Nats Notes
August 2, 2005

This is one of those times that I don't really have a theme or a central topic to write about, but there were some interesting developments over the past few days that are noteworthy.

Those wondering about Brad Wilkerson's lack of home run power will want to take note of two developments over the past week or two.  The first was that the Washington Post determined that the distances to the outfield walls were incorrect.  Rather than being 380 feet to the power alley, the walls were closer to 395 feet away upon the re-measure.  The second development is that with MLB's new testing policy, Wilkerson stopped taking all supplements before the season began for fear that he might test positive due to the poor quality control in over-the-counter supplements.  No protein shakes, no creatine, or even fat burners.  The positive to take away from this is that he still has good power, as evidenced by his 30 doubles so far this year, a pace that will establish a career high of 43.   He's also on pace to top his career best in triples.  So if the Nationals move in the fences next year, or at the very least when they move to a new park in three years, his home run rate should rebound.

The Pythagoreans have been celebrating the fact that the Nationals have lost 11 straight one-run games after beginning the season on somewhat of a tear in those circumstances.  However, I wouldn't call this slump a reckoning or even a correction.  The Nats are a one-run game type of ballclub.  I believe the record for most one-run games in a single season is something like 71one-run affairs and the Nats are on pace now to finish with 66 of them.  That's just how the team is built.  So they are going to have streaks where they win a lot of them and some where they lose a lot of them.  The reason they've lost so many recently is that their offense has tanked in July/August.  To demonstrate what I mean, the Nats hit .261/.346/.418 in June but followed that up with a .229/.296/.330 in July.  They won't be nearly as bad as they were in July the rest of the way because some of the players were pressing with all the playoff attention and the team was still getting some guys back from injury.  August will be a much better month offensively and I'll get to another reason why in just a second. 

The second thing that failed them in July was the bullpen, who were worn out by Frank Robinson's constant maneuvering early on.  But now that they are getting a hefty number of innings from Livan Hernandez, John Patterson and Esteban Loaiza, as well as more than 4 or 5 per start from Tony Armas, the bullpen is getting a second wind. 

As I mentioned before, the offense will pick up for another reason: it looks like the ball is starting to carry at RFK.  All year, high fly balls have simply died in the swirling winds above the stadium, but on Tuesday night the Dodgers banged four home runs at the expense of Loaiza and the bullpen.  Two of those balls weren't particularly well hit but just kept carrying.  That's four home runs from a team that ranks 8th in NL in home runs in a park that has not yielded more than 2 home runs in a game to any opponent this season.   The following night three balls went out.  If that's a trend and not an isolated incident, flyball starters like Patterson are going to see their ERAs rise a bit.  But the Nationals' hitters will see a boost in the extra base production as well.

All this to say with Nick Johnson back healthy, the Nats offense will score a few more runs down the stretch and the bullpen will be a little sharper.  Don't be surprised if they go on a little run of winning a number of one-run games starting in the middle of this month.