in free agency and Milledge and Elijah Dukes have another year of experience under their belt.
All of those positives were supposed to make a team that finished 14th in the National League in runs and hits and 15th in home runs last year at least viable offensively, if not above average.
But so far? Not so good.
The Nationals have struck out 19 times as a team and walked just once in their first two games (at least the walk belongs to Milledge, the newly installed leadoff man). There's no blaming this on Dunn, who has only whiffed once. Perhaps a little blame can be pinned on the opposing starting pitchers -- Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson -- both of whom feature power arsenals. But one measly walk? The Marlins were 14th in the National League last year in walks per nine innings.
Admittedly there is a huge danger in reading too much into two games when there are still 160 left to play. If statisticians have taught us anything over the years, it is to beware the small sample size. After all, Washington started 3-0 last season, and look how that turned out.
But the problems the Nationals have run into the last few days have, in many cases, been systemic -- the type that won't just go away in the next six months and can't simply be cast off as part of an unusually unlucky start.
Milledge misplayed those balls because he still doesn't appear to be an adequate center fielder. Even if Stephen Strasburg were to sign the day Washington drafts him in June and immediately enter the rotation firing 100 mph fastballs for seven innings every five nights, the Nationals would still be two starters short in their rotation. Zimmerman, Johnson, Willingham, Dunn, Milledge and Dukes could all play up to their potential/break out in '09 and there still wouldn't be a spot for each one of them every day in the lineup thanks to Bowden's apparently pathological need to stockpile corner outfielders.
The official start of summer is still over two months away. Unofficially, we know it's probably going to be a very long one at Nationals Park.