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Ahead of the pack (cont.)

Posted: Thursday April 12, 2007 11:54AM; Updated: Friday April 13, 2007 2:47PM
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The Nats, baseball's Have-Nats

Closer Chad Cordero represents the Nationals' best trade chip.
Closer Chad Cordero represents the Nationals' best trade chip.
Al Tielemans/SI
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The one team everyone agrees has no playoff shot is Washington, which may be the worst in years (or at least since the 2003 Tigers). The Nats will need great fortune to avoid 100 losses.

But on the bright side, they could again be one of the more interesting teams at the trade deadline (that appears to be their time). Someone familiar with their thinking said, "At the trade deadline everyone's going to be available except the third baseman [Ryan Zimmerman].''

That's nice. But of course, they don't have all that many players that playoff contenders will want. The one player they must trade is closer Chad Cordero, who could bring in a haul. A closer it not really the last thing a team this bad needs. But as with Alfonso Soriano last summer, whom the Nats ended up holding onto after the trade deadline, there's always the danger they'll expect too much in return for Cordero and wind up doing nothing.

Landing spots for Lidge?

Almost anyone could use relief help, so it's tough to predict who's going to make a play for the just-demoted Brad Lidge, who needs to get out of Houston. "He's a classic change of scenery guy,'' one scout said. "He still throws hard, and he's still got that breaking ball. It's just a mental thing.''

The Astros haven't said they are trading him yet, but Billy Wagner, Lidge's good friend and former Astros teammate, said he suspects they will. Wagner is in regular contact with Lidge and he advises him to try to stay positive after his quick demotion (it came 1 2/3 innings into his season). Wagner thinks the downfall came not with that monster home run in the 2005 NLCS by Albert Pujols but the homer that followed on the very next batter Lidge faced, the one Scott Podsednik hit in the World Series for Podsednik's second home run that year.

"We all go through it,'' Wagner said of closers. "You set the bar so high, you have good years, and all of a sudden, for some unexplained reason, your pitches are still good, but they're just hitting them You overthink. You make things more than they are. It's hard not to feel like that, because your job is to be perfect.''

The Astros are downplaying the idea of trading Lidge, but they've put him in no-man's land (the sixth inning) for now. In this environment, with as many as 27 other teams interested in relief (we'll assume the Angels are set and the Nats have given up), they could still get some decent talent back for Lidge, despite his $5.35 million salary and 16.20 ERA (after the 1 2/3 innings).

• Phillies. Wagner isn't so sure this would be a good fit for Lidge. "Uh-uh. He needs to be in a place where he can [exhale],'' Wagner said. "Houston's so laid back. Maybe I'm biased against [Philadelphia] ... [But] all it takes is one bad game, and fans would kill him."

• Devil Rays. Tampa Bay makes sense because of the "connections.'' Devil Rays exec Gerry Hunsicker and pitching coach Jim Hickey used to work for the Astros. On Wednesday, excellent baseball writer Marc Topkin laid out a pretty good case for the D-Rays in the St. Petersburg Times. Their bullpen is actually worse than Philly's, if anyone's paying attention. Shawn Camp and Ruddy Lugo have a combined 18.71 ERA, and those are two of their better relievers.

• Mets. They have suffered some hits, notably Duaner Sanchez's recent setback that knocked him back to a late-season return date (not to mention Aaron Heilman's bout with elbow tendonitis). They have Guillermo Mota returning from a steroid suspension in 42 games. With their six-inning-type starting pitchers, they need to monitor the bullpen. One Mets official said there's been no talk of Lidge yet, though Wagner said, "He'd be a good fit here. In this clubhouse, it isn't 'Who hit the home run?' or "Who had the hit?' It's "Did we win?'''

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