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When You Crunch the Numbers, The Nats Don't Get Creamed

Even utility men are nagging Frank Robinson to get in the lineup to spice up the attack. As the manager passed Wil Cordero's locker, the veteran rolled up his shirtsleeve, popped an enormous tattooed biceps and said, "Let me know if you want some of this." Robinson just laughed. Solving the team's lack of a leadoff man, however, is not a laughing matter.

The search to replace Chavez continues. And may yet cause a few sparks. Robinson is giving shortstop Cristian Guzman, with a hideous career on-base percentage of .303, the first crack at the top job. To the "Moneyball" crowd, that's heresy.

Stat mavens see the Nats' lineup as an elementary puzzle. Brad Wilkerson proved he was an effective leadoff man last season with 106 walks and 112 runs scored. Nick Johnson hit No. 2 for the '03 Yankees with a .422 on-base percentage in 96 games. Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen are no-brainers at Nos. 3 and 4. Since Wilkerson, Johnson, Vidro and Guillen have the four highest career on-base percentages on the team, what's the problem? Stack 'em at the top. Let Castilla hit fifth, followed by whoever.

The fly in the ointment is Wilkerson. Should a young team leader with his proven power (32 homers) be consigned to the leadoff spot when he might develop into a 100 RBI man for many years if left in the No. 5 hole? This stuff is never easy.

The lazy Florida days are winding down here. In the last two games, Washington took leads into the ninth inning and blew them both -- once with Antonio Osuna, then with Joe Horgan. Where were Cordero and Ayala, who would normally close the show? The correct answer is: Who cares? It wasn't their day to throw. So, get more info on Osuna and Horgan.

Soon, the words, "Who cares?" will disappear from the Nats' lexicon. But there are still a few more days to chat on the dugout steps, tell tales in the bullpen and even squander ninth-inning leads without fretting.

After this day's meaningless win, which broke a six-game losing streak and brought the team's record to 12-13, Robinson leaned back in his office chair. "I'm savoring this win," he said, spoofing his normal famous intensity. "I even had a cigar out. . . . I was wondering why Mike Wallace wasn't in here in my office with some champagne."

Mike Wallace? Of "60 Minutes"?

No, that would be Mike Wallace, the Nats' clubhouse manager. Next year, when all these details are wonderfully old hat, part of the rewoven fabric of our Washington baseball life, we won't have to ask such questions. But now, it's all brand new.

So, let the (4-3) games begin.

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