The Marlins second series of the year will be against the Washington Nationals. It's another three game set, with game one on Friday (Ohka vs. Willis), game two on Saturday (Hernandez vs. Moehler), and an afternoon affair to conclude the series on Sunday (Patterson vs. Beckett).
As it's only the Nationals second series in their brief history, it will be their first against the Marlins. However, these two teams know each other very well - on many levels. The Nationals, of course, were the Expos as recently as last year. And as recently as early 2002, the Marlins current owners were the owners of the Expos.
To help us gain some insight into the Nationals, we got together with a former Expos insider, the one and only Youppi. Here's what we learned...
FishStripes: So Youppi, it would be impossible to talk to you without getting some understanding about what you've gone through recently. I know that there have been some tough times in the Expos family in recent years, but this offseason was very tumultuous, particularly for you.
: Yes Mike, that's definitely true. As I'm sure most everyone knows by now, everything that was a part of the Expos moved south with the team over the winter when they relocated to Washington, D.C. - everything that is except for me. I was left behind and discarded like yesterday's trash.
FS: Wow, that sounds rough...
: Actually, it gets worse - much worse. To add insult to injury, I have been sold - like an object - to the Montreal Canadiens. Now, I know that most of your readers are American, so they might not know what the Canadiens are, but they're an ice hockey team. Actually, they're a glorious hockey franchise - arguably the equivalent of the Yankees in baseball.
FS: Well, that doesn't sound so bad...
: Well, it wouldn't be necessarily, except that there isn't any hockey right now. There's a lockout, or a player's strike, or whatever. Who knows if they're going to come back. Besides, we all know what happened to my team the last time there was a strike...
FS: That's certainly true. Baseball's strike in 1994 certainly sent things downhill for the Expos.
: (heavy sobbing)
FS: Youppi - are you ok?
: Yes, yes... I'll be fine. I'm sorry, it's just that sometimes I get a little emotional about all of this. Everyone knows that the Expos are gone from Montreal, and that they have a new name, and will play in the capital of the United States from now on. They have a new stadium on the way - something that might have saved baseball in Montreal. They have a new color scheme and a large fan base and all like that. Everyone knows those things.
But what people don't realize is that there are a lot of true, die-hard baseball fans in Montreal. They won't have a team to support this year. Maybe there weren't enough of them, but now they're forgotten.
FS: I was there for a game last year. There certainly were a lot of loud, passionate, and knowledgeable fans.
: Exactly. Plus there's so much more that will be missing from baseball this year. There are no more "frauppeurs" or "lanceurs". Olympic Stadium will be empty all summer, except for the occasional truck pull. And for National League games throughout the year, only one national anthem will be played; there will be no more "O Canada."
FS: Actually, isn't that a good thing?
: Fair enough.
FS: Do you think you can talk about the former-Expos prospects on the field this year.
: Sure, but I'm not sure that you really want me to. The Nationals are not going to be all that great this year. Over the past two years they've lost arguably their two best players in Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cabrera. Fortunately they were able to sign Jose Vidro to a long term deal. Brad Wilkerson is still young, so he has nowhere to go until he's eligible for free agency. After that there are youngsters like Ryan Church.
FS: And our personal favorite - if only for his name - centerfielder Endociferous "Endy" Chavez.
: Yes, Endy is a speedy guy, but he'll be showing that speed off in the minors to start the year. Frank Robinson is hoping that the demotion will help motivate Endy to be a little more selective at the plate.
FS: But overall, your hopes are not that high for this year?
: No, my hopes have pretty much been conditioned to not be high this year or any other year. In reality, the Nationals are going to struggle for some time to come. It's often overlooked - although Baseball America did a nice piece on it recently - but the Expos had their hands tied budget wise by MLB, which still owns the team, in recent years. Because of the tight budget certain key areas - notably international scouting and player development - suffered from cutbacks. While the impact of that wasn't seen immediately, it will be felt down the road.
A few years from now, when the young men they should have been signing in 2002, 2003, and 2004 should be reaching the major leagues, there will be no one. Yes, they still have prospects from the draft, but they don't have the international players. And keep in mind that this is a club that's found the likes of Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cabrera in recent years. Like the city they formerly called home, the Expos were always a multi-national team. In the future what makes them that may not be quite as talented.
FS: That sure sounds ominous. What should give Nationals fans hope this year?
: They know they have baseball in town and they know they'll have it for some time. They're even getting a new stadium. Those are all things that fans in many cities - even cities that have teams already - wish that they had.
FS: For Marlins fans who will see the Nats in person this weekend, who should they keep an eye on?
: Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, and Ryan Church are potentially stars in waiting. Cristian Guzman and Jose Guillen aren't exactly household names, but they're quality major leaguers. That's about all the Nats have right now. Of course, Marlins fans will remember Livan Hernandez, who was an integral part of the 1997 World Champions. Luckily for the Fish, he's not that same guy anymore, so they could do fairly well against him.
In the bullpen, Chad Cordero is a stud in the making. Look for him to be pitching for a big budget East Coast team within the next two or three years. Esteban Loiaza and John Patterson, two guys on opposite ends of the career spectrum, will be trying to get the ball to him. Loiaza, a few years removed from his outstanding 2003 campaign, is in the downhill portion of his career right now. Patterson, much like Loiaza a decade or so ago, is highly touted and very talented, but not very accomplished at the major league level.
Sorry that I don't have more detail, but it's early in the year and we haven't seen these guys perform much against real competition. When we get together later in the year I'm sure I'll have some deeper insight for you.
FS: No apologies necessary, Youppi. You provided some great insight into the Expos/Nationals franchise. And I hope that things start to turn around for you before we get together to talk again.