The Washington Nationals are coming to town to face our Atlanta Braves for a 2-game series -- we had a 2-game series with Philly in April; I wonder why they scheduled two 2-game series this year, that's weird. Anyway, we get to face the Nats at the hottest possible time -- they are on an 8-game winning streak. I figured it was time to check in with a Nats expert, and I summoned Ed Chigliak of the Nats blog Federal Baseball. Below are my questions to him about the Nationals, and his questions to me can be found here.
Q: How does a team like the Nationals and their fans handle an 8-game winning streak? You're so used to the opposite, does anyone really know what to say when they're winning? Tell us how the Nats have been doing it for 8 straight.
A: Honestly, writing about wins was really awkward when the Nationals started picking it up recently. I had gotten so used to chronicling losses that it was tough to turn it around and focus on the positives when they were successful. The Nationals fans that I know want the team to be good, and we watch every day expecting the team to do what they've done recently because a decent percentage of us see the team moving in the right direction in terms of rebuilding the organization top to bottom following a nearly decade-long dismantling at the end of the Montreal years. What we've seen on the current 8-game win-streak is a team that leads the league in errors, with 99 in 112 games, committing just 1 error over the last 6 games, while an offense with the second-best team batting average and second-highest team OBP in the NL keeps getting people on and driving in runs. Combine that with average starts and excellent bullpen work and they're 14-11 since Jim Riggleman replaced Manny Acta and 8-0 in the last eight...(so what if it's against the Pirates, Marlins and D-Backs)...
Q: Will the Nationals sign Stephen Strasburg?
A: In the Poll I have running at Federal Baseball.com, where people are asked simply Yes or No will the Nationals sign Strasburg?, after 255 votes it's 155 to 100 in favor of the two sides reaching a deal. The Nationals had to have done their homework and come to the conclusion that they could sign Strasburg before they drafted him, otherwise it's a ridiculous decision to take him. I believe Strasburg's going to get a record contract, and I'm hoping that when DC went about courting Mark Teixeira this winter, they made enough of an impression on Teixeira and Strasburg's agent/advisor Scott Boras that he recommends DC as a destination. From the start I've said it's going to cost $20M+ and I'm sticking to that.
Q: Looking back on this season so far, how has the Adam Dunn signing affected this team? Was that a good move or a bad move?
A: I thought the Dunn signing was a horrible move at first, mainly because I didn't see why you would pay him the money (2-years/$20M) that they did to hit his 40/100 on a 100-loss team, but having watched his improvement at the plate and in the field, I have to admit Dunn's won me over. (The K's though, all 126 of them are tough to take.) I watched him play first base in the WBC and could not believe they intended to trade Nick Johnson and insert Dunn at first, but now it looks like his average/decent play could make him a legitimate National League player for a few years longer than people thought. That's not to say he's great there, he misses grounders he should get to, and he's reached into the basepath once or twice, but he's better than I imagined in just about every way...except the K's...and his outfield defense...he's just as bad as I imagined in those ways...
Q: Why didn't the Nats make any big trades at the trade deadline? Are you pleased or pissed about that?
A: They waited too long, they weren't getting anything of value offered in return, and in the end the Nationals decided they didn't want to part with their most valuable commodities, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, who have both rewarded DC's faith this season. The Nationals did of course trade Nick Johnson to Florida for a pitcher who was at least highly-regarded, former 1st Round pick Aaron Thompson, who was on the 3 of the last 4 lists of the Marlins' top prospects according to Baseball America. The big trade the Nationals did make, which is widely regarded as a fleecing of the Pirates right now, dependent upon what Lastings Milledge becomes, was to trade Milledge and the struggling Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. Morgan's been phenomenal since moving to DC and he's given the Nationals the center fielder they've been looking for since Endy Chavez didn't pan out...while Burnett's been solely a positive addition to the bullpen Mike Rizzo had to rescue from Jim Bowden's poor judgement. I'm pleased with what Mike Rizzo's done, I just wish they'd give him the GM job on a permanent basis.
Q: Is Ryan Zimmerman the best all-around third baseman in baseball? Why or why not?
A: How do you decide if Ryan Zimmerman's better than David Wright, or Chipper Jones, who, in his prime, I'd take over just about anyone. Zimmerman's 3rd in the Majors in hits amongst 3rd baseman, tied for second in the Majors in HR's by third baseman, has the third-highest RBI total, and he's got the third-highest batting average and third-highest OPS in the National League, and he's behind Mark Reynolds of the D-Backs and Pablo Sandoval of the Giants in most of those stats, neither of whom are in Zimmerman's league defensively. (Though Zim's 13 '09 errors have been worrisome at times). Right now he's projecting at about 35 doubles, 30 HR's and 100 RBI's, he's hitting over .300, (.309 as of Monday), and he's putting up the best on base and slugging numbers of his career, there aren't too many people I'd take over Zimmerman if I needed a third baseman right now.
Many thanks to Ed for his great answers to my questions.