MLB Network’s two hour special — 30 Clubs/30 Report Cards — provided a good snapshot of who’s where with a little less than half-a-season left.Â There were few surprises: the TrolleysÂ are the class of the National League, the Redbirds are the team to beat in the NL Central, “the Nation”Â and “the Empire”Â remain the flagships of the AL, the Belinskis finally have competition in the AL West and no one (but no one) thinks the Nats will improve.Â Former Rangers General Manager John Hart’s on air analysis was sobering.Â “I’m not going to beat a dead horse,” he said — and then went ahead with the whipping. Not only has the teamÂ little talent, but there’s little talent for Mike Rizzo to call on in the Nats’ farm system.Â “I don’t see a lot of good young players waiting in the wings to come up,” Hart said — a statement thatÂ debunksÂ the sometime-narrative that the Nats’ development program will soon yieldÂ major league-ready ballplayersÂ toÂ theÂ Anacostia Nine.Â It just ain’t so and John Hart isn’t the only one who thinks so — Baseball Prospectus ranked the Nats’ farm system 29th, which is (if you’re counting), next to last in all of baseball.
What’s so astonishing about Hart’s assessment (little talent — and none coming), is that it’sÂ difficultÂ to see how the team can appreciably improve in the second half. They just have to play better, no matter who’sÂ on the field. This means, as Hart made clear, that new manager Jim Riggleman has to instill aÂ culture of discipline and pride in the players. Easier said than done. “I really look at the fundamentals, that’s where it starts . . .” Hart said.Â “This is a club that fundamentally hasn’t been able to get the job done.”Â He added: “If you look at their pitching staff they’ve got aÂ bunch of guys who are under 25 which is a good thing, they don’t have a lot ofÂ power in that staff, so you have to catch the ball if you’re going to compete . . .Â how did they get here? I think theyÂ overevaluated some of their people; I think numberÂ two, I haven’t seen a sense ofÂ urgency.” Â
Hart’s assessment is the harshest I have heard, reinforcing the on-air and in-the-stands complaints about the product the front office has provided. The overriding complaint, in truth, has nothing to do with the team’s talent, but with the players’Â desire to win. This is what Hart’s statement about a “sense of urgency” means: forget the on-the-field talent, the Nats are playing like they don’t care — which is the worst thing you can say about any team in any sport.
Down On Half Street: The Nats open against the North Side Drama Queens tonight at Nats Park. Next to the Nats (and the New York Chokes), the Cubs are probably the most dysfunctional team in the game. Cubs GM Jim Hendry traded away all-world utilityman Mark DeRosa, signed bad boy and galactic whiner Milton Bradley, and has continued to coddle “isn’t he cute when he’s angry” underachiever Carlos Zambrano. The baseball gods then intervened to punish Hendry: Aramis Ramirez went down with a shoulder separation, secondÂ baseman Mike Fontenot started hitting like Mike Fontenot,Â Alfonso Soriano started hitting like this guyÂ and, most recently, theÂ answer to all the Cubs woes — Geovany “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” Soto — has been sidelined due to an oblique strain.
The result is that all of baseball has gotten toÂ see the Cubs farm system in actionÂ — and, unlike the Nats, the Cubs actually have one.Â Itsy-bitsy Sam Fuld has replaced Soriano in left field, drain plug Jake Fox is the interim catcher (we have an interim GM, so why not an interim catcher?), potential powerhouse Micah Hoffpauir has been able to show his stuff, oldster Randy Wells has pitched like Zambrano oughta, Kevin Hart has finally been allowed to audition for the rotation and permanent minor leaguer Bobby Scales (who?) has shown Hendry that he should have brought him up from triple-A years ago. Cubs fans have watched all of this with something akin to Jean-Paul Sarte’s view of the universe: hell isÂ other people, or in this case — hell is Milt the Moron lofting the ball into the bleachers after two outs. “I haven’t seen that one before,” Lou said, “I’ll be honest with you . . . I mean, do we need to teach math?”
Okay: none of this is pretty, but you’ve gotta admit, it sure as hell is entertaining.
I wouldÂ add this caveat. The Cubs aren’t dead. They’re a solid team and should they ever reach their potential (with a middle of the line-up order that is among the best in baseball), they’ll catch the Cardinals and end up in the playoffs. Certainly, Tony LaRussa knows that — it might be the only reason the Redbirds are willing to trade half their farm system (and — unlike the Nats — they also have one) for Roy Halladay.