Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga talks baseball in the nation's capital -- every Wednesday.
Barry Svrluga: Welcome back, Nationals fans. This bunch never ceases to befuddle me. When we last spoke, they were en route to losing five in a row and seven of eight, had a slew of injuries, couldn't score many runs, and a summer as an also-ran seemed to be upon us.
Now, they still have a bunch of injuries, they still can't score many runs -- yet they've beaten the Cardinals and the Braves for three straight wins. Go figure.
Tonight, though: John Smoltz. Is Tony Armas Jr. ready for that kind of challenge? We'll answer that and other questions in the next hour.
Burke, Va.: Granted that getting more good players is the right course of action anytime. However the rumor that Zach Day was about to be traded for either Juan Encarnacion or Preston Wilson leaves me to wonder how soon another shoe would have to drop. Guillen, Wilkerson, Byrd, and Church make a pretty nice OF. Both Guillen and Wlkerson appear to be highly valued by the organization and Byrd and Church certainly seem worthy. If you add another OF you're almost certainly going to have to move one of them. What the Nationals really need is a middle infielder, a levelhanded reliever, and a starting pitcher. (Did I mention a trainer -- can you trade for a good trainer?) So, how do the Nats get what they really need and how long before Zach Day can be traded?
Barry Svrluga: I've heard they're looking to package some minor league prospects and a fungo bat for a trainer.
First things first: Day can't be traded until he's over his injury, and that won't be for at least a month-and-a-half, likely two months. Thus GM Jim Bowden's disappointment yesterday.
The thought by going after either Encarnacion or Wilson is not so much the position, but the right-handed bat with power. Byrd could be packaged in a deal like that, because he'd be somewhat expendable. They almost certainly wouldn't package Church in such a deal, first because they like his long-term potential and second because he's left-handed, meaning the Nationals would be overloaded with right-handed bats.
What will be interesting would be if Day recovers from his injury, the club can't trade him, and he returns to the major league roster. I'd like to see how he and Manager Frank Robinson dealt with each other.
Alexandria, Va.: Since everyone else you work with is being asked about it, what are your thoughts on the Deep Throat revelation?
Barry Svrluga: I was hoping he'd also reveal Washington's second-biggest mystery: What's wrong with Cristian Guzman.
Anchorage, Alaska: Hey Barry -- Encarnacion for Day seems like a steal of a trade, bummer it didn't happen.
Here's the question, You seem pretty upbeat in your articles about the mental state of the club. When you visit the clubhouse, do you get the sense that the losing streak is over and a new, better streak has commenced, or are the Nats at some middle-ground where they just happen to have won a few games?
Barry Svrluga: Hello, Anchorage. Days are getting pretty long, no?
Given Zach Day's state of mind -- and the fact that he had been sent to the minors anyway -- yes, it would have been a good deal to get Encarnacion.
This club's attitude has impressed me for the most part. They're genuinely excited to be within 1-1/2 games of first, considering their best player and most clutch hitter -- Jose Vidro -- has been out a month. But they really didn't get terribly down during the losing streak. Yes, things were awfully silent in the clubhouse after each loss in Cincy and St. Louis, but the next day, they were bubbly. They seemed happy to be at the park. Not sure how much this contributes to bouncing back and winning the next three, but I can't imagine it hurts.
Rosslyn, Va.: RFK seems to be playing as a doubles/triples park. Is this something the management recognizes and intends to use as an advantage in shaping their roster? Rather than worry about the big power hitters, would it not make more sense to look for doubles hitters like Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson?
Barry Svrluga: This is an excellent point. In fact, Bowden has admitted that all this happened by chance. They thought it would be more of a pitchers' park than a hitters' park, but not to this level. RFK has yielded fewer home runs than any other park. This has frustrated the Nationals' hitters to a certain extent; Jose Guillen talked about it the other night. He's convinced the distances are marked incorrectly. (To make sure, I brought one of those rolling measuring devices to the park today, and Guillen and I are going to walk it off in the next few days. I'll get back to you.)
Overall, though, you're correct: While it'd be nice to have more power, this team is going to win because of it's pitching, and plenty of fly balls hit by the opposition have been held to long outs at RFK, a huge advantage for the Nationals.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Barry -
Lately, it seems that Nationals games have featured scores of balls bouncing in the field of play and then over the wall, and you have not referred to even one of these instances as a "ground-rule" double.
Barry Svrluga: Doing my best to keep Cleveland Park -- not to mention all of Upper Northwest -- happy.
Washington, D.C.: Barry, Since my fave Nat Joey Eischen is on the DL, what is the chance of getting him on the air or reporting for the WP? He has provided some of the best quotes and I think he could liven up the broadcasts (especially on TV) tremendously. OK, so this suggestion is only half in jest. Seriously, where do I send this petition??
Barry Svrluga: Indeed, Eischen would provide for some, um, spicy commentary. I think his presence in the clubhouse is missed for now, but he'll be back.
I'll pass on the message to him and see what he thinks about it.
Washington, D.C.: Surely we can handle Smoltz -- the guy once burned himself ironing a shirt that he was still wearing!
Barry Svrluga: No wonder the Nationals clubhouse attendants pretended they didn't know where the dry cleaners were yesterday when Smoltz asked for some help. They looked at him, a dumbfounded expression on their faces, and said, "Guess you'll have to press your shirts yourself, John. Good luck!"
Downtown, 6th and D: Barry,
What do you think of this lineup?
Sounds like some runs to me.
Barry Svrluga: I understand the thinking behind it -- that Johnson seems to get on base every other time up, and Wilkerson's been striking out a lot at the top of the order. But right now, Johnson's your best run producer. He leads the team in RBI, and with his doubles pop, I'd leave things like they are (even though I don't think it's a great lineup). The problem, now, is that Jamey Carroll has cooled off (he was bound to). I can't say it enough: Even if the team is keeping its head above water, Vidro is sorely, sorely missed.
Fairfax, Va.: Barry,
Could you confirm that Nick Johnson has been demonically possessed by the spirit of Rickey Henderson?
What else could possibly cause him to think that he can steal bases? (two stolen bases, five caught stealing on the season).
I'll bet Frank (at age seventy) could still wax him in a 40 yard dash.
Barry Svrluga: In fairness to Johnson, many of those caught stealings have been on failed hit-and-run attempts. But the Nationals have been failing in those situations too often lately. Brian Schneider executed a very nice one in Sunday's win over the Cardinals, but wouldn't you know it: Marlon Byrd wiped out coming around second base.
Rosslyn, Va.: Is Ryan Zimmerman still the favorite for the #4 pick next week? Will you be doing a draft preview before next week's draft?
Barry Svrluga: Indeed, I'll do some sort of draft preview next week, in addition to one I did about a month ago. And yes, right now, Zimmerman -- the third baseman from UVa -- is the odds on favorite to be the Nationals' choice.
Rosslyn, Va.: During their broadcasts, Charlie and Dave continue to mention Brian Schneider's sore knee. Is it just normal catcher knee problems?
Barry Svrluga: Pretty much. He's got a sore patella tendon, but the interesting thing is he says it doesn't bother him catching at all. It hurts most when he runs at full speed. That's why last week in Cincinnati Robinson pinch-ran Gary Bennett for Schneider in a key situation.
It's just one of those things that's not likely to cost Schneider any time, but will annoy him.