This morning as I reviewed articles about yesterday’s Washington Nationals 9-8 loss to the Atlanta Braves (after winning on Saturday and getting blown out on Friday), I came to the conclusion that we have probably passed the emotional high point of the 2011 season. Actually, I probably came to that conclusion a while go, but I’m just articulating it a little better. I am not saying that there will not be moments of exhilaration and joy, but unless they can go on a run to get several games above .500, the drive to get there was probably as good as it is going to get. And it was good, 11 of 12 and 13 of 15 to reach 40-38 on June 27. For me at least, the abrupt resignation of the Jim Riggleman was bewildering, but I can’t get around the idea that his departure changed the fortunes of the team moving forward.
Under new manager Davey Johnnson, the Nats are 7-10. He inherited a team that was winning by playing small-ball, a style that doesn’t suit him and is statistically unsustainable. The bullpen is tired and the starting pitching is starting to falter as well. The best starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmerman, has an innings limit that will hit in August or September if he continues to pitch on schedule. The two marquee hitters, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth are not hitting, though Zimmerman is coming off an abdominal injury that has hurt his power. Werth, I cannot explain. The Nats are also on the road for another road, where are 11 under, for another two series, including a second trip to Los Angeles.
Now, at the risk of being too down on a team that is meeting and raising expectations, I’ll point out the good news. These next two road series are against sub .500 teams, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Nats 19-30 road record may improve and probably should. We also get to hear Vin Scully doing 3 Nats gams, or at least the first few innings if you have MLB Audio. I love listening to Charlie and Dave, but I admit to cheating a little when Scully is doing the game.
If the Nats can keep their heads above water and go at least 3-3 this week, they’ll be in good shape headed back to D.C. Now I’m starting to rationalize again and contradict the point of this post a bit. The Nats did well outside of the division against weaker competition which is partly how they got to respectability. Now, if the Nats can keep pace with their 28-18 pace in the homestand next week against the Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Braves, we can get excited. I don’t see that happening though, the pitching might be hurting too much.
In the end, I expect most weeks to go between 4-6 and 6-4 the rest of the way. With 2 and half months to go, even something like a 83-79 record would mean hovering around mediocrity and adding an extra win every 12 games or so. Seems easy enough right? We’ll see, but right now, the Nats and fans are at a plateau and realistically, that’s about all we can hope for the rest of the season. We’ll get some memorable and fun moments like we always do, but the best of 2011 is probably behind us.