nat pack: the team

Remember when Ryan Zimmerman christened the brand-new Nats Park with a game-winning solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning? Or that this 2008 squad actually started the season 3-0? Yeah, we didn’t think so.

That’s because the Nats went 9-17 in the month of April and haven’t been any better since. It hurts to say it, but by my estimation, the current roster is the fourth reason to go to a ballgame in D.C. these days. First, you’ve got the new park. Second, you’ve got the racing presidents. Third, you’ve got the shirts vs. skins controversy. And finally, you have this rag-tag bunch that general manager Jim Bowden slapped together (and yet, has somehow managed to keep his job).

Warning: this is the paragraph that hurts.

The Nats have the second worst record in the majors. They’ve scored the fewest and have allowed the third most runs in the big leagues. In fact, only two players are currently batting over .300 this season (Christian Guzman and Jesus Flores), and Zimmerman leads the team with a measly eight homers, even though he’s played 26 games less than the next guy in line. And they’re not getting better with age — they’re currently 6-15 in the month of June. One could argue that right now, there are a grand total of three players on the Nats worth watching — Chad Cordero, Zimmerman and Flores. That’s it.

This is the part where I focus on a fairly simple statement that I feel needs to be reiterated — D.C. went without a baseball team from 1972 until 2005. Hardcore sports fans will still be around, but people aren’t really used to having a home team in the District, so if you want to attract new fans you actually have to give them something worth caring about. That doesn’t mean bringing in every single “I’m over-the-hill and clutching on to my last chance to play in the majors” sob story or players who need a change of scenery (as long as their legal troubles still allow them to leave the state).

While Kobe Bryant has been busy “instilling his DNA into the rest of the team,” the Nats have no such luck. This is a team with no payroll, no identity and no real reason for optimism over the next few years. Because a bunch of no-namers have overachieved, Bowden continues to trot out pitchers who should not actually be allowed to collect a big-league paycheck. That’s why no one in their starting rotation will be confused with an ace, or even a number two pitcher on an actual major league roster. They’re currently 26th in baseball in ERA, and some might say they’re playing better than their talent would suggest they’re able of sustaining.

And don’t think that the pitching is the only issue. It’s actually better than the hitting. The Nats bats scored a grand total of one, I repeat — ONE FREAKING RUN — over 27 innings earlier this month. They’re so pitiful that local newspapers coverage actually applauded the team for not losing the night they were rained out. I’m not talking about columnists trying to be funny, I’m talking about beat writers connecting on more shots than the Nats offense. These guys are in need of something drastic (i.e. – talent). In the absence of that, I’d at least suggest a slump buster.

To be fair, last year’s draft was considering very strong and early reports are that Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow, whom the Nats drafted this year, might be the best college pitcher in the draft, but these guys are a long way away from contributing. Anyone in the organization within earshot of a microphone or tape recorder toes the company line and says, “We’re trying to build a team that will be competitive for more than just one year.” And that’s understandable. I’m just saying you’re not going to run fans off by winning games in the interim.

I’ll leave you with one final (and sobering) fact. At 221 lbs., the 2008 Washington Nationals are the second fattest team in baseball (behind only the White Sox at 227 lbs.) As a team, they average 23 lbs. more per person than the Kansas City Royals. Congrats Jim Bowden, you’ve built a team of fatties who can’t actually hit home runs. Am I wrong for thinking this is some sort of cruel joke?

Overall grade: D

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