Some "less intelligent" people predicted that the 2007 Washington Nats would set a new mark for worst record in baseball history. Well, this year's version of the club didn't even finish with the worst record in the three-season history of the club's tenure in DC. The Nats ended the year 73-89, good for 4th in the NL East.
The Nats played into the doubters' hands early on, but ended the season on a roll, including taking 5 out of 6 from New York, aiding the Mets historic collapse in losing the division to the Phillies. Washington's starting pitching came around and that side of the ball led the team for much of the year. Shawn Hill was the ace (4-5 3.42 ERA), utilizing his nasty sinker in order to get batters out. Unfortunately he was injured for a good portion of the year and threw less than 100 innings. John Patterson missed most of the year but managed a terrible 1-5 record and 7.47 ERA. The beautiful flowers that grew out of Patterson's injury were Jason Bergmann (6-6 4.45), 24 year old Matt Chico (7-9 4.63), and Tim Redding (3-6 3.64). Mike Bacsik (5-8 5.64) started 20 games, but pitched better in his 9 relief appearances. He also gave up the career record-breaking homerun to Barry Bonds.
The relievers were far-and-away the bright spot on the field. The Chief, Chad Cordero (3-3 3.36 37 saves) was the backbone. He had a couple of miserable outings, including against Colorado and the Mets, but was his usual solid self. Jon Rauch (8-4 3.61 4 sv) led the team in wins and was the lockdown 8th inning guy. Saul Rivera (4-6 3.68 3 sv) also pitched well out of the pen. Chris Schroder (2-3 3.18) was a pleasant surprise and should get more responsibility next season. Jesus Colome (5-1 3.82) was effective most of the summer, but his slow pace and lack of rhythm hurt his late season performance. Luis Ayala (2-2 3.19) came back from injury to throw 42.1 innings and looked increasingly better.
The young pitchers deserve mixed reviews. Jonathan Albaladejo (1-1 1.88) pitched extremely well after his September call up. Joel Hanrahan (5-3 6.00) has great stuff, but walked entirely too many batters (38 in 51 innings). John Lannan (2-2 4.15) was up for 6 starts. First rounder Ross Detwiler pitched 1 scoreless inning.
The hitters were cold for most of the hot summer, but heated up as the season ended. Ryan Zimmerman (.266, 24 hr, 91 rbi, 4 sb) took a step back with the bat and at times struggled to make routine throws across the diamond, but set his career mark for homers and still made unbelievable plays at third. Austin Kearns (.266, 16, 74, 2) was a disappointment, but had an impressive finish. He is a very overrated rightfielder, but does possess a laser arm. Felipe Lopez (.245, 9, 50, 24) followed the same path as the previous two. He must improve greatly in every category next season. Ryan Church (.272, 15, 70, 3) erupted towards the end. Once the Nats acquired Wily Mo Pena (.293, 8, 22, 2 with the Nats) in August, Church became the team's 4th outfielder and it seemed to wake him up. It'll be exciting to see what Pena can do during an entire season.
Two veteran surprises were Dmitri Young (.320, 13, 74, not-on-your-life) and Ronnie Belliard (.290, 11, 58, 3). They aren't the answer in the lineup everyday if the club wants to challenge in the future, but they provide a positive presence- in different ways- for a young team. Brian Schneider (.235, 6, 54, nope) was an underrated defensive catcher as usual. His backup, Jesus Flores (.244, 4, 24, nada) showed tremendous promise and handled the pitching staff beyond his years. Nook Logan (.265, 0, 21, 23) surged during the dog days and reminds me a bit of Andruw Jones in center. If the Nats choose to move the speedy Logan, his replacement could be young Justin Maxwell, who hit 2 homers and hit .269 in 26 at bats. Tony Batista, Robert Fick, D'Angelo Jimenez and the mostly-injured Christian Guzman all hit 2 homers.
Manny Acta gave this young franchise a swagger. Pitching coach Randy St. Claire was a master. Lenny Harris even got the boys to hit. The Nats move into a new stadium next season, which has the area excited. We're hoping to move forward next year and we have some of the pieces in place, especially the pitching. Our lineup could use some speed, but with Z, Lopez, Kearns, and Church struggling most of the year and Pena arriving in August, the offensive production should be better in '08. We're looking at 2009 to be the year to contend.