Reporting David Elfin
It’s tempting to get excited about the Washington Nationals holding a record of 8-7 this morning.
After all, this is a franchise that lost 24 games more than it won last year, 34 more games than it won in 2009 and 33 more games than it won in 2008.
Incredibly, the Nats never even reached .500 during three of their previous six seasons (2006, 2007 and 2009). In 2008, Washington’s high water mark was 3-2.
So sure, being over .500 after 15 games is a positive, especially since that winning record has been achieved with face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman for the past week and with his teammates hitting like Little Leaguers.
Rightfielder Jayson Werth, he of the mind-blowing, franchise-record $126 million contract, is hitting .200. First baseman Adam LaRoche, the other major free agent pickup, is at .245. Other than rookie catcher Wilson Ramos (.414), none of the Nats are hitting better than .256 en route to a woeful collective .226 average.
The Nats are colder at the plate than the winds that made the last half of last Friday’s home game against Milwaukee pretty miserable. And yet, Washington, after being a strike away from victory in the ninth inning and letting it get away, won that game in the 10th and then swept the Brewers on Sunday after Saturday’s rainout.
Washington visits St. Louis the next three days but won’t have to face Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. Then comes a three-game set in perennially pathetic Pittsburgh before a return home for three games with the bumbling New York Mets.
Zimmerman, who was hitting .357 when he was hurt, should return at some point during that nine-game stretch.
Meanwhile, Washington’s pitching has been unexpectedly good. Four of the five starters in the Stephen Strasburg-less rotation have earned run averages of 3.38 or better while four of the six relievers have ERAs under 2.36. All told, the Nats have a fine 3.44 ERA.
This kind of mound excellence almost surely won’t last, but the same holds for the abject failure by Washington’s batters.
We’re almost a tenth of the way into the season and only Colorado (which won the National League pennant in 2007) and Philadelphia (2008, 2009) are more than a game ahead of Washington.
The Nats have an unproven double play combination. They also have major questions in the outfield other than Werth. Their rotation doesn’t have anyone who would be a No. 2 or probably even a No. 3 pitcher for a true contender.
And we were down this road just last year when the Nats started 8-7 and were still winners on May 29 when they woke up at 25-24 before going 44-69 the rest of the way. But then who expected very much from a San Francisco team that turned out to be Giants in 2010? Dream on, Nats fans.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.