Thursday, March 29, 2007

Answering Those Burning Questions

Before the fake games began, I asked 10 questions that would be the keys to the spring. Now that they're barnstorming their ways north, let's see how they got answered.

1) So is it really Patterson and someone and someone and pray for a forfeit?
I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel better about the pitching. But I'd also be lying if I said that I felt good about the pitching.

The surprise, if there could be one, of spring was Tim Redding's failure. Given his track record with Manny Acta and his moderate bounce back success in the minors last year, everyone had him penciled in on the rotation. Instead, he'll be cheering on the Buckeyes.

In my answer to the question, I know I had him penciled in (along with Hill and Williams), but I thought for sure that Matt Chico wouldn't make the cut. Shows what I know!

2) Is Patterson truly an ace?
I think this one's still an incomplete. There were some warning signs this spring given reports of some lost velocity and his lack of command with his breaking pitches, but yesterday's start (admittedly against a split-squad Orioles team) seemed to be encouraging. I'm still holding my breath, though.

3) Who's on first?
While I'm not thrilled that Dmitri Young is clogging up the slot, given that the team ultimately made it a choice between a wife-beater and an apathetic, they made the right call.

I'd still rather they give Church, Snelling or Casto a first base mitt and teach them to be Brad Wilkerson, but whatever. Young's one of Bodes' boys, dawg.

4) Is Endy Chavez 3.0 worth upgrading to?
Other than his tender groin, Nook Logan had a fine spring. (You never thought I'd type that, did you?) With all my usual caveats about the meaninglessness of spring training stats, he ended up at .255/ .352/ .362, which given his defense, would make him a roughly league average outfielder.

What's impressive about those numbers is the 'isolated' portion of those. If you look at the difference between his batting average and his slugging and on-base, he was doing just enough: walking at a pretty good clip (7 times in ~54 plate appearances) and smacking just enough extra-base hits to keep the defense honest.

He's not going to hit for power, but if the improvement in the walk rate is real and not just a spring training sample size fluke, he can be a useful player. And given how much success that hitting coach Mitchell Page seems to have had with other Nats in improving their batting eye, there's a glimmer of optimism there.

4) Whither Church?
He's nominally the team's starting LFer, but his inability to hit in the spring, combined with Chris Snelling's emergence (especially all the praise of his "dirty uniform" which is as much a shot across the bow of Church as anything), he could be on his last legs. He's going to need a hot start or to manually tweak Logan's groin some more, if he's going to hold on to the job.

Given his performance and that the Nats FINALLY have reasonable alternatives in place for him, there's little point in defending him if he doesn't produce.

5) How much can one shortstop stink?
Not very much at all, thank you!

Guzman was definitely the surprise at camp. I only saw him in that final game, but he looked like a different player with a completely remade swing, staying back on the ball to drive it, instead of flicking his wrist at the ball with the disdain of a Frenchman.

He hit a pretty incredible .425/ .465/ .575, which, of course, is a Bugs Bunny number. But if you knock .150 points of batting average off that, he's at .275/ .315/ .425, which is on the high side of reasonable expectations for him. Could he be primed for a solid Cristian Guzman season?

I didn't see enough of him to assess his defense, but by at least one account, he's holding back on some of his throws.

6) Will Felipe not FLop at second?
The defense has been pretty good, it seems. He made two errors, but it's a small enough sample that it's basically meaningless to use. Bowden praised him a number of times, but then again, he praises most of his own moves.

7) How's the elbow, Luis?
¡No es bueno, señor!

8) Is Jesus really the answer?

As the number of emails I've gotten asking me about how great this guy is attest, yes. Yes, he is. Jesus rules! He wins the Mike DeFelice award for best batting average in camp, hitting a scorching .536 and slugging a Bonds-on-mega-roidsian .926. And everyone RAVES about his defense. Power hitting catcher, rocket arm? What's not to love.

Though it sucks that he's going to lose a year of development time, he's lucky in that because Brian Schneider is a lefty, he'll likely only have to face the division's crap-tossing lefties -- Jamie Moyer just soiled himself.

9) Who has options?
This, to me, was the key question of the spring. So many of the decisions weren't necessarily made on merit, but on roster status and for flexibility purposes. The team was dying to give Kory Casto a chance, but to do so would've meant losing Chris Snelling or Ryan Church. The team likely wanted to reward Saul Rivera for his strong finish last year, but he had options and Jesus Colome didn't. It's not just an on-field competition; it's also an off-field battle.

10) How does the bench look?
Surprisingly non-terrible. The less we talk about 2005's bench, the better we'll be. But with Robert Fick and Chris Snelling coming off the bench as PHers, there's a little bit of pop from the left side. Ronnie Belliard and Josh Wilson likely won't embarrass themselves, and should give Manny Acta plenty of double-switch opportunities to hide 1) the pitcher and 2) Cristian Guzman.

Given all the traps out there at the beginning of the spring (Womack, Macias, Lee), the team did pretty well. (I'm just happy that I nailed the bench in my pre-Spring answer!)

  • Spring does breed optimism. And although I'm not sending in my post-season deposit, I certainly feel a bit better about this team. I think we're in the 95-loss region, but I think that there's also a potential for a much better result. Each year, we've had a list of about 10 "IF"s that needed to go right to be in the playoff hunt. 9 of them went right in '05. Maybe 2 of them went right last year.

    The magic of spring is that we don't know how many of them will go right this year. And that possibility is what makes us tingle in our bellies when we think about sitting in the warm stands with an overpriced beer in our hands come Monday.


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