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Mr. Lee Goes to Washington
by Alex Ciepley
If only Dwight Smith had developed into a star (and were still playing for the Cubs)... then that headline coulda really been sumpin'. As it stands, the Cubs bring their mighty two-game winning streak and mightier slugging first sacker to Washington, DC for a weekend series with the reborn Nats.
I know nuttin' about nuttin' about these Nationals, although I know I swoon for Vidro and Wilkerson. In order to get a bit more up-to-date on the Washingtonians, Cub Town turned to Baseball Prospectus author Chris Kahrl. Chris is a devout A's fan living in the DC area, and has an uncanny talent for knowing a whole lot of somethin' about most everything. But who knew that at this point in the season it would be less painful for Chris to watch the hometown Nats than the Oakland squad?
Alex: How would you characterize the way in which DC has embraced the Nationals so far?
Chris: Extremely positively. I think the Nats can reasonably expect attendance of 2.5 million. I guess I remain nonplussed about the way in which the franchise has failed to try to integrate itself into a predominantly African-American city, but a pragmatist would take from that the knowledge that the Nats know where their money has been made: Northern Virginia, especially in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, areas the Orioles could never really tap all that well (and especially not on weeknights, through a Beltway rush hour).
I can't help but wonder if clubs will learn something from the Nats' success despite their weak PR effort. It really can be all about having a quality product, or in this case, baseball. And Cristian Guzman aside, they haven't embarrassed themselves, which helps get things off on the right foot.
Alex: Has John Patterson emerged? He's the right age for this kind of thing (27), his strikeout and homerun rates are great, and while he's never been on a path to superstardom, he's not exactly unheralded, either. It seems with Patterson, Loiza, and Livan, the Nats don't have such a bad threesome at the front of the rotation...
Chris: Well, Patterson was one of my preseason touts, so I'm biased. I guess between his stuff (still good), his recovery from his various problems, a friendly sea-level ballpark instead of the BOB... he's somebody who can look forward to making $3 million per if he doesn't scrag his shoulder. With all of these factors in his favor, he could easily move into the $6-9 million per annum range on the free market, and not just because the wrong Yankee exec on lithium is answering the phones that day.
Derek: Vinny Castilla is ruining my Hacking Mass team. Is there any chance he'll continue to do so, or will he revert to form worthy of a sarcastic exclamation point (Vinny!)? How much to they need him to keep up his warmer ways to keep their offense humming?
Chris: Cousin Vinny will get back to his hack-tastic ways soon enough. As Cubs fans, you guys already know everything about June swoons, right? And no, I don't mean the city-wide case of the flabbergasteds that comes when a Cubs fan like Dennis Franz goes pants-optional during sweeps weeks.
But the Nats don't need him all that much, not with a healthy Nick Johnson getting on base, and Brad Wilkerson slowly growing into one of the game's most underrated stars. Losing Jose Vidro will hurt more than Castilla's going cold will.
Alex: Speaking of exclamation points, think the Cubs can convince Nats GM Jim Bowden to take, say, Neifi! and a bottle of Sun-In in exchange for Brad Wilkerson? How much do we love Brad Wilkerson?
Chris: We really love Brad Wilkerson, who should be a lock to be this town's Rusty Staub and Jeff Conine all rolled into one, and my odds-on favorite to be the original 'Mr. Nat.' Meanwhile, I think Cubs fans will have to learn to love life with Neifi. Every honeymoon ends, of course, which you could take to mean that Britney Spears is at heart a Cubs fan, and you're all similarly sensible about ditching this new stiff fast, before the sun climbs too high and things start to rot.
Cub Town: What's your prediction for the series?
Chris: Nats take two out of three, with the Cubs avoiding the sweep on Sunday. Rusch has a decent start, but Loaiza has a better one; Zambrano isn't at his best after a heavy workload, and Maddux puts up another good start while my tout gets smacked around a bit. And people complain about the shortage of restrooms and concessions at RFK. Andy MacPhail will say something cautiously optimistic about DC as a market, contradicting his comments at the Cubs convention in January.