It will be interesting to see what decisions the Nationals will make pertaining to roster spots as we approach the All-Star break and begin a push for an improved second half of the season.
A lot of question marks still abound for a ballclub that has had trouble coordinating the improvements of all facets of their game.
Starting pitching as a whole has been better than most inside observers would have predicted. Over the last month, our young starters have pitched well enough to give us a chance to win in about 85% of our ball games.
Led by John Lannan, this young staff, which includes 23-year-old Jordan Zimmermann, 22-year-old Shairon Martis, 21-year-old Ross Detwiler, and 25-year-old Craig Stammen, have pitched extremely well. Other than the occasional bad inning that sometimes ends with them giving up three or four runs, these guys have been able to put together a long enough stretch of solidly pitched games for me to believe that they're in the big leagues to stay.
One problem, if you choose to look at it as a problem, is that Scott Olsen is about to come off the disabled list and will take the job of one of the aforementioned young men, and I personally feel that each of these guys has pitched well enough to stay on this ballclub.
Sending Stammen to the bullpen makes the most sense to me. He is a guy who throws strikes, sinks the ball, and has the ability to throw his sharp curveball over the plate in hitters' counts.
In referencing the bullpen, you have to take a look at Colome and Hanrahan as candidates to be sent down. Even though Joel has not pitched consistently enough in my view to retain a spot on the staff, I believe that his option situation will prevent him from being sent out. That leaves Colome. If in fact Stammen is moved to the pen, Colome might be the odd man out.
The bullpen would then set up this way: McDougal would close; Villone and Beimel, along with Tavares, would set up; and Clippard and Stammen would cover the middle and long part of the game.
Offensively, I never thought we'd struggle the way that we have over the last month. Granted, Elijah was out for a while, Willingham had to go home, and the loss of Flores has been huge. But with Guzman, Zimmerman, Dunn, and Johnson, I felt we had a nucleus that was strong enough to provide enough offense to win games. But Zimmerman has only hit .220 since his phenomenal start. Dunn, although providing a lot of fire power, has been streaky. And his buddy Austin Kearns has been lost at the plate and hasn't driven in but one run in almost a month. Add that to the struggles of Ronnie Belliard, and our offense has really sputtered.
I still believe with everyone healthy, the emergence of Josh Bard, and the exciting contributions of Willie Harris, that this offense can get back to the five-runs-per-game pace that they were able to maintain for the first month and a half of the year.
Defensively, we have begun to play more crisp and efficient games. Nobody does it better than Zimmerman at third. Johnson has proved to be solid at first and Harris in center has been a big improvement, as he goes and gets the ball better than any outfielder that we have.
If Dunn and Josh play the corner outfield spots, we're definitely sacrificing defense for offense, as both of them are average outfielders at best.
Anderson Hernandez continues to improve his defensive play after two Opening Day errors, showing the range that our scouts raved about when we made the acquisition from the Mets. Although Cristian continues to hammer the baseball, his lack of range to his left should be a concern for the Nationals Brass.
If your team is built on pitching and defense, everyone knows that you have to be strong defensively at short, second, center field and catcher. When Flores returns, I'm confident that the catching situation solves itself. Anderson, with experience, should become a top of the line All-Star caliber defensive player. The number one priority, in my mind, is to acquire a true centerfielder, someone who can cover gap to gap, get back to the wall, and charge balls hard enough and possess an arm strong enough to stop the freewheeling style of some of the faster major league clubs.
Is Guzman's bat strong enough to keep him playing shortstop, even though he ranks near the bottom of range indicators?
Trade rumors continue to fly, with Johnson and Dunn always mentioned. Our minor league young arms are causing a lot of chatter throughout baseball as well. In the two trades that I have heard rumored, part of the trade contingency is to throw in one of our young arms in order to close the deal. As he begins his rehabilitation, Lastings Milledge was the last name that I heard thrown out there as a part of a deal.
My good buddy Dmitri Young is also starting rehab. I wish him only the best. He is such a good man. Maybe he can get himself in good enough shape to make a contribution to a pennant contenting club down the stretch. I don't see a spot for him here.
Colin Balester is throwing the ball exceptionally well; in his last eight starts he is 5-1 47.1 innings just 30 hits and a 1.90 ERA, 18BB and 33 K...pretty darn impressive.
Matt Chico went 3 innings in his second rehab stint at Harrisburg giving up nothing. I wish him well as he battles back from surgery.
Bradley Myers continues to dominate. Over his last 10 games, he's thrown 57 IP and allowed 44 hits and just 10 runs for a miniscule 1.57 ERA. He didn't give up more than 3 runs in 10 straight, and in fact in 6 of last 7 starts, he has allowed 1 run or less. WOW.
I am going to sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of the season watching these young men express their talent.
Play hard and pay attention.