- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

In case you missed it over the weekend while watching the Preakness, the NBA Playoffs or nonstop replays of the Cubs-White Sox brawl, the Nationals reached the quarter point of their season.

And what a quarter it was … not.

It seems everything that could go wrong for this team did in the first 40 games. Pitchers couldn’t stay healthy. Hitters couldn’t hit. And the general manager couldn’t stay off the police blotter.

Admittedly, there were a few positive developments — Alfonso Soriano’s power surge, Jose Vidro’s return to form, Tony Armas Jr.’s coming-out party — but not nearly enough to offset the negatives.

So as the Nationals dig in for the rest of the season, let’s look back at some of their key offseason decisions and how they have worked out. Or, in some cases, haven’t …

Decision: Trading Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge and Armando Galarraga to the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano.

Verdict: Success, for now. There’s no doubt this deal turned out well for the Nationals, who acquired a game-changing superstar for a well-liked but less talented outfielder and two other guys who have struggled.

However, this trade can’t really be judged until the end of the season, when Soriano will have been traded, re-signed or lost as a free agent. Washington can’t afford to let that last scenario play out, so unless Bowden can convince Soriano to sign long term this summer, he needs to trade him for legitimate prospects.

Decision: Filling out the starting rotation with a bunch of moderately priced free agents.

Verdict: Near disaster. The Nationals re-signed or acquired Armas, Ramon Ortiz, Brian Lawrence, Pedro Astacio, Billy Traber and Zach Day since the end of last season. Only Armas has pitched consistently well, and only he, Ortiz and Day are pitching for the Nationals. Lawrence and Astacio suffered serious injuries, and Traber was sent to the minors after two starts.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a problem if Washington’s top two starters — Livan Hernandez and John Patterson — were doing their jobs. But with those two struggling or hurting, the team’s lack of pitching depth has been a problem.

Decision: Making Brandon Watson the Opening Day center fielder.

Verdict: Big mistake. The Nationals’ rationale for keeping Watson made sense. He outperformed Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd during spring training. But it became obvious early on that Watson wasn’t big league material.

Church and Byrd became a revolving door in center field until Church was sent down to Class AA Harrisburg on Friday night. Now the team is giving Alex Escobar a shot. Chances are the center field job still won’t be settled by the end of the season.

Decision: Letting Armas, Soriano, Chad Cordero, Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala and Brian Schneider play in the World Baseball Classic.

Verdict: Bad move. There wasn’t much the Nationals could do about this because those players insisted on participating in the WBC despite the club’s efforts to keep them out because of injury concerns.

The results have not been pretty. Ayala blew out his elbow and is through for the year. Cordero, Majewski and Schneider all started slowly (in large part because of their spring training work was limited). Only Armas and Soriano came back strong from the WBC.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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