Next week we'll ask whether Stephen Strasburg can transform the Nationals.
Today we're asking whether Strasburg can help change the image of the National League. Because right now, when a guy is struggling (or just plain lousy) in the American League, the common thought is that he might be better in the NL.
Or didn't you read about this week's Dontrelle Willis trade?
Willis has a career National League ERA of 3.78. He has a career American League ERA of 6.86. And instead of saying that his career went downhill after the 2007 trade that sent him from the Marlins to the Tigers -- and, in reality, had started to go downhill in his last two seasons in Florida -- the story when he was traded to the Diamondbacks this week was that maybe a change back to the NL would help.
Nice thought, except the National League scouts we talked to wanted nothing to do with Willis, not at the major-league minimum (which is all the Diamondbacks will be paying).
"I was really surprised that Detroit was fortunate enough to trade him," said one scout who watched Willis this season. "That's a great deal for Detroit, because they get a player [Billy Buckner] back.
"We'd take a chance on a pitcher, but not him. If my general manager would have called, I'd have said no. If he can get you five innings, then he's had a heck of a night. His command and control are just not very good."
In 22 career starts for the Tigers -- that's all they got for their $29 million -- Willis had just two games where he got an out in the seventh inning, and none where he finished seven innings. He averaged 5 1/3 innings a start this season.
Sounds perfect for a team with the worst bullpen in the majors (7.51 ERA).
"Is he going to start for them?" the scout asked. "Well, good for him. Whatever."
With that kind of report, how can we do anything but feature Willis' Diamondback debut in this weekend's 3 to watch:
1. Roy Halladay ended May with a perfect game. But if you take the whole month, Halladay's May ERA of 2.15 ranked just fourth among National League starters, behind Ubaldo Jimenez (0.78), Mat Latos (1.54) and Matt Cain (1.81). And in his first start since the perfect game, Halladay goes up against Latos, in Padres at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park . This is probably as good a time as any to remind you that since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has won just five of his 24 starts. And since his perfect game, Dallas Braden is 0-3 in four starts, with a 4.13 ERA. If Halladay starts slipping, then maybe Armando Galarraga should thank Jim Joyce, after all.
2. The Diamondbacks sent out a mass e-mail on Thursday, filled with positive notes about how well their team is doing. That's a team that just finished an 0-9 road trip, a team that has lost 10 in a row, a team that got walked-off each of the last four games, a team that hasn't scored a run in 31 innings. Sounds like the kind of team that can turn Willis into a winner -- or at least pretend that he's winning. We'll see, when he faces Jhoulys Chacin, in Rockies at Diamondbacks, Saturday night (8:10 ET) at Chase Field .
3. It really is too bad that the Nationals didn't have Strasburg debut this weekend, perhaps on Saturday night against fellow San Diego native Mike Leake (who already has four major-league wins and has helped his team into first place). Instead, they chose to hold him back for Tuesday, against a Pirates offense that might more closely resemble the International League lineups he has been carving up in Syracuse. Oh well. We'll make do with Luis Atilano on Saturday, and Craig Stammen, in Reds at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 EDT) at Nationals Park . Remember, it's the last game the Nationals will ever play (at least for now) without Strasburg on their roster.