- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

TODAY ON WASHINGTON TIMES.COM

Chatter: Mark Zuckerman is on the road with the Washington Nationals in Arizona.

TODAY’S BEST BET ON TELEVISION

Kimbo Slice on prime time, network TV? You must tune in for that … or watch it on YouTube the next morning. 9 p.m., Chs. 9, 13


FROM WASHINGTONTIMES.COM “ EXCERPT FROM CHATTER, OUR BASEBALL BLOG

Mark Zuckerman shared his thoughts from high in the PETCO Park press box after the Nationals’ 4-2 loss late Tuesday night.

The Nationals’ season has gone almost exactly the opposite of how observers (and even club officials) figured it would back in spring training. Think back to March. What were supposed to be the Nationals’ areas of strength? The bullpen and an improved offense that had been restocked with the likes of Paul Lo Duca, Lastings Milledge, a healthy Nick Johnson, a full season of Wily Mo Pena and a revamped bench full of veterans.

Well, the bullpen (through Tuesday) had a collective 4.38 ERA. Not terrible but not as good as anyone thought it would be. And with Chad Cordero out, way too much of the load has been thrown upon the only three guys Manny Acta trusts in tight situations: Jon Rauch, Saul Rivera and Luis Ayala.

Everyone else who has pitched in relief (Jesus Colome, Joel Hanrahan, Ray King, Charlie Manning, Mike O’Connor, Brian Sanches and Chris Schroder) has a combined 4.98 ERA. Someone from that group has got to step up and join the Big Three in giving Acta quality innings in close ballgames.

The offense, of course, is among the worst in baseball.

So how in the world has this team managed to play .500 ball since April 22? It’s because of quality starting pitching, the last thing this team was supposed to have coming into the season. The rotation’s overall season ERA is 4.45, not all that great. But remember, that includes some early season disasters from Jason Bergmann and Matt Chico. Take Chico (0-6, 6.19 ERA) out of the equation, and the rest of the starters’ ERA drops to a more respectable 4.12.

In other words, if the Nationals could just get a little more semblance of offense and just a bit better performance out of the bullpen, this team could be playing much better baseball.

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