With the Nationals playing in their fourth month of the 2006 season, a lot of baseball fans want to know about the team and its chances of improving in the National League East.
Here are some answers to your questions. Keep those e-mails coming. Thanks a bunch.
Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez have not been good. Can we expect better play from them? How can the Nationals consider trading Alfonso Soriano? He and Ryan Zimmerman have been the only reliable players this year. -- John S., Alexandria, Va.
John, I think it's too early to judge Kearns and Lopez, who have left a lot of runners on base. It's just three games. Let's see how they perform the rest of the season. As far as Soriano goes, he has done a great job, but I think the Nationals have to trade Soriano because he is the only player who can bring back great prospects in return.
Overall, the eight-player trade the Nationals made with the Reds looks good, but I was surprised to hear that Bill Bray was included in the trade. I thought that the Nationals were going for a younger team, and Bray certainly looked like he was coming along. -- Zach, Washington, D.C.
Of all the players the Nationals traded in the deal, I was sorry to see Bray go. I think when it's all said and done, Bray will be a better closer than Chad Cordero. Bray's makeup reminds me of Billy Wagner's, and like Wagner, Bray has overpowering stuff. It wouldn't surprise me if he became the Reds' closer in a year or two.
Since the Nationals have acquired Kearns, who do you think the Nationals will trade next? -- Nick C., Lynbrook, N.Y.
I have to believe that Jose Guillen will be the next player they will trade because Kearns is a right fielder, not a center fielder. I don't think Kearns covers enough ground to play center field. I also believe the Nationals are going to give Alex Escobar a long look in center field. He is swinging a hot bat, and I now understand why general manager Jim Bowden has been in love with Escobar's talent all these years. If Escobar stays healthy, I think he will be a valuable player for the Nationals.
Regarding Saturday's game against the Pirates: In the top of the 9th, manager Frank Robinson didn't pinch hit for reliever Roy Corcoran. Why? He had three relievers in the bullpen and plenty of pinch hitters, who have done a great job as a group this season. Instead, Frank concedes the out, thereby allowing the Pirates to walk Soriano and take the bat out of his hands -- Brian P., Washington, D.C.
Robinson was short a reliever on Saturday. Jon Rauch, who would have pitched the ninth inning, was not available because his wife was in car accident and he was trying to ascertain her whereabouts. Most of the time, Cordero is not used in a tied ballgame, and Robinson was saving Saul Rivera for extra innings.
Is it just me, or does it seem that every time the Nationals score some runs to get back into a game, the opposition scores runs the very next time it is up? Is this a coincidence or is there a reason for this madness? -- Steve C., Syracuse, N.Y.
It's not you, Steve. The pitching staff hasn't been good all year. Why? I think injuries are a big part of it. But lack of pitching isn't the only reason the Nationals are in fifth place. I think lack of clutch hitting is another reason for their downfall. All you have to do is look at the Pirates series, when they left a lot of runners on base.
Have a question about the Nationals?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
What is the condition of Shawn Hill's elbow? Is the situation serious? How soon can we expect him to return to the starting rotation? --Brian P., Washington D.C.
Hill's elbow is getting better and he has started playing catch, but the Nationals said they will not rush Hill back on the mound. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see Hill again until September.
What is the deal with Ryan Church? Why is no one showing him any love? -- Craig H., Lexington Park, Md.
I don't think we'll see Church anytime soon. Bowden indicated on Friday that he already had his chance. Besides, Church is not hitting for Triple-A New Orleans.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.