Thursday, April 10, 2008

Diagnosing the Nationals

So, about that big fancy new ballpark . . . .

The seats and crowd: Based on opening night, tonight's game and conversations with others, my seats are pretty gosh darn awesome. And, though you wouldn't know it from TV, my section -- the front of the upper deck, just behind home plate -- was pretty full. Actually, a lot of sections looked pretty full -- but the announced attendance was only 24,549, way less than the capacity of 41,000. I thought that number was surprisingly low, considering that tonight was the first night with a spring-like game-time temperature and no rain in the forecast. Then again, it was the Marlins on a school night -- and the team keeps losing. But more on that later.

The places that looked empty are the ones (1) out in the outfield; (2) higher up and down the lines in the upper deck; and (3) the fancy seats behind home plate. The third category looks worse than it is. I understand that the seats behind home plate are really good and should be priced accordingly -- but the lack of butts in those seats makes the place look even emptier than it is, especially on TV. Mostly, though, the team definitely needs to work on selling more tickets in the first two categories.

The concessions: I had a big fancy "Curly W" pretzel, and it was really good. (The knish from the Kosher stand could have been warmer, though.) All things being equal, the prices don't seem outrageous to me -- and not all that different from last year or the two years before that. Then again, I'm not buying food for a family of four.

Metro: The trip to the ballpark is fine -- no problems. There's a heck of a crowd trying to get on the train at the end of the ballgame, though. So, even though it takes a bit longer, it makes sense to walk to Capital South. But that'll probably get real old real quick when it's 100 degrees and humid outside.

The team: That's the real problem -- DC only likes winners. Look at the support currently being doled out to the Capitals and Wizards. Back in November, when the Caps were losing, the Verizon Center was half-empty. But once they started winning, the arena started getting full. And now fans can't even get playoff tickets.

On paper, the Nats seem like they should be better than last year -- like it was during the first three games. But neither the offense or the defense seem to be getting the job done, and now they've lost seven in a row. The team just strands too many runners on base, which has been the difference in just about all losses -- and that hurts the fans way more than the lower-than-expected attendance, crowds on Metro, and expensive food put together.

But what to do about it? Zimm and Kearns don't seem to be hitting -- especially with runners on base -- Dmitri's hurt, and I'm still not convinced about Paul LoDuca's ability to manage the pitching staff -- or, as evidenced tonight, hit in clutch situations. Felipe Lopez looks competent in left, but he's not hitting much either -- and the team has lost every game in which he's started. And let's not even talk about Mackowiak, Boone, and Harris.

On the plus side, Belliard and Johnson seem pretty solid, Milledge has impressed me so far, and Guzman's hitting has been pretty amazing -- but he needs get his OBP up and keep the errors down. And I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Shawn Hill, the Chief, Wily Mo, and even Elijah Dukes are going to be back any minute now.

The conclusion: The team is not as bad as they are currently playing -- nor as good as they looked during the first three games. And the brand-new beautiful ballpark is really good -- not great -- but it'll get better as the area develops. Mostly, though, D.C. baseball fans need to get their butts in the seats. If they can't do that, there's a serious problem.


Justin S. said...

You do realize the ace of the staff is Odalis Perez, right? I think your expectations might be a little high for this team. A team that is waiting for Wily Mo Pena and Elijah Dukes to spark their offense is in trouble. They might be ok but the key will be Zimmerman and Kearns playing better (which they likely will). But offense won't do anything to save the pitching staff. And do we really know that Shawn Hill will be any good when he returns? Even if he's a stud, Odalis Perez is the #2 starter. Not good.

dara said...

See, I don't think that's an entirely fair analysis of what I said. I don't think this team is as bad as they are playing right now. I don't think they're going to win 100 games either.

Perez is a stop-gap while some of the young guys develop. Bergmann, Chico, and Lannan will improve. Redding will be okay -- hopefully more like his first start than the second one as the season goes on. And, as bad as the pitching has been, the team has lost almost every single game by 1 run -- which means they were in it. You can't entirely blame the pitching for that.

Justin S. said...

Well, I'll grant you that... If a team loses 3 out of every 10 games they'll win 49 games over the course of the year. I don't think they're THAT bad. They'll probably win around 70 games.

dara said...

You meant "wins," I think, but you're not wrong. I think the Nats have the talent to win 75 or 76 games this year. They just have to remember how do it.

And they have to get people to fill up the stadium -- and not just the baseball-obsessed either.