Our MLB editor provides weekly dispatches from major league games in Notes From the Clubhouse.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: the Nationals are not a good baseball team. We knew that would be the case coming into the season. What seems clear after another devastating day for the club, is that they're also a pretty unlucky bunch.
Ryan Zimmerman is already out for most of the rest of the season with a tear in his labrum. Before Tuesday night's game against the Angels, Washington announced that first baseman Nick Johnson will miss the rest of 2008 with a wrist injury. Then pitcher Shawn Hill was torched for eight runs (six earned) by the Halos in three innings. Hill, looked physically broken down and has pitched with forearm pain all season. It was decided immediately after the game he would go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for a re-evaluation of his arm, an ominous decision considering his lengthy history of arm trouble.
If you're keeping score at home, the Nats have lost the cornerstone in their grand franchise rebuilding effort (Zimmerman), the player who led the team in VORP in 2006, the last time he was healthy for a full season (Johnson) and they might lose the pitcher who led all Washington starters in VORP last year (Hill). They already have the second fewest wins in the majors, and things are probably going to get worse. You almost have to feel bad for them.
"Luck is the residue of design," as the great Branch Rickey once said, and there's plenty of blame to go around here. Hill had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and has pitched 206 1/3 innings in four major league seasons. Johnson is about as brittle as they come for a position player.
"Those three guys are very tough to replace on the field," said manager Manny Acta after the disheartening loss Tuesday night in Washington, which included four errors and two by Johnson's replacement at first Dmitri Young. Of course, Acta shouldn't have to be relying on injury-prone players like Hill and Johnson. His roster shouldn't be stretched so thin that the loss of Zimmerman completely torpedoes the offense.
Blame bad luck. Blame GM Jim Bowden for not giving Acta enough depth. Make sure to give plenty of blame Major League Baseball for completely neglecting every level of the organization when they were known as the Expos. There's plenty of blame to go around. What's clear near the midway point of the season is that the Nationals have the worst combination a baseball team can have: poor luck and even poorer talent and depth.