Transcript

The Washington Nationals

Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 2005; 2:00 PM

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

The transcript follows .

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washingtonpost.com: Today's discussion with Barry Svrluga has been delayed for about 15 minutes. Thank you for staying tuned!

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Barry Svrluga: Hello folks. Sorry I'm late. Ever try to drive up Independence Avenue on the House side of Cap Hill just after lunch? My advice: Don't.

All right. It's been a dramatic few days, not to mention six months. This is the second-to-last week of the season, and thus, the second-to-last chat. We'll save a poll for next week, when chatters can vote for the Nationals' MVP and other awards, some legit, some not.

Without further delay, let's go.

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Wilmington, Del.: Did the Nats season end Saturday night, Sunday afternoon or Monday night?

Barry Svrluga: How about all three? A refresher course: Saturday night, up 5-0 with two outs and one on in the ninth, lose 8-5 in 12 innings. Sunday afternoon, up 1-0 going to the bottom of the eighth, lose 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Last night, up 2-1 with two outs in the top of the ninth, lose 4-3. Pain, drama, collapse, all of it.

To me, the game I'll always look back on is Saturday night in San Diego, when they were on the brink of winning their fifth in a row and were, basically, starting to play their best baseball of the second half. Win those three games, and they're two games out today, and still in it. Now? I'm afraid it's over.

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Kensington, Md.: All Star Chad Cordero, at the ripe old age of 23, has shown remarkable composure and fearlessness with his Major-League leading 46 saves. Why the sudden fall from the best of times (0.00 ERA in Aug) to the worst of times (12.00 ERA in Sept)? Whatever the reason for his recent struggles, is there anybody who has been more important to the Nats' success this season than Cordero?

Barry Svrluga: It's a great question, Kensington. I think the first answer is, to some degree, fatigue. Cordero relies almost exclusively on his fastball, which tops out, at its best, at perhaps 92 or 93 mph. He relies on location. And as he has endured 72 appearances, more than any closer in the National League, his location has suffered. Major league hitters such as Chipper and Andruw Jones can hit 89-mph fastballs in the strike zone. It's just a fact.

But who's been more important to the team's success? No one, really. At 23, he's had one heck of a year.

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Section 217: Everybody's so fired up to get an owner, which I can understand. Keep in mind, though, that having an owner isn't always so bad. We could have a Peter Angelos (and his dysfunctional front office) or Daniel Snyder type. The current "ownership" has at least let the baseball front office people run the club, and not done any of the stupid things egomaniac owners tend to do. (It may not be the best management group, but at least they're baseball people.)

I'm concerned about Jeff Smuylan getting the club, given that he was a dreadful owner in Seattle. What do you think about him? Does he really have a chance? Do any of the other leading ownership groups seem to be led by total egomaniacs like Angelos and Snyder (which would give us reason to be concerned)?

Barry Svrluga: It is an excellent point, Section 217. Remember, baseball's last try here, the Senators, had an owner, Bob Short. Do people long for those days? The point is that whoever the owner is -- be it Smulyan or another group -- will determine the personality of this organization. Will it spend in a free-wheeling way? Will it be fiscally conservative? How will it market itself? Much is to be determined in the coming months.

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Predictions, USA: Barry, thanks for your chats ... over the last few weeks, we have gone back and forth over the Nats wildcard hopes. Sure...all of us fans would like to know whether they will be in or out...but i don't get why we fans seem to be so obsessed with getting you, or the Boz, or others close to the team, to make the call that they are in or out....We will know soon enough, right? I mean geez...5 games behind...11 to play...ok, it's probably a long shot...we all know that...but no need to print up the Obit...stranger things have happened before...it ain't over is what i am saying...or am i just a diehard? I need a professional opinion.

Barry Svrluga: Last Friday, I wouldn't have said you were an over-the-top diehard.

Now: You are an over-the-top diehard. Being five games back with 11 to go would be one thing, because it means that if the Nationals won 11 straight, Houston could go 6-5, and it'd still be a tie. The other problem: That doesn't even consider what Florida and Philadelphia would do in that situation.

I think it's time to deal with reality.

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Three straight ninth inning losses. Well one into extra innings for a loss. Does this happen to any other team (besides the O's)?

Barry Svrluga: Here's the crazy thing: Go back to the Sunday, Sept. 11 loss to the Braves, a 9-7 heart-breaker which the Nationals led 7-6 going into the ninth. That was followed by four straight wins, then the three most recent brutal losses, all in the opponents' last at-bat. It's not a stretch to say that this team is perhaps 8-12 pitches away from being on an eight-game winning streak.

Crazy.

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Schedule?: Is there a tentative schedule for 2006? On the Dodgers' page at mlb.com, there is a tentative 2006 schedule (they're set to be in DC May 26-28). If they've got one, why don't we?

Barry Svrluga: There is, in fact, a tentative schedule for all of MLB, and we've reported some of it. The Nationals will play at Baltimore and host the Orioles from May 19-21. The Yankees will be in town June 16-18. And the team will play at Boston later in June. It will also open the season on the road.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey guys, I'm sorry to say, but D.C. fans are so fickle. I was at the Nats game last night and I found it incredulous that fans would boo for Barry Bonds one minute, than stand up and cheer, take pictures and be in awe.

I think the man is less than honorable, but if you dislike him, dislike him -- don't lambast him one minute and than salute him another.

Barry Svrluga: Yeah, but did you see that homer? I mean, how could you not, at some level, tip your cap to that?

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Harpers Ferry, W. Va.: Barry: Thanks for the good work.

You and your colleagues at various other outlets were pretty critical of Frank's Cap'n Hook impersonation on Saturday.

How did he react to the questioning? Has he figured out what he'd do differently?

Barry Svrluga: Thank you, Harpers Ferry.

Frank is a hardened baseball man who's been in the game 50 years. Does he like to be second-guessed? Of course not. But he knows it comes with the territory. That was as tough a loss as a team can have, and he snapped at us afterward when we asked about all the pitching moves. But he understands where the questions come from.

Two thoughts: He might have started the inning with Cordero, even with a 5-0 lead, considering how important the game was. Or he might not have removed Eischen, who got one out and then allowed a hit.

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Rockville, Md.: What about Frank Robinson? On the one hand, he took a team nobody thought would be very good and kept in the playoff chase almost to the end (yes, I think they're toast now). On the other hand, the biggest reason they won't be in the playoffs is his ridiculous performance of trading away three good starters because they disrespected him. It's his job to make the personalities mesh. Firing people without replacements?

Barry Svrluga: It's an interesting question, but keep in mind: Jim Bowden, the GM, traded those players, not Robinson. He could only endorse or not endorse the moves. Did the unhappiness of Tomo Ohka and Zach Day, both of whom bristled under Robinson, have something to do with their departures? Absolutely. But this pitching staff is also in this situation because Ryan Drese and Tony Armas Jr. suffered season-ending injuries.

And, while everyone obsesses about the pitching staff, this team, ultimately, will fail to make the playoffs because it is the worst offensive unit in baseball.

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National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.: Barry I just wanna say, though they might be out of it offically with two more losses, this has been such a great summer!! I was military brat, who never had a team. I am new to the city as they are. The whole thing (including seeing baseball games in the same stadium my dad saw his first games as a child at) was just Top Shelf. Not matter what Bud and the crew try to, the game will live on, esp now that its in our nations capital. I can't wait to Boo Barry for the first time tonight!!!!!!! Thanks for the Chats!! They are chopping wood for the stove as I type this!

Barry Svrluga: Glad you enjoyed it. I have a feeling you're not alone.

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L'Enfant Plaza: So am I going to be able to watch all of the games next year?

Barry Svrluga: A guess: You'll be able to watch 150 or more.

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Ashburn, Va.: So.. you and Jorge were working together? Any good juicy tidbits? Did he enjoy a competitive team? Did you teach him fashion sense and upgrade his taste in music?

Barry Svrluga: The dude showed up at Shea Stadium last week, hung out in the Mets clubhouse, talked to some people, then LEFT IN THE FIRST INNING one night. I was totally hanging solo.

Typical selfish behavior from him. Not unexpected, of course. And he hasn't even written a Mets story yet.

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Behind the Nats Dugout: Barry:

Be honest: it's over for this year, isn't it?

Barry Svrluga: Yes.

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Ashburn, Va.: Have you ever heard anyone blame Frank Robinson for the Nationals' meltdowns? It seems he deserves a lot of it since he's choosing the pitchers. Why does he escape criticism?

Barry Svrluga: Did you read our stories on Sunday morning (it only made the Post's web site) or in the paper on Monday? I think there was plenty of questioning of Robinson about his moves in there.

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Section 119: AAAAUUUUUGGGGHHH!!!!!

Barry Svrluga: Frank? Bowden? Wait. Who is that in Section 119?

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Red Alert: From espn.com, 9/16/05: "Youppi! will become the first mascot in professional sports history to move from one league to another when he makes his debut for the Canadiens in October 2005." Could there be a bigger story in sports this week?

Barry Svrluga: Red Alert, you are correct.

I guess my hopes that Youppi! would replace the ludicrously bad Screech are dashed.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry, I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Johnson Monday evening. Class guy. What is his contract status for next year?

By the way my folks just bought a house about a mile from Viera (I grew up in Melbourne), see 'ya in Viera in February!

Barry Svrluga: Nick, a fine gentelman, is eligible for arbitration, and will be back with the Nationals next year, barring a trade.

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Croton-On-Hudson, N.Y.: I've enjoyed these chats all year. Thanks for doing them.

Now that you've mostly finished one season covering a pro team, how does it rank with the other sports you've followed? Miss basketball?

Barry Svrluga: Croton-on-Hudson? Isn't that what I just ordered for lunch?

Indeed, I'll always miss basketball, especially the ACC, which I've enjoyed covering for the past several years. But this has been an unbelievable experience, a true honor to cover the first season of baseball in Washington in 34 years.

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Rock Hall, Md.: Barry,

Who's your go-to guy when you need a quote? It seems like Jamey Carroll will give you the most thoughtful quote, and Joey Eischen will give you the most AHEM colorful.

Barry Svrluga: You are quite perceptive, Rock Hall. Eischen is, um, colorful, but he's also fiery, and is a good quote, and a guy who takes responsibility when he messes up. Carroll is always available, and a good guy. Brad Wilkerson is a stand-up guy who will always assess the situation, even after difficult losses. And Jose Guillen always has the potential to say ... well, say anything, really.

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Cape May, NJ: Barry, I'm really tired of people using the "They took a team no one expected anything out of and made them a contender" defense handed to Bowden and Robinson by so many. Think:

2002 Expos: 83 wins.

2003 Expos: 83 wins.

2004 Expos: 67 wins, as lame ducks playing partly in the Caribbean.

2005 Expos: 83 wins (or thereabouts).

Payrolls have been relatively static over that time; but this year the team had a huge, enthusiastic fan base.

Barry Svrluga: 2002: Vladimir Guerrero.

2003: Vladimir Guerrero.

2004: Tony Batista?

2005: I think it's realistic to say that, to this point, the team exceeded expectations.

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19th & L: What's Svrluga's contract status for next year? Do you know if you'll be back on Nats beat, or do you think they try and trade down for picks?

Barry Svrluga: I'm not sure who'd be willing to take such a tumultuous personality into the locker room. But the contract would come cheap. I'd expect him to stick with the organization, however.

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Washington, D.C.: Barry: Thanks for these chats, and to your colleagues; believe me when I say that they have increased my eagerness to read The Post's sports pages in print.

Not a question, but I can't help feeling as a long-time Red Sox fan that I'm going to be quite at home rooting for the Nats.

And this is a question: What do you think of the Sox's chances to win their division? (Even bad pitching I can forgive, but their lack of defense is very hard to watch.)

Barry Svrluga: Thank you, Washington D.C. We have enjoyed providing the coverage (and I believe I can speak for Boz in that regard).

The Sox: The less said, the better. Renteria is a disaster, no? Twenty-nine errors? Do teams usually win games 9-8 in the playoffs? No. I don't have good feelings about them, even if they get in the playoffs.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Gee, Barry, Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones haven't seemed to have any problem hitting home runs out at RFK. Did Barry come out to the stadium before the game with measuring tape to check the measurements at RFK?

Barry Svrluga: I would say that the Nationals, somehow, let the dimensions at RFK get into their heads, and the other teams didn't know any better. The park couldn't exactly hold Barry Bonds last night, could it?

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MVP Voting: Barry,

If I'm not mistaken, the beat writers are the ones who vote for MVP and Cy Young. Will you be voting?

Barry Svrluga: Good question. The Post has a policy that doesn't allow its writers to vote on such matters. The reason is pretty simple. The votes could have an impact on those we cover. Say, for example, Chad Cordero had a $50,000 bonus should he win the Cy Young award. The thinking is that I, as the beat writer who covers Chad regularly, shouldn't have any role in determining whether he benefits from such an award.

But other media members from the DC area will be voting on the awards.

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Section 414: Barry:

Who selects the Nat's radio broadcasters -- are they employed by the radio station or by the Nat's?? Whoever it is I hope they keep Charlie and Dave next year. Thanks to satellite radio I have been following the various penant and wild card races. Based on my unbiased listening I believe the Nat's announcers are equal or superior to any of the other clubs. In fact. some of them are downright dull -- you would think they were reading the phone book out loud instead of calling a ball game. The Brave's announcers are probably the most insufferable of the lot -- very snobbish, even more so than the Yankees. Charlie and Dave are certainly not homers and don't hesitate criticize player performances or managing decisions. I hope they are back next year and on a station with a signal you can receive even at RFK!!

I am not shilling for XM Radio but it was kind of neat to keep up with the Nats as well as Cle vs. ChiSox, BoSox vs. DRays & Yanks vs. O's last evening.

Barry Svrluga: Charlie Slowes and Dave Shea are employed by the Nationals. But just like everyone else in the front office, they're unsure of who will own the team, and therefore are uncertain as to whether they'll have their jobs next year. This radio deal was a one-year pact, so the entire package could change next season.

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Anonymous: You say that Nick Johnson will be back with the team next year. Does the club pay any caution to the fact that he's been on the DL 124 times in his career?

Barry Svrluga: Well, of course they do. But the fact of the matter is he's under club control, and they would have to trade him to get rid of him. Is he Albert Pujols or Derek Lee? No. But do they have confidence he can hit .300 for a full season and stay healthy? Yes, to a certain degree.

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Section 415: Will my wife be able to buy your book for my Xmas present?

Thanks for all the chats. This year has been great. I'll be at the last game regardless to cheer all the way to last out.

Barry Svrluga: Greetings, Section 415. Thanks for asking about the book. Unfortunately, the holidays would be too quick a turnaround for a book that ends with the end of the season. It should, however, be out in time for spring training -- just in time to get you warmed up for season two.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Barry,

Any ripples in the clubhouse at all about the Baseball Chapel and Church controversy? The article seemed to portray Church as naive, rather than mean spirited, with regard to a very weighty theological issue.

Barry Svrluga: There was a little talk yesterday about it. But the message, in general, was that athletes might be best off in staying away from talking about religion or politics.

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Section 535: GUZMAN!!!!!!He's on fire. Bat him 2nd the rest of the year.

Now he has to get another shot next year, right?

Barry Svrluga: That's one of the most interesting late-season developments. The guy is hitting .210. To him, that probably sounds like .400. He has, indeed, hit the ball legitimately hard to several different fields lately, and you're right: I think it lessens the chances that they'll try to eat a bunch of his contract in the offseason.

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Get Re, Ala.: The Nats let the dimensions of RFK intimidate them? Are you kidding? Did you see the hulk/bulk of Andruw and Barry? We just don't have those kind of physiques (juiced or not) on the Nationals!

Barry Svrluga: I'm just saying ... It got in their heads, to a certain degree. Are they Andruw/Barry? No. But they shouldn't have been complaining about the dimensions. Just play the hand your dealt, and let the homers fall where they may.

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McLean, Va.: Regarding your sneak peek at next year's Nats schedule: to quote section 119, AAAAUUUUUGGGGHHH!!!!! One of the things I've most enjoyed about following the Nationals this year is that I, also an 0s fan, haven't had to endure a single game against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Devil Rays. . . . But anyway, another one of the thing I've most enjoyed about following the Nationals this year is The Post's generous coverage of baseball, including the chats. Thanks very, very much.

Barry Svrluga: No, McLean, thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: The Nats have a .400 hitter sitting on their bench in Rick Short. Why doesn't Frank put him in the game more often? I just don't understand why such a good hitter is not a regular major leaguer. What's the deal?

Barry Svrluga: Short, by the way, hit .383 in Class AAA, which, last time I checked, wasn't the majors. Is he a good hitter? Yes, one with a nice, short, quick, compact stroke. But his glove has haunted him. He simply doesn't look comfortable in the field.

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Re: Announcers: Section 414, meet Vin Scully. Mr. Scully, meet Section 414.

Barry Svrluga: You make a fine point.

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Ashburn, VA: So, now that we are winding down this season, What are you going to be doing until the next run to the Viera Panera???

Barry Svrluga: Well, there should be plenty of offseason maneuvering to cover, as the team will have to decide who's going to run it, who the general manager will be, who the manager will be, and what players they'll pursue.

And, in February, I'll go to Italy for the Winter Olympics. That'll bring me right into spring training, and Year Two.

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Arlington, VA: After attending last night's game, a few thoughts came to mind.

First, where could this team be today if it had a shortstop who hit better than .211? Or something better than an underpowered, mediocre-fielding third baseman who's hitting .250?

Second, and more importantly, will someone fire Frank Robinson?!

It's easy now to say that walking Bonds was a mistake, but yesterday's call just didn't make sense at the time either . Put the tying run on second and the go ahead run on base to face a veteran .300+ hitter with decent power? And don't even get me started on the bizarre series of baserunner substitutions in last night's 9th inning. Substitute Watson for Castilla at second base when his run wouldn't tie the game? And how about the substitution for Vidro in the earlier inning, which took a good glove out of the field with the lead (and resulted in a rather sad caught stealing attempt -- the ones who didn't know the attempt was about to happen were the guys in the restrooms)?

I guess Nats fans really can't complain, considering that we got a playoff chase in the first season, but what coulda been...

Barry Svrluga: The call to walk Bonds wasn't made by Robinson. In fact, it wasn't a call at all. Hernandez missed with his first two pitches, both of which were close. From there, it didn't make much sense to serve him something over the middle.

Fascinating to go back over all the decisions over the last few weeks.

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Rosslyn, Va.: Do you believe other teams are throwing at Jose Guillen to take him off his game? It seems that every other game, he has a pitch come in high and tight.

Barry Svrluga: Guillen has a history of being bothered by getting hit (witness his explosion after Pedro Martinez hit him on July 5). But he also crowds the plate, so is more apt to have to dive out of the way.

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Washington, DC: Barry-

I took tonight's game with the first pick in my National's season ticket draft back in March in hopes of seeing Barry hit #756. Those dreams are gone, but what are the chances I get to tell my grandkids I once saw Barry knock one out of RFK -- think Bonds has two consecutive nights of dingers in him?

Barry Svrluga: I didn't see anything from him last night that would indicate he CAN'T hit one out tonight. Get there early and watch batting practice, if you can.

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on line: I think you should tell Ashburn that the headline of your Sunday story was (pretty close to) "Fancy Pitching Changes Devastate Nats' Lead"

washingtonpost.com: Fancy Pitching Changes Devastate Nats' Lead (Post, Sept. 18)

Barry Svrluga: We'll pass it on right now. Thanks, on-line.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Barry,

How alluring will Washington be for upcoming free agents? Tough hitters park, but new fan base and solid pitching staff may be attractive - as well as new ownership (we'll see who it is.) What caliber of player do you see the nats attracting, assuming a decent owner comes in willing to spend reasonable amount. Any names?

Barry Svrluga: Like I said, we have to know who the owner will be before we know how free agents will respond. The last time I checked, baseball players seemed to respond to, oh, millions of dollars. And if the owner has, oh, millions of dollars, then I'd say plenty of free agents would be willing to play here.

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Barry Svrluga: The team is gathering for its team picture right now in center field at RFK. Question: Does Jon Rauch stand in the front row?

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Eastern Market: Can you make next week's poll something to do with local fan allegiances?

ie--I grew up an O's and an AL fan.

I'm now a Nats and a HUGE National league fan.

Thank you Nationals!

Barry Svrluga: Sure, we'll throw something like that in there. I'll try to make it long, serious, funny, and fun.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: As I enjoy a bacon turkey bravo, I would like to remind everyone down in DC that now that the playoffs are effectively out of reach, you now should have the pleasure of watching uber-prospect Ryan Zimmerman get more playing time as the season winds down.

Of course I'm coming from the minor league perspective, but the guy is 100 percent class, and I already miss being able to walk 5 minutes to the stadium to watch him play. No AAA time for this one, I predict, and he'll be batting 3rd by '07.

Barry Svrluga: He'll be one of those guys you say, "I saw him when he was 20 in Double-A, and I knew he was going to ... "

Pretty impressive. Even last night, with the bases loaded, he just missed a 3-1 pitch that he fouled off, but recovered to hit a sac fly. He could, possibly, be a starter next year, at 21.

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Springfield, Va.: Just want to say thanks Barry. I've read all of your articles... all the blogs from Spring Training. It's been great. I will be down in Viera for the next spring training... I'll look out for you at Panera.

Barry Svrluga: Springfield, you are too kind. The first turkey-on-wheat is on me.

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Buffalo, N.Y.: Barry: More damaging performance? Wil Cordero or Joe Horgan?

Barry Svrluga: Both afterthoughts, neither with a serious impact on the season.

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Viera, Fla.: Barry,

Great year for all of us! Do you shop Vinny Castilla the minute the season ends, or do you make Guzman a batboy?

Barry Svrluga: Hmmm. Possibly both, I think.

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Section 8: Am I crazy or not, will the Nationals win the World Series?

Barry Svrluga: Crazy. Insane.

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Alexandria, Va.: Wow. The feeling of this chat is that the season is over and we need to say our goodbyes and some heart-felt thank yous. Kind of sad, no?

Barry Svrluga: It will be interesting how the crowds at the remaining eight home games respond. Will they be large? Will they be sentimental? On Oct. 2, when the Nationals' final game of the season coincides with the Redskins next game, will anyone care?

(I read somewhere that the 'Skins are 2-0. Is that true?)

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Arlington, Va.: I agree that the (wrong on the wall) dimensions of RFK got into their heads. But I detect a little defensiveness in your answer. Does that mean that you and Bos helped ruin a great season?

Barry Svrluga: Hey, we're just reporting the facts, and the facts say that the dimensions were wrong.

(Wow. I am defensive.)

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Washington, D.C.: Barry - What time do the Giants take BP for those of us that want to see Bonds?

Thanks!

Barry Svrluga: Get there right when the gates open at 5:30 p.m., and you might be able to catch him.

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Fed triangle: If you cross breed Youppi! and Screech, do you get Scrouppi! or Yeech?

Barry Svrluga: This is, perhaps, the most relevant question for the offseason. I'll mull it over, and get back to you in February.

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Alexandria, Va.: Next to last chat of the year? You aren't going to be doing any through the offseason to debate any trades/free agent signings/front office or managerial firings that may occur? You should do one every couple of weeks, at least.

Barry Svrluga: Dear Alexandria, I misspoke. I'm sure we'll do some offseason chats. I just meant of the regular season.

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Chapel Hill, NC: Barry,

You seem to have two vendettas with this team: Screech and the PA Guy (who as actually sort of improved!).

If you were Tony Tavares (and if only you were!), and you could only bring one back, which would you take?

Barry Svrluga: I would quit my job and move to Chapel Hill.

Seriously.

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Barry Svrluga: All right, folks. Next week, I promise to be on time, and I promise to take as many as we can in an hour. It's been fun. Thanks so much for joining in.

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