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The Washington Nationals, a preseason favorite to win the World Series, have struggled immensely to live up to massive expectations, and tonight, I’m going to take a look at them . They are my favorite team, so forgive me for being biased, but I’ll do my best to stay fair.
Washington, as I write this, sits at 29-29, a record that does not indicate how much of a struggle it truly has been. I’m going to first take a look at last season, and then indicate how I don’t think it is time to panic just yet in D.C.
Last year, the Nationals arrived. They earned home field advantage as they recorded the best record in the NL. Everybody knows that they shut down phenom Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg not pitching was not the reason the Nationals didn’t make the World Series, but it certainly didn’t help. It’s easy to complain about a decision in hindsight, but this was the wrong move.
It is so rare to win a championship at any level, whether it is Little League or the Big Leagues. When you have the chance, you have to go all in, and do everything you can to make it possible. The Nats were one of the youngest teams last year, so we all believed that they had multiple chances to win again over the next 10 years or so. But in baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, what you think will happen rarely does.
The better team does not always win. Injuries dominate the game. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the co-phenom leaders of Washington, are both on the DL. Jayson Werth just came back from the DL after an extended trip because of a hamstring. But what if Strasburg never returns to the form that he once showed? What if Harper doesn’t pan out? Though I don’t expect anything less than stellar careers from those two, the point is, nothing is guaranteed in sports. I don’t want to point fingers at management, but I think the Nats are now realizing just how precious opportunities to win are, and that they should be cherished.
As for this year’s team, people are panicking. ESPN and SI.com have done everything but dig the grave for the Nats this season. But I don’t think it is time to panic. And here’s why:
Injuries have ravaged this team this season with so many players being sidelined so far. Chief among them are Harper and Strasburg. But Jayson Werth, owner of a massive contract, is back, and he will help in a big way. Not only will his production be needed, but his leadership as well. He is an excellent leader for this young team, and I think his return will give the Nats a much needed boost.
The pitching ranks fifth in all of baseball, and Jordan Zimmermann has been the leader of that group. His ERA of 2.16 ranks fourth in the National League. Strasburg, despite his poor record, also has a low ERA. Gio Gonzalez has had a very solid season as well. The hitting has been horrendous so far in DC, but those numbers figure to improve as players come back from injuries and the weather warms up.
Baseball is a long season, and though it hasn’t gone as well as planned so far, I think the Nats still believe that they are one of the best teams in baseball. Right now, they are 5 games back of the wild card, and 7.5 behind the Braves. The playoffs are still a very real possibility with over 100 games to go. And if the Nats make the playoffs, anything can happen, particularly with as good a top of the rotation as Washington has, with Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmerman.
Manager Davey Johnson said, “World Series or Bust” before the season began. And I’m saying that it is still a possibility. There have been many storms this season, but if Washington can weather them over the course of the long season, and injuries slow down, there could be some more October baseball in store in the nation’s capital. And you never know, this time it just might work out.