Newark Star-Ledger sports writer Dan Graziano seems to take delight in belittling the Washington Nationals, as I've documented before here at federalbaseball.com, using the DC franchise, and its struggles, as an opportunity to display his inimitable wit at every opportunity. Today it's Mr. Graziano's Sunday Star-Ledger baseball column, creatively titled, "Dan Graziano on MLB", with its feature story, "A division with many minuses is a plus for Mets" in which Mr. Graziano breaks down the NL East after the conclusion of the first 81 games of the '08 season, and posits:
"The Mets can talk all they want about the various reasons to hope their season gets better -- easier schedule, warmer weather, the tides...whatever. But the biggest reason they still have hope, after all they've been through this year, is the pitiful division in which they play."
Mr. Graziano then proceeds to identify, with the help of two unnamed NL East scouts, (for four of the NL East's five team's at least), "What's gone wrong", "What's gone right" and what the "Outlook" is for the remainder of each team's '08 campaign...
(ed. note - "To summarize...")
The Phillies have had their weaknesses, on the mound and at the plate, exposed recently, but Cole Hamels has anchored the staff, and it'll be up to him to hold it together the rest of the way. The Marlins' home-run-heavy offense and no-name bullpen are big questions, but any team with Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Willingham should not be dismissed...but again, the bullpen? The Mets? I mean it was obviously all Willie Randolph's fault, right? But with Jose Reyes, David Wright, Mike Pelfrey, and Pedro, and maybe some bullpen additions...There's still reason to hope, Mets' fans! As for the Braves, obviously the injuries to pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Mike Hampton, Rafael Soriano, and Peter Moylan hurt Atlanta, but with Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Yunel Escobar...well if Smoltz were there, Mr. Graziano's "Scout" concludes, "...they had a shot to contend. But without Smoltz it's asking too much."
Then Dan Graziano gets to the Washington Nationals...
What's gone wrong: Everything.
What's gone right: Nothing.
Outlook: Maybe 2009? 2010?
Ahhh-hah...Reduced to a punchline again, as a Nationals' fan I should be used to it by now, but I'm not I guess...but rather than use this as a forum to simply scold, I'll instead endeavor to complete for Mr. Graziano, the thorough (and admittedly insightful) analysis he provided for all of the other NL East teams...
What's gone wrong: One word, injuries. The Nationals, at their best, were not expected to compete in the up-for-grabs NL East, but when they suffered injuries to, and lost, prominent players like Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Hill, Chad Cordero and Elijah Dukes for considerable lengths of time, any thoughts of even moderate success were put to rest. The Nationals' starters have been deprived of run-support as the offense has produced paltry returns, with the notable exception of shortstop Cristian Guzman, who may emerge as an All-Star and a much-desired free agent, and Jesus Flores, who effectively unseated veteran catcher Paul Lo Duca as the team's starting backstop, with mature-beyond-his-years play both at and behind the plate.
What's gone right: Cristian Guzman, who many wrote off after three injury-plagued seasons in DC, has emerged, in the final year of his four-year deal, as the player the Nationals thought they were getting from Minnesota when they signed him as a free agent back in November of 2004. Currently batting .313, with 24 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HR's and 26 RBI's, Guzman might actually earn a spot on this year's NL All-Star team, rather than being the annual obligatory entry from the DC roster. Journeyman starter Tim Redding leads the team in wins, John Lannan, at just 23, has the lowest ERA amongst the starters, and Joel Hanrahan and Jon Rauch have emerged as a legitimate late inning options for the Nationals' future. All of this, while Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes are being given time to develop into solid outfielders. And don't get me started on Jesus Flores, who might just surprise everyone and make the All-Star team himself...
Outlook: As DC GM Jim Bowden told MLB.com's Bill Ladson the other day in an article entitled, "GM, skipper review team at halfway mark":
"'We have the fourth-best record of all farm systems in baseball as an organization, and we're winning with prospects, and they're developing and they're moving. Some of these guys have gone above and beyond what our expectations were.'"
Already, John Lannan, Garret Mock, Tyler Clippard and now Collin Balester have poked their heads up for some Major League air...young outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes are starting to produce at the Major League level. Ryan Zimmerman will still be 23 when he returns from injury, and I can't say enough about Jesus Flores. With what Baseball America deemed MLB's 9th best farm system last January, the future is finally beginning to look better for this long-suffering franchise and its fans...(ed. note - "Though I guess that's just another, admittedly more wordy way, of summing up, as Mr. Graziano did, "Outlook: Maybe 2009? 2010?")
There...I feel much better now.