Friday, June 24, 2005

OK, It May Be Time To Take This Seriously

With tonight's 3-0 victory over the Nats' erstwhile "rivals" the Blue Jays, the Nationals are 43-30 ... a pace to win 95 games mind you ... and four games up in the standings. Meanwhile, the Nats figure to pick up a great hitter after the All-Star Break, and what's better is that they don't have to trade to get him.

Let's face it. You were just happy to have a team in DC, and you were probably relishing the fact that they would struggle a bit so that they could amuse you with Bad News Bears type plays in the field. You thought you could have some hot dogs and beer and just soak in the enjoyment of having baseball close to home. Hell, you wouldn't have to even learn the players, since they would be gone soon enough when the real ownership took over.

And then you were even amused when the Nats, through sheer Monty Pythonesque farcery (it's a word now that I've used it) by the Marlins, Braves, Phillies and Mets, took a slender lead in the NL East based on a barely-over-.500 record. Even then, while you took great pleasure in noting that the Nationals were in first place, you never thought it would last. They were the Jason Gore of Major League Baseball - the fat guy ranked low who found himself near the top of the leaderboard. You expected the Nats to fire an 84 on Sunday, didn't you?

And now you (and by you, I mean me) are faced with the prospect of this team actually being for real. Not a fluke, not a sham, not some running-on-pure-adrenaline-from-actually-having-fans type of thing, but a real, honest-to-goodness division leader and a playoff team. After all, they play in a pitcher's park that keeps scores down and games close. They have a lineup featuring a couple of guys (Wilkerson and Johnson) who get on base. They have people like Brian Schneider who play great defensively and contribute timely, nay, extremely timely hits. They have a real ace in Livan Hernandez, an up-and-coming guy in John Patterson, and a crafty veteran who was the best pitcher in the American League just two years ago (that's you, Esteban). They have two extraordinary relievers in Majewski and Ayala who simply get the job done. And they have a closer in Cordero that is impervious to pressure, freakish in his effectiveness, and, I believe, a real threat to Bobby Thigpen's save record.

After all, this team is more than 43-30. It has the second best record in the National League. It has the fourth best record in all of Baseball. And with a four game lead and a bright future of returning stars and payroll flexibility in front of it, I guess I'll say it....

This team is for real.


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