Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
They're Still the Expos, People
2005-07-18 17:08
by Mark T.R. Donohue

They last played baseball in Washington, D.C. a long time before the Rockies saw the light of day, so this series will make minor Colorado history. The light-hitting, heavy-pitching Nationals have been the feel-good story of the NL so far this year, but I think most experts and knowledgeable fans suspect that the second half will not as kind to them. Washington is 53-39 but only a game and a half in front of the Braves, who are apparently as unkillable as the T-1000. Baseball Prospectus's handy third-order winning percentage standings have the Nationals at 44-48 and in last place in the East. They still have a good shot at the playoffs because of all the wins they've already piled up, but make no mistake, this team still has a lot of Expo in them.

Mostly in the offense. The Nationals rank 14th in the National League in OPS, are tied for last in runs scored, and are last in home runs. They're getting it done partly with pitching and partly with smoke and mirrors. (24-11 in one run games, and if you think that's ridiculous, the White Sox are 23-9.) Nick Johnson is hurt, so Jose Guillen (plus Ryan Church if he's playing) is the guy to pitch around. Preston Wilson is 4 for 15 with a homer and a double since the Rockies sent him over. Marlon Byrd, Junior Spivey, and Carlos Baerga have all been terrible. Brian Schneider, the catcher, is known for his defense. Cristian Guzman is one of the worst players in this era of the game.

Among the starters, Livan Hernandez (3.41 ERA) has the gaudy record but it's John Patterson who has the best numbers (2.92 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.37 K/9). It's a telling sign of Washington's offensive ineptitude that in 16 starts Patterson has only earned three wins in five decisions. The other guy the Rockies will see in this three-game series is Tony Armas, who has been average (4.97 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.97 K/9). The Rockies counter with BK (vs. Armas, tonight), Shawn Chacon (scheduled to oppose Patterson on Tuesday), and Jason Jennings (vs. Livan on Wednesday).

While they're a lot closer to 10th place than to 1st, Washington's bullpen does rank 4th in the NL in ERA at the moment. Chad Cordero (1.11 ERA, 32 saves, 1.01 WHIP) is the standout in a group that has a lot of anonymous names having decent years, like Hector Carrasco, Gary Majewski, and Luis Ayala. Mike Stanton came on board recently from the Yankees and balked in a winning run in his first appearance.

If the Rockies win one in spacious, pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium, I'll be pleasantly surprised. The Nationals aren't terribly good, but they are playing for something, and their sterling home record (30-13) sure says to me that they're awful juiced to have a home city that wants them. Miles, Mohr, and Ardoin are all starting tonight, so it might be a good evening to catch up on your reading.

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