This weekend, the Washington Nationals won a 4 game series with the St. Louis Cardinals. A team that is competing for the playoffs in an NL wildcard spot. All of this after the team found out that Stephen Strasburg (RIP) will be going on the 60-day DL and will be out for much, if not all, of next season. The win on Sunday that took the series earned the Nationals thir 56th win on the season. It was August 29th. Last season, the Nationals won their 56th game on October 1st. Mike MacDougal got the save in that game. MacDougal now pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals.
On another happy note, the Nationals have signed Livan Hernandez to a $1 million contract for 2011, not shockingly only 2 days after it was announced that Strasburg will be out for a long, long time. This was just one of the many happy moments that was Washington Nationals Baseball this season. More Ryan Zimmerman walkoffs. The Strasburg debut. The Harper announcement. Adam Dunn's home runs. Michael Morse finally getting some playing time. These were all optimistic moments for Nationals fans.
Then there are the not so happy moments. Opening Day and the 11-1 loss to the capacity crowd... of almost entirely Phillies fans. Lannan, the Opening Day pitcher, getting demoted because he couldn't locate his pitches. Injury, after injury, after injury, after injury in the starting rotation. Willie Harris getting all that playing time, presumably only for being a teacher's pet. And Rob Dibble.
But looking back, there was a lot of reason to be excited about this season. By the end of May, the Nationals were still .500 (26-26). And then, the dropoff happened. The team lost 5 of its next 6, and never returned to .500. The 6 game losing streak from June 15th through the 20th pretty much solidified that.
Sure there's still about 5 weeks left this season. But all in all, being realistic, we have to be happy with the Nats 2010 season. Unless the Nationals win just 5 games the rest of the season, they will avoid triple digit losses for the 3rd straight season. While I would have been thrilled with 75 wins like many predicted (really?), I think a down-to-earth expectation after 2 consecutive 100+ loss seasons is... well... not losing 100+ games. And the Nats are well on their way to that.
But in 2011, Nats fans expect more, and GM Mike Rizzo seems to be keenly aware of that. In the most recent Strasburg press conference, yes... THAT press conference, Rizzo hinted at and acknowledged the need to go into free agency with the mentality of buying some pitchers. The team needs it now. Re-signing Livan is a step in the right direction already. But fans won't be happy just with double digit losses next year. They expect more because they should. The offense shows signs of brilliance (see August 26, 28, 29), and the they will have to capitalize on that next year.
No one can predict the Nationals record this season, or next. But everyone expects more consistency than they showed this year. The team had more moments of brilliance this year than last, and their record shows. Not to mention the team is no longer a makeshift bunch of "who is that guy?" players. There are players to build your team around, and that's what the Nats have lacked for many years. Let's see what the end of 2010 brings this club.