Nationals need to find stars from within


Under Jim Riggleman, the Nationals put on a respectable effort. They get wins at times, but when they play against the great teams, they lose often times than not.

The Nationals kicked off a nine-game road trip by playing the Phillies, who swept them last night at Citizens Bank Park. It won’t get any better when they play the upstart Marlins this weekend and an elite Braves team next week.

There is a good chance the team could win two games on this road trip, and that means the team will have more losses than victories when it’s over. With baseball putting emphasis on divisional play, the Nationals will play more games against the NL East teams, so that’s a guarantee this team will have another losing season.

It’s not going to change until the talent gets better. Signing free agents does not level the playing field for the Nationals when it comes to playing the Phillies, Braves and the Marlins.

The Nationals need to find their own Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward by drafting well. They also have to develop them well. Once they do that, they can play with the big boys.

This could take a long time for that to happen. Riggleman may not even be around by then. A manager’s shelf life is three or four years unless he takes his team to the playoffs every year.

Out of 30 teams, the Nationals farm system was ranked 26th by Baseball America in 2009. That was an indictment of the awful job Jim Bowden did when he was the Nationals general manager. Current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff have a lot of work to do in replenishing their farm system. This means they need three or four years to draft guys well in every round.

Getting the first pick every year is a good thing, but it’s not going to solve the team’s problems. They need to get unheralded players in the second or third round. They need to find a way to get some players in the Rule 5 draft.

If they can get that, the rebuilding process can be accelerated.

The process of building the team is more interesting than watching this group of role players try to win games. In the last two years, it’s been tough to watch these guys go up against great teams with nothing to show for it. It’s become predictable when the Nationals lose.

These two nights against the Phillies serve as a good example. The games were scoreless early on, but everyone expected the Nationals to eventually lose late. That’s exactly what happened.

On Wednesday night, it was a scoreless game until Raul Ibanez hit a home run in the fifth inning. That home run spurred the Phillies to score three runs in that inning, and that was enough to help them to earn a 7-4 victory.

Last night, it was Shane Victorino hitting a two-run home run that helped the Phillies score six runs in the third inning.  Roy Halladay took care of the rest by striking out 10 Nationals in seven innings, and the Nationals went on to take a 7-3 loss.

This is what happens when a hard-working team goes up against a team that is rich in talent. They can get by or survive for a few innings, but the ending won’t end well.

The Nationals manager gave the team a pep talk in an attempt to straighten out their issues, but that proved to be folly, which is what he should have expected. He obviously was trying to encourage them, but that can only go so far. This is a lost cause. They know they are not good enough. Losing can mentally beat the guys down after awhile.

When that happens, this team expects to lose every game and it becomes a battle to get them motivated to play after that.

There’s something to be said about talent winning games. Guys have confidence that they can get a base hit, and they know what they are doing. There is something about having a dynamic player that can change the outcome of the game.

The Phillies, Marlins and the Braves have that, and the Nationals don’t. It’s not a coincidence to see how teams are aligned in the standings, and expect that to be the same for the next few months.

The Nationals’ best hope is to finish in fourth place this year. They have a good opportunity to accomplish that. The Mets stink and they will likely trade their stars as part of the rebuilding process, so that could mean last place for that team.

Of course, fourth place is nothing to celebrate. It’s about having more wins than losses. That’s the next step this organization has to take.

For that to happen, there has to be future superstars in the Nationals’ farm system, and they better grow up quickly.