Transcript

The Washington Nationals

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga talks baseball in the nation's capital -- every Wednesday.

This week's poll

The transcript follows .

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washingtonpost.com: The discussion with Barry Svrluga has been delayed for about 10 minutes and should begin by 2:15. Thanks for staying tuned!

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Barry Svrluga: Whew. Sorry folks. Delay on the 7 train from Manhattan out to Flushing. Let's get this thing started.

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Washington, D.C.: What possessed Robinson to question Patterson's statement that he couldn't pitch last night but would be ready for Friday? Does Robinson just hate all pitchers? At this point, the way Robinson plays favorites and denegrates everyone else is starting to remind me of my high school baseball coach.

Barry Svrluga: It was an interesting challenge, to be sure. I saw Patterson on Friday, and man, was he sick. And to his credit, he didn't tell us he couldn't start Tuesday until Sunday, and even then, he didn't feel good about it.

Robinson likes players who play hurt. But I'm not sure how much good Patterson would have been to the team had he gone out there last night.

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K Street: Hey Barry, how do you pronounce Wiemi Douoghui (the Nats' orthopedist)?

Barry Svrluga: It's Weee-mee Doh-uu-ghee.

Now, how do you pronounce Svrluga? Or, for that matter, Arangure?

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20010: So, Barry, is the rotation for the rest of the year going to be the 3 aces followed by two games pieced together out of the bullpen? I like it! It's got that fun feel of desperation that let's us know Frank's still trying to win the wild card. And, I'd rather see Eischen start than any number of bum "starters" on the bench.

Barry Svrluga: That's exactly how it looks right now. There's a small chance that Tony Armas Jr. could pitch again this year, but I think he's thrown his last pitch for the Nationals. He's a free agent after this season, and he'll likely head elsewhere.

Carrasco did a fine job last night. I would guess that Jon Rauch might get a start in such a situation, too, before Eischen would.

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Nats, EH?: What will it take for Zimmerman and Short to see more playing time?

Barry Svrluga: One of two things:

1. Elmination from the playoff chase.

2. A new manager.

I think No. 1 is far more likely.

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Barry Svrluga: By the way, did everyone see the poll posted today? Some interesting questions. Please post your answers, and we'll discuss at the end of the chat.

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washingtonpost.com: Vote in Today's Poll

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Looking to next year...: Barry,

This season was amazing. You couldn't have scripted a better start to the Nats era than this. However, with things going the way they are, what are the top 5 issues (on-the-field) that need to be addressed in the off season?

Barry Svrluga: This is an excellent question. Here we go:

1. Shortstop. What happens with Cristian Guzman? Can he get better? (We know he can't get worse offensively.) The Nationals aren't likely to be able to eat the remaining $12.6 million on his contract, but will anybody else take the player -- and some of the contract?

2. Third base. There are some in the organization who believe whoever the new owner is should eat the $3.1 million owed Vinny Castilla and just start Ryan Zimmerman.

3. Power. Where does it come from. Jose Guillen will be here next year, but he hasn't converted enough in clutch situations in the second half of the year. Will they find a big bat to help out?

4. Pitching. The top priority, I think, will be landing Florida's A.J. Burnett, a free agent. That would allow John Patterson to move to No. 2, and Livan Hernandez to be a No. 3. That's a solid rotation.

5. The manager. Will Frank Robinson return? He wants to, but that doesn't make it so.

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20037: If there's one thing I've learned this year, it's that Svrluga is spelled just like it looks, with all the letters pronounced in order.

Barry Svrluga: Nicely said. I have that on a recording that I keep in my pocket, readily available at any point.

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Anchorage, AK: Hey Barry:

About the poll, I think they're great questions, but the results of the early returns are a bit unsettling. I find it really hard to be critical of either Robinson or Bowden to the point of wishing them gone next year. Sure Frank has made choices when managing that I wouldn't make, but then, I am not a major league manager, and I think it is safe to assume nobody else in the chat is either. As for Bowden, I doubt there is one in 100 people that at this point in 2004 thought that the Expos would be in the wildcard race on September 14, much less above .500.

Both of those guys look like geniuses if just a half-dozen critical plays since the all star break get executed ON THE FIELD... not in the dugout, and not in the front office. Are we in a hole for starting pitchers? Yep... But how many other teams are in some other kind of hole (look at the Braves and their relief pitchers)?

Barry Svrluga: Hello, Anchorage. How'd that rescue of Larry Czonka go up there?

Let's wait a while on the poll. I'm going to try to take the chat till 3:15 since I was late, and we'll discuss those issues around 3 or so.

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Bullpen: Any truth to the rumor that Frank Robinson has advised you to do today as a "chat by committee," with you going the first 15 minutes, followed by ten minutes each from your colleagues Boswell, Wise, Wilbon & Kornheiser.

Barry Svrluga: An excellent strategy. This is the first chat I've started since 2000, and if we can just get a good 15-20 minutes out of me, I believe Boz has a few good innings in him, and we'll see how it works out from there.

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3rd base: How much longer is Selig going to drag his feet with regards to the sale of the Nats ?

Questions:

1. Which group will get the team ?

2. When ?

3. Will they make changes in the front office ?

4. If yes to Q #3, what GM names might we be hearing about ?

Thanks

Barry Svrluga: Even as we watch whether this team can hang on the fringes of the race, these are the critical questions about the franchise's future. Unfortunately, there aren't any hard answers right now.

1. I would be shocked -- shocked -- if a group with local ties (i.e. Malek, Lerner or Collins) didn't end up in the mix somehow, either by itself or in conjunction with another group.

2. They're reviewing more documents this week, as reported by the Post's Thomas Heath, so it doesn't seem like it'll happen in the next few days. The end of the month? Still seems optimistic.

3. That's the most interesting thing. GM Jim Bowden has met all the groups, and is trying to make the best impression he can. But it depends on the personality of the new owners.

4. The most popular names bandied about are two with DC ties -- Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who went to Catholic, and Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes, who grew up here. But it's too early to figure out that until we know the owners.

Would love to have better information for you. I don't.

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20003: Just imagine if, after all the missed opportunities, lowpoints, lowerpoints, etc., the Nats (finally!) got hot again and squeaked into the playoffs. Now that would make a one fine book. Just sayin . . .

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, it would make a fine book. However, don't you think there's enough to talk about in a book as is? There's the squabble over the stadium and bringing the team here, the departure from Montreal, the stories of Frank Robinson and Livan Hernandez and Jose Guillen and others, not to mention the ride to first place and the fall from grace.

That sounds like a pretty good story to me.

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Nazabat, MO: I can see going after Burnett, but isn't the first offseason pitching priority ascertaining whether to keep Loaiza?

Love the chats -- CYA.

Barry Svrluga: I think getting a front-line starter, a true No. 1, is the top priority. The bullpen is in pretty good shape as is, the obvious strength. And bringing back Loaiza is definitely a priority, especially if he's a No. 4 starter. But I think getting Burnett -- who pitches tonight in Houston against Clemens -- is a more significant priority.

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Washington, D.C.: Let's say that you, Barry Svrluga, are writing a book about this season. Who would you want Frank to start the rest of the way? Doesn't it simplify your plot arcs to keep the same characters until the bitter end? Isn't it true that YOU sir are the one whispering in Frank's ear?

Barry Svrluga: I could shout in Frank's ear, and he wouldn't listen to me.

And, in a way, doesn't it make it more interesting when weird things -- such as starting Hector Carrasco against the Mets -- happen? There's nothing better than the unexpected.

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Wash DC: Bowden - lets lay off him. Sure not all his moves have paid off, but he gives the appearance of working harder than the GMs in Kansas City and Tampa.

Lots of fans seem to point to Castilla as a bad signing, but no one can tell me who we would have played there instead. Jim had to fill holes on the left side of the infield and the outfield and the pitching staff.

Barry, in hindsight who do the experts think Jim should have signed for third and short?

Barry Svrluga: I think you make very good points. The Castilla signing, to me, isn't a bad one, because if his knee had been healthy, he would have reached the Nationals' modest goals, which were for him to hit about .270-.280 and drive in 80-90 runs. He didn't need to drive in 130 like he did last year in Colorado.

Guzman was overpaid, no question. But the Guillen and Loaiza deals were necessary to fill holes, and both worked out. The Nationals weren't going to be able to pay for one of the marquee shortstops -- Renteria, Cabrera -- and if they hadn't signed Guzman, they might have had to enter spring training with Maicer Izturis as their starter. As it turned out, Izturis was necessary to make the Guillen deal.

So ... hindsight's 20/20.

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Nome, AK: To Anchorage, AK: Ah, the old "Who am I to question our leaders?" argument. Part of being a fan is obtaining a license to second-guess people who, by all rights, are more expert. It would be no fun, indeed, if every move by Bowden or Robinson were met with resounding, unanimous agreement. (Incidentally, I voted "no" on both questions.) The Nats fan community is full of articulate, extremely well-informed fans -- see the gameday chats at Yuda.org, or the various Nats blogs -- who express opinions backed up by fact and reason, whether consistent with those of our "leaders" or not. Now, back to my kvetching.

Barry Svrluga: Ah, Nome, that is some wisdom from the North.

You, too, make good points. There's a fans' bill of rights somewhere, isn't there? And in it, it says that anyone who truly invests their emotions in a team can second-guess the management at any point after a move is made.

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Arlington, VA: Any truth that Smulyan is going to merge with the Collins/Lord ownership group? I keep hearing Smulyan is the favorite but that he needs local ownership to seal the deal with Bud and the boys.

Barry Svrluga: I, too, have heard that theory. The thinking behind it makes sense: Bud likes Smulyan for his work in Seattle. But the people on the ground in DC realize that, more than in another town, the ownership needs local connections because the DC political landscape is so hard to navigate.

I think we'll find out about that in the next few weeks.

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Section 314, Row 10: Barry:

This has been great all year. We all really appreciate the chance to pick your brain. Thank heavens it has been you and not that bitter vetch, Jorge.

BUT! I have already noticed the direction the poll is heading and I must say...what was our fantasy at the beginning of the season? For a team that won 65 games last year? I'll tell you what mine was. To win 75 games. To approach .500 would be nirvana. To be in the wildcard hunt in September? Are you kidding? This has been an unbelieveable ride. Why are we being so hard on those that help get us on this roller coaster?

Barry Svrluga: The reason is simple: A 50-31 start changed expectations -- and it should have. Keep in mind: If this team played .500 ball in the second half, it would finish 90-72, likely good enough to get in the playoffs this year. The fast start made that seem wholly possible.

Is the season a failure? No. But keep in mind, too, that they're only three games over .500 now, and finishing with a winning record is not guaranteed at all.

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Arlington, VA: In one of your responses to a previous question you said the Nats should sign Burnett and go with Patterson and Hernandez as 2 & 3. But, you left out Loiza who has been a horse. Is he a free agent or will he be back next year?

Barry Svrluga: Loaiza has a mutual option on his contract which either side can decline, and considering he made just $2.9 million this year and will likely throw more than 200 innings and have an ERA under 4.00, he will decline the option, but try to come back for a two-year deal worth more money. Bowden told me that he would like to bring Loaiza back, so we'll see what can be worked out.

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Arlington, VA: But aren't you the famous Mr. Savaluga, as referred to in a previous discussion?

Barry Svrluga: My father, a high school running back, was once referred to as Bill Sovlegs in the paper.

We take it in stride.

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Balto. : Hey there Barry: I'm kind of a ballpark freak, and since you are sitting in Shea, which I think you stated was the worst park in the league, I was wondering if you might list a few of the reasons why it is so bad. Also, how do you think it stands up to RFK, and would Shea still be the worst if Olympic Stadium were still in use?

Barry Svrluga: Ah, as I begin answering this question, a jet plane flies overhead. It is the Shea Way.

The consensus is that Shea and RFK vie for the worst park in the National League, with stiff competition from the Metrodome in the AL. Shea is cleaner than RFK, which is particularly filthy in the bowels of the stadium. But RFK has a certain romantic nature to it, particularly for fans of the old Senators or the 'Skins glory days. Hard to say which is better/worse.

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Centreville, Va.: Boz criticized Robinson for possibly hurting more than a few arms through his bullheaded style. To wit- Armas and Drese have surgery, Carrasco has to throw 74 pitches, Cordero was throwing up 80 mph cheese last night, and the bullpen has to throw 180+ pitches because Frank has a quick hook with Halama. Plus Patterson- who ought to be a mainstay of the rotation for a decade- gets openly questioned about being sick. What do you think about how Frank deals with pitchers?

Barry Svrluga: Frank doesn't have pitchers over for dinner and tell them how great he thinks they are. He simply doesn't tolerate guys who don't throw strikes. That was the issue with the Halama start, in which he was pulled after 2/3 of an inning. That night was supposed to be a game cobbled together by the bullpen anyway.

It is, however, interesting to cover someone so openly critical of his players.

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herndon, va: Barry: Great coverage this year. Nice to see the Nats clinging on, but I figure this homestand killed them - they needed to lose only a couple. should we start talking about next year now, or wait one more week?

Barry Svrluga: I think it's worth talking about next year now, because this team is going to have to undergo some degree of overhaul. There's almost no one who's guaranteed at this point to be back on the squad. If the team doesn't go 5-1 on this road trip, there's almost no reason to believe they can hang on to the edges of the race. Let the Hot Stove begin!

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Harrisburg: Barry, it's probably too early to think about this, but since Bowden's still upstairs and a new owner might not be announced (much less installed) before Nov., I'll ask it anyway: has the organization contemplated which player(s) it will expose to the Rule V draft?

Barry Svrluga: These kinds of talks take place all the time, but I think you're a little ahead of schedule right now. Let me do some investigating and get back to you.

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Section 515: Someone wrote, "Lots of fans seem to point to Castilla as a bad signing, but no one can tell me who we would have played there instead."

I know I know! Rick Short! Probably would have posted just as good of numbers, if not better, and cost a whole lot less.

Barry Svrluga: Short has been a great story this year, and fun to watch in the last few weeks. But let's be clear: He's been in the minors for 11 years for a reason. His glove is not good. And keep in mind that, for much of the season, Castilla played nearly flawless third base. That hasn't been the case lately, but don't forget how outstanding he was for three-quarters of the season.

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Mechanicsville, VA: Livan said that he would wait 'til the end of the season to reveal who he was frustrated at on the team. If i were Livan, i would not take kindly to Patterson, with the team mathematically in a wild card race, taking off 10 days because of sinusits...please.

Barry Svrluga: Is this question from Robinson, Frank? Is it?

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Umps: Hey Barry --

What's your take on the umps' response to Frank last night?

I don't think umps should ever goad a manager like that, yet this season we have seen several instances of such grandstanding by the umps.

Is any of this attributable to Frank's old job in MLB as overseer/czar of umpires?

Thanks for the great coverage, as always!

Barry Svrluga: Robinson's comments about the umpires were pretty interesting last night, huh? He can be very stubborn, particularly when he thinks he has been wronged. He thought Nelson, the home plate umpire, tossed him far too quickly. And if you watch the replay of the entire episode, which takes more than five minutes, crew chief Joe Brinkman clearly gets aggressive in telling Robinson to leave the field.

But really, it was an ejection. Nothing more, nothing less. Don't think his role with MLB in the past has anything to do with anything.

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Re: Sec 314: The curse of great performance is that it does bring higher expectations.

If the Nats want to compete with the best teams in baseball, and want to BE one of the best teams in baseball, we can't lower our expectations to assume that it's just okay to show up. Yes, I'm thrilled we finally have baseball in DC, but if you think I'm satisfied with one great month and a lot of mediocre play, you are dead wrong. That's what gets teams like KC and DET and COL where they are.

A winning record would be a good accomplishment, but the goal should be, every year, to compete for the World Series. Anything less is not really competing. Who wants to put out a half-hearted effort like that, and then assume that, well, it's the first year (or second year, or first year in a new stadium, or whatever), and we're just glad to be here.

Barry Svrluga: The reality, though, is that this year, with MLB still owning the team, the Nationals couldn't compete for the World Series financially. If they could, they would have gone after Renteria, not Guzman, and Pedro Martinez, not Loaiza.

If an owner's in place for the next offseason sweepstakes, they will be able to compete before the games begin, not just on the field.

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Moab, UT: Barry, Great Work All Season. Your stories manage to enliven even the most lifeless games!

Frank has a zero tolerance policy for walks. Yet the offensive strategy is hack, hack, hack away. Has Frank talked about this at all? Or is this just a confusing zen problem?

Barry Svrluga: There's very little zen in this clubhouse, believe me.

Brad Wilkerson and Preston Wilson strike out in bunches, but for different reasons. Wilkerson takes a lot of pitches, and therefore a lot of strikes, and sometimes only swings once in an at-bat. Wilson looks like a tornado at the plate, he swings so hard so often.

This team doesn't make a lot of productive outs, that's for sure.

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20003: Patterson v. Peavy friday night! Can they gate Mills Lane to open the game!

(And think they'll both actually be ready to go?)

Barry Svrluga: Yes, I think they'll both be ready to go. Let's hope the game means something at that point.

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Washington, DC: The Post reports that MLB is looking for more information from some of the potential ownership groups for the Nats. Is that code for "raise your bids" and when will the Nats have new owners?

Barry Svrluga: You are very, very perceptive, Washington. It goes something like this:

Potential ownership group: "Oh, more information? Okay. Oh, yes, here's another $50 million I forgot about over here. Dang. Funny how those assets get lost so easily."

MLB: "Ah, that's interesting information. Thank you."

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Wilkersonville: Has Wilkerson's hitting this been year due to injuries, due to a poor approach mentally at the plate, or both? Boz seems to love this guy. While I think a guy who's good for the clubhouse is an asset on a team, 200+ strikeouts 2 yrs in a row, & another poor year with a sub par BA...I don't know.

Barry Svrluga: To be fair, Wilkerson's never had 200 strikeouts in a season. Last year, he had 152, and he's at 138 this season. And yes, I do think some of his lack of production has been because of his injuries, particularly his forearm. Is he better than he has been this year? Yes. Will he become a consistent .290-.300 hitter with 25 homers and 90 RBI every year? That question will be one of the interesting ones of the offseason.

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Random House, NYC: How's the book coming? Is it trickier to develop a marketable angle now that it looks like the club will not make the playoffs? And are you getting juicy clubhouse stuff for the book that hasn't made it inside the Post?

Barry Svrluga: Hello, Random House. Thanks for asking.

The book is going well, though there's much work ahead. It'll be out in time for spring training, so keep that in mind while you're gearing up for next season. And I think there'll be enough interesting tidbits in there to keep you turning the pages.

Was just going over some of the stuff from spring training this morning. Made me long for Viera.

(Well, no, that's a complete lie. But it was fun to relive.)

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Section 326 Row 1: Well, I went to Friday's game in the bouncing seats, and they were awesome. Not only did they make me feel like I was closer to the field (I've only been in the upper deck before), but the bounce-factor was fun. In the stirring 8th inning comeback, we got em bouncing. And the rest of the game, the floor provided a wonderful drum like quality by stomping on it... perfect for cheers and such.

It was also interesting how Cordero, one of my favorites, was treated like a rockstar when he came out. A pity about his performance two day's later, but nobody's perfect.

Anyway, thanks for the info about the seats. It was truly the best game I went to all season.

Barry Svrluga: Glad you enjoyed it. Cordero is beloved in left field, near the Nationals' bullpen, because that's where he resides. It was big for him to save last night's game after Sunday's debacle.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Frank was asked about why he was not starting Ryan Zimmerman, and he responded, "I don't know what the kid gives me. I don't know what he's capable of doing. But I do know what Vinny is capable of doing. I guess you can call it loyalty. ... The kid will have his day"

Frank is still stuck in a player's mindset rather than a manager's. A player believes that he deserves to play as a function of how long he has been in the majors. A manager can consider that, but bottom line is a manager needs to do what is best for the team as a whole in order to win.

Frank doesn't know what Zimmerman is capable of because he won't allow Zimmerman to show him. His loyalty to Vinny is admirable but he is not being paid to show loyalty to a fault. His greater responsibility is to put the Nationals in the best position to win games. Zimmerman has shown in brief flashes that he can hold his own at the plate (his defense at 3B need not be questioned). But Frank continually trots out an injured Vinny Castilla which handicaps the team in the place they can least afford it, offensively. A platoon would be an improvement over the current situation, allowing Vinny to get a day to rest a knee that will require off-season surgery.

At what point does that loyalty become a detriment to the team?

Barry Svrluga: Some would say it's a detriment to the team right now. Frank, however, has a habit of saying one thing one day and then switching it up the next day. I wouldn't be shocked to see Zimmerman get a start in the next few days, perhaps tomorrow -- a day game after a night game.

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Barry Svrluga: OK, let's look at the poll results.

The results, after 276 responses, look like the vast majority of fans want Ryan Zimmerman to play every day. That would be 88.8 percent of the folks. Wow. Mr. Robinson disagrees, however.

Most people want Robinson to return as manager. He got 59 percent support. President Bush would kill for those numbers right now.

But almost the same number -- 60.5 percent -- think Bowden should be out as GM. It's really interesting, the fans' reaction to him. He was lauded early in the season, but as Guzman has struggled, Castilla has trailed off and the pitching situation has deteriorated, the backlash seems to have grown.

We'll try another poll next week.

Okay, time for a few more questions.

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Lousy Mets fans: I love how the Mets fans threw stuff at our boys in the dugout while Robinson was getting ejected. After getting mooned by one at RFK, and then reading that, I'm so impressed by the class and restraint the Mets fans seem to exhibit on a daily basis.

Barry Svrluga: Wow. A real moon? Pretty impressive.

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Alexandria, VA: What is the point of tracking errors? My seatmate asked me this question at an Atlanta game, and I couldn't come up with a reply.

Barry Svrluga: Do you mean why do they give players errors and total them up at the end of the year? Well, for one, it helps determine who's a good fielder and who isn't. Two, it helps explain how runs are allowed when it's not the pitcher's fault entirely. And three, what the heck else are you supposed to put after "runs" and "hits"?

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Natsville: OK, I advocate playing Zimmerman for any number of reasons - he's here, Castilla stinks, etc. - but I can also see not playing him. But Short I will never understand. Look at his numbers - 4 for 10, 2HR, 3 RBI, .500 OBP - an explain why he can't help a team that can't hit. I get it that's he too old to be a prospect, etc., but there is no question to me that he would be a better pinch-hitter/6th infielder than Carlos "sundial" Baerga next year.

Barry Svrluga: And, notice that Short pinch hit last night and Baerga did not.

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Arlington, VA: Now that we are down to 2 1/2 healthy starters, isn't the danger now that even if we miraculously make the playoffs that the bullpen will be so fried they wouldn't be able to pitch anyways? Robinson basically blew out Ayala by over using him. This is what Billy Martin did years ago with the A's and he basically destroyed a bunch of arms that left them in shambles over the long haul.

Barry Svrluga: Let's deal with that miracle when it happens. And keep in mind that they'll only have to use this hodgepodge approach a few more times considering there are off days. Loaiza, for instance, goes on short rest on Sunday, then an off day, then Hernandez on Tuesday. The off days will help out.

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washingtonpost.com: View the Poll Results

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Washington, D.C.: Why in the world would I want to pronounce Arangure?

Barry Svrluga: It's an excellent question. I sure as heck don't.

(For those of you who don't know, Jorge Arangure and I are actually working together this week. It's tenuous at best. I thought about throwing him out of the Shea press box last night, but I thought I would miss deadline if I did. Also, I suppose charges could be filed.)

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Colesville, MD: I know you have nothing to do with the pictures and captions, but there's a picture in today's paper of the tag play at the plate from last night and the caption said that "Mike Jacobs" tagged out Marlon Byrd. It was Ramon Castro.

Barry Svrluga: Indeed, I do not. And indeed, it was.

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Federal Triangle: Maybe I'm not too bright, but I don't think 2 - 3 games either side of .500 was out of the question at the start of the year. Last year was the aberration year for the franchise, between the home away from home in Puerto Rico, the upcoming move, terrible injuries to Okha, Armas, Vidro, Johnson, and a few others. Castilla figured to be an upgrade over Batista. Cordero, Ayala, and Majewski (and Rauch) figured to improve with experience. In the spring, you could not have anticipated Wilkerson and Guzman to be so far off career averages. They had lost Vladi and O. Cabrera, but Guillen was a pretty good back fill. This was a team that had been 83-79 2 years before last. I think 65 -70 win expectations some had were unrealistically low.

Barry Svrluga: My prediction, prior to the season: .500 was a good goal. Seventy-five wins was probably realistic.

But again: Once we saw that first half, things changed, didn't they?

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Anonymous: I would LOVE to see Robinson follow the suggestion Boz made in his last column to play Zimmerman, Short, and Church (and I would say Byrd) every day to the end of the year.

What do you think are the chances? Robinson seems a bit ornery and contrary lately on this subject, among other subjects.

(I did notice that Boz was relating the Florida manager's assessments of various things -- not Robinson's. I'm guessing that doesn't bode well.)

Barry Svrluga: Robinson said yesterday that he is committing to playing Castilla over Zimmerman at least until the team is eliminated, calling it "loyalty." So I think, as we've discussed, Zimmerman and Short will have to get their starts here and there. Church, I think, will be in the lineup tonight. He didn't play last night because lefty Tom Glavine tossed for the Mets.

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Philadelphia, PA: Mr. Svrluga:

Having moved to Philadelphia just as the Nats moved to DC, I've had to follow this fairy-tale season from afar. (And to all those who spend time griping about Frank's decisions and Bowden's trades - don't forget that this season has been nothing but joy for true baseball fans.) Anyway, its been a pleasure to read your articles every day. You do a great job of weaving a season-long narrative, which is exactly what baseball writing requires. In today's article, Eischen is quoted as saying, "We'll all take the ball. Whether we feel good or not." Was this a veiled shot at Patterson? I've read recently of some discontent in the locker room, with Guillen insinuating that certain folks might be looking forward to fishing season. Have you gotten a feel for who's mailing it in? If so, do you see this affecting team dynamics in the long-run? (i.e. next year, not next week.) Thanks for your work.

Barry Svrluga: Thanks for the brotherly love, Philly.

I don't take Eischen's remarks at a shot at Patterson at all. He speaks passionately about the bullpen, and has all year. He really believes those guys pull for each other.

I would turn to Robinson for veiled shots at Patterson, not Eischen.

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Section 518: Okay Barry,

I love the Nats as much as everyone else. I've waited my whole life for a team in Washington and couldn't be happy to have them here, win or lose.

Let's talk "tachles". Do our Nats still have a chance at making the playoffs or do we just sit back now and enjoy the remaining games and look forward to next year?

Barry Svrluga: Somewhere in between. They need two things:

1. Wins. No use discussing anything unless they rip off a string of eight out of 10.

2. Help. They can't move up if Florida, Houston and/or Philly keep winning.

Time's getting short. Real short.

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Barry Svrluga: Okay, folks. Sorry once again for being late. And sorry, once again, for not being able to get to all the questions.

We've still got a few more of these chats to go. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Tune in next week when we'll be back at RFK -- and Barry Bonds will be in the house.

Enjoy the games.

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