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Perfectly Cromulent?

Do you get tired of the humdrum lines of analysis applied to these Washington Nationals? Bored with the "historically bad" predictions? Quite familiar with how unknown the team's starters are? Up to speed on the normally sluggish offense? Then does Thom Loverro ever have what you need, because I'm not sure this angle has been trotted out yet:

Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Cincinnati Reds means the Nationals have lost 13 games by two runs or less. . . .

If six of those losses had been wins, the Nationals would have a record of 22-23, for all intents and purposes, a .500 team. That would be reason for hope.

Don't jump to conclusions before you start deriding. Loverro isn't saying these Nats could be six games better; he's saying a hypothetically payroll-infused edition of the Nats could be "if [the Lernastens] had made a little more of a financial commitment to the team on the field this year[.]" Okay, now we can start deriding.

The Nats, 16-29 heading into Tuesday's action, have actually lost 14 games by two runs or less, not 13. They are 12-14 in such games (and are a surprisingly competent 8-7 in one-run contests). Let's do as Loverro urges and turn six two-runs-or-less losses into wins. That gives the Nats a 22-23 record overall and an 18-8 record in close contests. That would be, as Loverro insists, a reason for hope, correct?

Well, no. If so, it would be a false hope, and the ability to noodle back even two years in time would serve as an ample reminder of such foolishness. What, pray tell, happened when the '05 Nats won all those close games in the first half of the season? They lost all those close games in the second half, of course. Those things tend to happen; they tend to even out. On behalf of all of us who allowed our hearts to obliterate our heads back then, we won't get fooled again.

So, what Loverro is pining for is a marginally positioned team riding an unsustainable wave of luck. To each his own, I suppose.

* * * *

With a bit less blogger snark, I'll note Loverro is looking at this close-game split all wrong. As noted above, there's not much foreseeable room for growth there; you don't look at a near-.500 record in close games and conclude that's what has doomed your drive to near-.500 status overall. It's the other games -- the games not decided by two runs or less -- that provide the theoretical window for improvement. After all the Nats are (again, entering Tuesday) 4-15 in non-close games. Now, that record could stand for some substantial improvement with a better club. Poor clubs do tend to get blown out quite a bit.

But let's assume the Lernastens had pumped some more money in this team during the offseason. Would such initiative have gotten the team up to around Loverro's 22-23 mark? I'd say it's unlikely. I contend this is the case because, if the Lernastens were going to spend money this offseason, it was going to be on pitching.

Plenty of people urged the Nats to sign some relatively low-cost, veteran pitching. But how many people advocated the team to bulk up the offense? Not many, because the lineup looked fairly set (if predictably substandard). While I'm not saying there is no room for improvement among the pitchers (obviously), the club's weaker dimension has been offensive. Yet, unless Loverro is applying a good bit of hindsight and Tuesday-after-Tuesday-after-Tuesday quarterbacking, I don't think he's pointing to additional "financial commitment" on the offensive side of the game (unless he's making a veiled reference to re-signing Alfonso Soriano, I suppose).

Furthermore, what kind of hope does a near-.500 team bring? It's convenient to apply the conditions of a previous year to the present day, but it rarely works that way. The Nats were contenders most of the year in '05 because the winning number in the division was low; it did not remain low last season. Similarly, last season a team won the World Series despite a thoroughly mediocre regular season. To the extent this result had any bearing on a team in the NL East, like the Nats (and it didn't), we can be pretty sure the result won't repeat itself this season.

So, yeah, a near-.500 record would certainly feel quite a bit better at the moment, but at the end of the day . . . so what? Embrace The Plan, Thom.