The Washington Post

First Things First -- Tracee Hamilton on the latest sports news

Apr 13, 2010

Every morning, Post columnist Tracee Hamilton discusses the most amazing and outrageous news from the world of sports.

After a week the Nationals are 3-4, not a surprising start. However, Jason Marquis, one of the Nats' biggest offseason acquisitions, has lost his first two starts (albeit to the defending NL champions) and the Nats have failed to find an everyday right fielder, leaving the platoon at that position to grow to the size of, well, a platoon.

Patience, preaches the Nats' front office. But did the Nats make enough moves in the offseason, and were the moves good enough, to at least move this ballclub forward from last season? I'm thinking maybe not. What do you think?

That's what we're seeing with the Nats right now. Last year, at this time, they were more like a AAAA team, better than a minor league squad but not a full-fledged big league team, not with that pitching staff and outfield alignment. Now, for every bad pitcher, somebody comes in and gives them a few good innings and they aren't making as many terrible plays. It's an improvement but they've got a long way to go. I hear they've got some kid in the minors somewhere who's pretty good, though...

Tell me more about this kid in the minors. Intriguing...

Good morning, one and all. Let's get started.

You see improvement since last year, and that's a good thing for the Nats. Maybe I'm too negative, but I thought I'd see a little more so far than I'm seeing. Marquis in particular is puzzling. But the play in the field is better, that's true.

Can you discuss the hitting woes of Adam Dunn. It seems this has extended from spring training into the season. Do you think the contract issues and trade rumors are taking a toll on him mentally?

I don't think so, no. I think he's having  a cold April. But he's got to heat it up quick. Thank goodness for Willingham.

Do you do anything meaningful in RF, or just keep up the carousel?

If I'm Rizzo, I'm still looking for an everyday right fielder.  Hard. I really like Willie Harris and so does everyone in the organization, and if he could be an everyday RF it would be a great thing. But I'm not seeing it and apparently they're not either.

Given the low threshold for moving forward, I'd say the Nats probably did make enough moves in the offseason. The right field situation is pretty bad though. It is too early to draw conclusions, especially since the Nats have played four of seven against an offensive juggernaut. Right now, the offseason move that many of us saw as inevitable and not necessary thrilling, is the one that has worked out the best -- ¡LIVAN!

So true. You gotta love the 0.00 ERA. Yes, it's only one start, but ...

How can you argue that the Nationals are NOT an improved ballclub? This is a team that had a legitimate chance to go 4-3 yesterday, were it not for some horrible officiating and an error by their 38-year-old catcher. Last year, this team was 0-7. That's progress. And let us not forget that the rotation in June will barely resemble the one the team took with them to S Capitol St on Opening Day.

I didn't say not improved, I am merely wondering if there was enough of an improvement made in the offseason to make people feel like there's a light at the end of this tunnel. You obviously think so.

The 3-4 record is really not bad considering four games against the Phillies, I agree. And yes, better times are coming in June. Or at least they should be. Expecting Strasburg to singlehandedly right this ship could be fatal, to Strasburg, anyway. Yes, Wang'll be there, and hopefully Storen. That's two rookies and a guy coming off the 60-day DL, though. I'm not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic. Maybe I'm both.

The "overhaul" of the ballclub wasn't complete enough to make anyone (except maybe Boz) think this club was going to compete overnight, especially not in the same division with the two-time NL champs and the resurgent Braves.

It's going to take time for those youngsters to develop, and history shows that not all youngsters develop anyway. And Marquis isn't a 20-3 type pitcher, even on a good club; if he wins 14 games, he's going to lose 14 as well.

Starting 3-4 is a 70-win pace, which is better than last year's 60-win pace. They went 1-2 against the Phils and 2-1 against the Mets; if the league as a whole is between those extremes, then the Nats could even be an 80-win club. It's way too soon to snuff out the hope.

Keep hope alive! Wait, where have I heard that before?

Well, no one thought they would compete in the division this year. (Okay, except maybe Boz.) I know Marquis isn't Santana, but a 12.96 ERA? Is that just the Philly Phactor? Maybe.

I said 75 wins before the season and I'll stick by that.

Seems to me that the Nats front office was always planning this year as a bridge to 2011. Acquiring too many veteran pitchers or outfielders might actually have hindered them from learning whether someone like Maxwell or Detwiler is a part of the 2011 team.

That's true; they need to take a real look at a lot of guys. It's a fine line to walk -- bringing along youngsters while trying to win enough games to keep people buying tickets. I don't envy them the task.

Is there a line in the sand for the Nats, do you think? Is it 2011? If they are still last in the division, do they kill any chances of building a strong fan base? The Caps will tell you, all you have to do to get fans is win.

Are you pretty confident we'll draft Bryce at #1?

You know, it seems like a no-brainer, like Strasburg was a no-brainer. I think the question in part will be, is he the kind of kid they want as a building block? Strasburg, despite his shyness, is. I would be surprised if they didn't, though.

Would you review the upgrades the Nationals have made to their pitching other than Strasburg? It seems that our pitching is not much better than where we left off on one addition cannot make up for that great of a deficit.

As I said earlier, I think Marquis is worrisome, but it's two starts. As someone pointed out, he's a .500 pitcher at best so we'll see if he gets there.

I think Capps has been solid. Three saves in three chances -- I'll take that. Bruney's given up four walks and four hits in 2 2/3 innings, so thus far I'd say the jury is out on him. Same with English. Tough starting the year against the Phillies, no doubt, and it's early, and it's been cool and windy, and etc. etc.

Everyone is eager for Strasburg, and it'll be great, but Storen is just as important to the team's future, in my opinion. They could use the relief.

You were way off base comparing a football player's refusal to attend voluntary workouts with a regular office type worker refusing to attend a voluntary event with a new boss. Regular office type workers do not experience the violent nature of an NFL play, many multiple times each work day, for six months, that NFL players do. That alone invalidates any comparison.

This is true, and if an NFL player experienced it 50 weeks a year until 65, it would be different as well. Of course the NFL is more violent; that's why they get paid more than an office worker. I was trying to keep the money out of it.

Also, they do not face violent play six days a week, or rather five (two days off during the season). There is not a lot of hitting during practice once the season starts. For some players, there is no hitting between Sundays. I'm not saying they don't have violent jobs, but really, Sundays are the exception, not the rule.

Tracee, the Lerners are trying to implement their "Plan" on the cheap. It seems like they have no sense of urgency or real commitment. Sure, they'll be happy if all the stars align and the team plays well, but their commitment level and budget has set up a situation where the only way the team will be any good is if all the stars do align. And if they don't, the Lerners don't care; they're still raking in millions and entertaining fans coming down from Philly.

This seems to be the general feeling about the Nats. I hope it's not true. I do wonder how much Jermaine Dye was asking. I know they don't want to "rent" players for a season, preferring to build, but he might have given them a little pop. But they also know more about his physical condition than I do.

I think the offseason moves were ok. Right field is a little unusual but they're fine. So far no errors are coming from there. Big worry is definitely starting pitching. Marquis isn't doing much for us and my guess is Lannan comes up injured soon. We dont have enough depth there to get us through the Detwiler, Wang, Strasburg wait. Still, their starting record has definitely taken some of the edge off the losing and there seems to be a good vibe on the team that's encouraging.

Sure hope Detwiler comes back as strong as before. I know they are very, very high on him. You are right about the errors, and the Desmond experiment is working.

So I see that Coach Boudreau has drawn a gloomy picture based on Les Habitants' one area of relative strength (Habs' power play, Caps' penalty kill). Don't get me wrong, I know anything can happen in the playoffs, especially since the Caps have two excellent goalies and not one guy who can stand on his head (we still love you, Olie the Goalie, wherever you are). But this doesn't feel like news, only routine don't-underestimate-these-guys rhetoric. I'm much more worried about, say, a goalie who can stand on his head (I'm looking ahead to someone like Ryan Miller).

We'll wrap up with the Caps, because, why not?

I'd be worried about Ryan Miller, too, after seeing him in the Olympics.

I'll be honest, Boudreau is a crack-up. I love all his head games and such. He's so genuine and completely not like the stiff you see in all those awful commercials. He's kickin' it old school, not giving the Habs any reason to think the Caps are coming in with big heads. Just sit back and enjoy whatever he throws out.

And on that note I'd better scoot. Thanks for joining me today; sorry I didn't get to everyone but there's always tomorrow!

In This Chat
Tracee Hamilton
Tracee Hamilton has worked at the Post since 1993, toiling in office obscurity as an editor before someone said, "Hey, you've got a lot of opinons and can write a little. Why don't you become a columnist?"

Her interests range from geneology to Nordic combined to Kansas basketball. If ever there was a Jayhawk who once flew off a ski jump, she'd know where he was buried.

Her list of pet peeves is considerably longer, but includes Missouri basketball and poor subway etiquette. She welcomes dissenting opinions -- in the way Great Whites welcome open-water swimmers.

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