Prior to a series it's fun to get some perspective from the other team, and the best way to do that short of following Paulie Walnuts around with a microphone is to speak with that team's fans. For the Nats I was fortunate enough to get some questions answered by the fine ladies of We've Got Heart, Kristen, Stephanie and Lindsey.
Eric Simon: For the second time in three offseasons Jim Bowden got the best of Omar Minaya. What do you think of Lastings Milledge so far?
We've Got Heart: There have been moments that I've been impressed and moments where it's clear he's learning. He will steal a base or get a hit but then get out by making a silly base running move. I can forgive these mistakes in April, but if it continues throughout the season and costs us crucial outs, it will be much harder to forgive. He's also made some errors in the field by letting a single turn into an easy double, but it was reported that he's apologized to teammates for his mistakes. I think that shows signs of his willingness to learn and desire to improve. That said, he looks like he could be everything we were promised. He's enormously talented.
ES: The Nats won their first three games and then dropped a niner in a row before beating Tom Glavine and the Braves (thanks!) on Sunday. What can we expect out of this particular Nats’ team?
WGH: Going into the season and certainly after the first three games we all had high hopes. Obviously, starting pitching has been an issue, but I think a lot of that has to do with Lo Duca. He was absent for most of spring training with a knee injury and has little time to learn the pitchers. One of the problems with John Lannan's most recent start was that he veered off the game plan. As a young pitcher, it's hard to believe that he was calling his own pitches and honestly we didn't see him calling off Lo Duca. Every team goes through slumps and the optimist in me says that this is a slump and things will turn around. Guzman and Johnson are on fire and if we can just get a couple more guys hitting consistently, we'll be just fine.
ES: Talk to me about the new ballpark. Just a tiny bit nicer than RFK, I’m guessing.
WGH: The park is phenomenal. It's a nice mix between Citizen's Bank in Phily and PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The sight lines are great, though the ticket prices are steep. There's a lot of new local food partnerships that give it more of a Washington identity. It's hard to tell how the park will play just yet. It's smaller and more intimate than RFK. The Marlins and the Braves had no problem sending balls out of the park, but the Nats haven't capitalized on it, yet. Mets fans, be sure to come down to catch a game!
ES: When did Cristian Guzman get on the juice? Dude has seven extra-base hits so far. He has three fewer homeruns than the entire Mets’ team. What gives?
WGH: Guzman was another of Jim's projects. He was great in Minnesota, then came to DC and just couldn't hit the ball in 2005. He was hurt for all of the 2006 season. Guzman was fantastic at the start of 2007, showing the kind of player he could be, but was injured again by June and out for the rest of the season. He's had a rough go of things, but is back healthy this year and on fire. Maybe he's finally comfortable here and all of the pieces are in place for him. I'm a big fan of his offense but I'm not sold on him being the lead off guy just yet. With the way he is hitting he might drive in a bunch more runs if he batted a few spots lower.
ES: Jesus Flores is already better than Paul Lo Duca at everything. Why won’t Bowden just make him the starter? Why throw bad money at Lo Duca?
WGH: Jim Bowden had his heart set on bringing Lastings Milledge to the Nats. Last winter he dealt away a great defensive catcher in Schneider to make the trade. Prior to Schneider being traded, the plan was for a platoon behind the plate with Schneider and Flores, with Flores learning in the bigs from an experienced teammate. When Schneider left, the plan changed. Jim was quick to fill the spot with Lo Duca. I think he was dazzled by his previous offensive numbers and really wanted Flores to get at-bats every day in the minors. To give Lo Duca a backup, he brought in Johnny Estrada. It's pretty clear that Lo Duca will probably be a waist of money. Just days after being signed, his name came out in the Mitchell Report, which would have decreased his value. His other character flaws and indiscretions aside, fans are already tired of his attitude. We're a rebuilding team, not a contending team. Having Lo Duca mouth off every night about his frustrations just doesn't help, especially when his numbers don't match his talk. Sending Flores to the minors isn't as much about him learning and playing everyday as it is about Bowden not wanting to admit he made a mistake in signing Lo Duca and Estrada. My guess is that Flores is in triple A for a month or two. Once it becomes overwhelmingly clear that Lo Duca is washed up, Flores will be back as a starter with Lo Duca or Estrada as an occasional backup. I think the Lo Duca deal was one of the worst moves the Nats made this winter.
ES: I want Manny Acta back. No question here; just a comment.
WGH: We love Manny, though he had some questionable decision making in that 9 game skid. We hope he's here in Washington for a long time.
Thanks, ladies. You can read my responses to their questions at We've Got Heart.