The Nationals' Gio Gonzalez is a frontrunner for the 2012 NL Cy Young Award.
The Washington Nationals find themselves in a position that no other D.C. team has been in for some time.
It has nothing to do with the postseason, although the Nats are heading there with possibly the best record in baseball (96 wins through the weekend).
No, the Nationals find themselves in the position of possibly overtaking the Redskins as the most popular team in Washington. Winning does a lot for how a community supports its teams, and the Nationals have been doing lots of that lately.
The Redskins? Eh, not that much.
Sure, it took a last-minute field goal Sunday to beat Tampa Bay and climb back to .500 for the season. but the Skins have not been raking in the victories in the last 10 years.
And while the sellouts continue at FedEx Field, it's probably due more to tradition than seeing an outstanding product on the field.
Losing has become as synonymous with Washington as partisan bickering. The Capitals were once among the elite of the NHL, but they have fallen back to Earth in recent years. The Wizards are, well...in a word, awful.
And in two words, quite awful.
Even the Nationals were bad. Since they arrived in Washington in 2005, they were perennial cellar-dwellers in the NL East. They went through managers at a pace that would have made George Steinbrenner smile. They were seen as time-fillers between Redskins seasons
But all that changed last year. The Nats won 80 games and climbed to third place in the division. This year, they have played cat-and-mouse with the NL East. To date, they have drawn more than 2.2 million fans to Nationals Park.
So, how is it that after one sparkling season, there is talk of the Nationals possibly turning Washington into a baseball town? Two reasons:
Consistency. That is one reason why the Nationals are so good this year. Each player has contributed to the team's success through timely hitting, good defense and pitching among the league's elite. That is coming game after game. While some were predicting disaster following Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, the Nationals just kept winning.
The Redskins? Since the Nats' first year in 2005, the Redskins have had seven different quarterbacks. Since Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999, there have been seven different head coaches.
You tell me if that is the formula to on-field success.
Ownership. The Lerner family apparently learned how to run a baseball team from the Lamar Hunt Institute of Sports Team Management. Hire the right personnel. Sign the checks. Stay out of the way.
The Redskins? Daniel Snyder has a tendency to get in the way of his coaches, much to the detriment of his team. Remember the 2001 season? The Skins started 0-5 that season, but turned it around to finish a strong 8-8.
How does Snyder reward Marty Schottenheimer for showing the promise of a good future? Pink slip. Big mistake.
Could the Nationals ever overtake the Redskins in popularity in Washington?
In comes Steve Spurrier. Bigger mistake. Even the great Joe Gibbs could not bring back the old magic of earlier years.
Now, one season does not make a dynasty. And we all know that the Redskins have one of the most diehard fan bases in all of the NFL...maybe even in sports.
But make one thing clear. the Nationals are chipping away at that fan foundation. And they are built for better long-term success than the Redskins (with apologies to Robert Griffin III).
The Nationals stand to be near the top of Major League Baseball for several years to come. Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez anchor a pitching staff that should continue to make opponents nervous. Believe it or not, Bryce Harper's best years still could be ahead of him. The bench is strong.
That adds up to wins. Lots of them.
Suddenly, the Redskins' shadow does not seem so long anymore.