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Thursday, March 15, 2012
Nationals sure have a lot of 'talent'

VIERA, Fla. -- Brad Lidge once pitched for a team in Philadelphia that won the World Series. You might have heard about that someplace.

Brad Lidge also pitched for a bunch of teams in Houston that rolled a half-dozen viable Hall of Fame candidates out there. You might recall that, too.

Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg could make the Opening Day start for the Nationals.

So when Lidge said the other day that his new team, those fast-ascending Washington Nationals, was "probably the most talented team I've ever been on," he performed a valuable service for bloggers, columnists and talk-show hosts in Washington, Houston, Philadelphia and who the heck knows where else:

He filled the all-important spring training instant-controversy void. And he knows it, too.

"Let's be honest," Lidge said Thursday. "They need something to write about right now. If spring training is slow, you're going to make it seem like something it's not. So whatever. My final thought on it is: whatever."

But let the record show that "whatever" was not his only thought on this topic. In fact, he wasn't backing off his assessment one inch. And neither was his former bullpen buddy on the 2008 Phillies, Chad Durbin.

"We're talking about talent -- I mean top to bottom," Durbin said, standing side by side with Lidge in the Nationals' clubhouse Thursday morning. "It's talent. We're not talking about numbers that people have put up for five years."

At that point, somebody probably should have run out and grabbed a dictionary. But since there's nothing more deadly than a good clubhouse semantics debate, Lidge did his best to clarify the distinction between "talent" and "winning."

"That's what people are struggling with right now," Lidge said. "When I talk about 'talent,' I would expect people to have enough baseball sense to know that 'talent' does not translate into wins. It translates to nothing. I'm just specifically stating, if you come and watch BP or watch [Stephen] Strasburg throw, there's no denying the talent. You can take whatever you want out of that.

"Is Stephen Strasburg better than Roy Halladay?" Lidge went on, at his rhetorical best. "No. I'm not going to say he's better than Roy Halladay. But he throws 103 [mph]."

"He went 101-103-76 to [Giancarlo] Stanton the other day," Durbin interjected. "And that's spring training."

"And if you're throwing 103 in spring training," Lidge chimed in, "that's the most talented you could ask for. That's Nolan Ryan stuff."

But Durbin wasn't through leaping to Lidge's defense.

"I've been saying the same thing the whole time to people that are in baseball and out of baseball," Durbin said. "When you go watch Bryce Harper backspinning balls out of the park, and then you look at [Anthony] Rendon backspinning balls over the fence, it's something to see."

"And how about [Michael] Morse going [deep] to right-center in BP?" Lidge added.

Then it was Durbin's turn again: "And how about [Ryan] Zimmerman? We all forget about one of the best players in baseball. So that's why I agree with that."

So by now, friends, you should have gotten their drift. However you want to define "talent," the Nationals have an overflowing supply of it all over the field. Which is really the biggest point Lidge was trying to make.

"You can take the statement and translate it however you want," Lidge said finally. "But it's not a bold statement."

Which isn't to say that 2 million Philadelphians will ever agree with it, no matter where the Nationals go from here. So I asked yet another of Lidge's former teammates on the 2008 champs, Jayson Werth, to toss in his $126 million worth of perspective.

"I think if you continued on with that question, Brad would probably say that the most polished team he's ever played on was the '08 team," Werth said. "I don't think he said that to knock the talent of the '08 team or any of those teams that we played on. …

"You know," Lidge said, stroking his Geico caveman beard, "this probably adds fuel to the fire. But in that '08 World Series, Tampa might have had us on 'talent.' But they didn't have us on polish, on shine. Or on knowing how to win. That's one thing that those teams that we were on, with Charlie [Manuel], had: They had the know-how to get the job done.

Brad Lidge Is Stephen Strasburg better than Roy Halladay? No. I'm not going to say he's better than Roy Halladay. But he throws 103 [mph].

-- Brad Lidge

"Talent can only take you so far," Werth said. "That's not a knock on my team right now because I think by the end of the year we'll have talent AND polish."

And he just might be right, by the way. Now back in his former town, Werth isn't a real good candidate these days to get elected as the official city Voice of Reason. But whether his admirers in Philadelphia want to acknowledge it or not, he's still a thoughtful kind of guy who can see all sorts of facets to a hot debate like this. So here's his take:

"I don't think Brad was knocking anybody or anything in Philadelphia," Werth said. "I know it will be taken the wrong way in Philadelphia. But if you know Brad, that's not his style at all. I think it was more just an assessment of what he's seen so far in this camp, with the type of talent that's oozing out of some of these arms. I think it's more a testament to that than anything else.

"I can say this without even asking Brad: He wouldn't trade that '08 team for anybody, because that was a special time, in a special place, with a bunch of special people. None of us would change what happened that year or any of those years there. We created lifelong bonds with tons of people. None of that's going to change."

And he's right. But what MIGHT change is opinions -- the opinions of people in Philadelphia whose philosophy about stuff like this often seems to be:

When in doubt, assume this is some kind of insult to an entire city.

Well, anybody who's willing to think this through would know how Brad Lidge feels about Philadelphia and about the team he won the World Series with. So this wasn't about that team. Or that town. This was about his new team. And his new town.

In truth, he was just trying to send a message to THIS team, about how good he thought it could be, much the way his old amigo Jimmy Rollins used to send the same types of messages with his beloved Nostradamus imitations.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Is there? Then again, there's nothing wrong with a guy who does his best to furnish all of us media madmen with as much material as possible during these dog days of spring training, either.