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Thursday, July 09, 2009

The worst team in baseball? My answer might surprise you.

Almost from the moment they came into existence five seasons ago, the Washington Nationals have been a baseball punchline. And, again this season, they possess, predictably, the worst record in baseball. There isn't a lot for the Nats management to hang their hats on. After all, they began the season with a South American scouting scandal which eventually led to the resignation of their general manager and have since seen the demotion and/or trading of three of the "budding stars" they had designed their 2009 advertising around: Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Joel Hanrahan. However, it hasn't been all bad. The Washington offense, led by Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, and Christian Guzman, is 9th in the NL in runs scored (it would be their highest finish ever) and 5th in OPS. For the most part their pitching has been atrocious, but "Ace" John Lannan has proven himself to be more than a fluke, going 6-5 with an excellent 3.49 ERA. And rookie Jordan Zimmerman is looking like a solid major-league pitcher as well. Since the beginning of June he is 1-1, but with a 2.41 ERA and 31 K in 33 IP. They will presumably soon be joined by the #1 pick, maybe the most-touted pitching prospect ever, Stephen Strasburg, as well as some combination of other recent top prospects Sharon Martis, Scott Olsen, and Ross Detwiler, each of whom has shown flashes of brilliance (and a considerable amount of mediocrity) during their limited stints so far in 2009. In other words, the Nats might accurately be conceived of as a franchise on the rise...headed in the right direction.

The San Diego Padres, however, are in quite the opposite position. In the middle of May, with Jake Peavy still healthy and Adrian Gonzalez streaking, the Padres put together a highly unexpected 10-game winning streak, climbing back to .500 in the process, since then they have been the worst team in the sport, going 12-27 (.307). Peavy was lost, probably for the season. And, the league having realized the Padres hadn't a single other hitter worth being afraid of, stopped pitching to Gonzalez. On May 16 he was hitting .302 with 15 HR and 29 RBI, since then he is hitting .214 with 9 HR and 23 RBI.

The Padres don't have a single regular (200+ AB) with a batting average above .267 (David Eckstein). Their .236 team average, if it persists (and there's no reason to think it won't, since their best months are probably already behind them), would be the worst registered by a major league franchise since the 1992 New York Mets (.235). The just traded their second-best hitter, Scott Hairston, to the Athletics for some mediocre pitching prospects and rumors swirl around that veterans who have any value at all, guys like Kevin Kouzmanoff and David Eckstein may soon follow. Gonzalez, who is signed through 2011 at a reasonable price and is a fan favorite due in part to his Mexican heritage (San Diego, of course, has a sizable Mexican-American community), is probably the only player who is off-limits...and maybe not even him.

San Diego's management realizes that as poor as the product they are putting on the field currently is, it may get even worse. The Padres' farm system was ranked 29th (out of 30) prior to the season by Baseball America and their #1 pick (#3 overall) was a "toolsy" teenage outfielder, who can't be project to join the big-league roster for at least three or four seasons. The Padres had hoped to re-stock by dealing Peavy at the deadline, but he's all but worthless now until he proves himself fully healthy. It's going to be a rough few seasons for San Diego fans, who may see more than they would like of Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, and Jody Gerut.

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