Why the Washington Nationals' 0-10 Start Isn't Bad News at All

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Why the Washington Nationals' 0-10 Start Isn't Bad News at All
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Ten games into spring training, the Washington Nationals are 0-10.

 

Ugh.

 

It looks like the team, after back-to-back 100 loss seasons, are heading for a trifecta in 2010.

 

Or are they?

 

Adam Dunn said on Sunday that, really, spring training records matter only to people who look at box scores every morning.

 

Manager Jim Riggleman keeps trying to find the right words to explain his feelings. Yes, he’s not happy with the record but no, it doesn’t really bother him.

 

For Riggleman, the reality of the situation resides somewhere between “spring training records are meaningless” and “Oh crap, is my job on the line already?"

 

So the players don’t think their record means much, and neither does their manager. And management—while not happy—certainly is not placing too much stock in the team’s poor start.

 

But are they right? Does a team’s spring record have no bearing on their regular season hopes?

 

Last season, the Nationals broke camp with a record of 15-17, a .468 winning percentage.

 

If they had kept that up through the end of September, the Nationals would have had a record last year of 75-87.

 

Of course, they didn’t come close as they limped home with a dismal 59-103 record.

 

Here are the teams that played about the same in spring training and during the regular season in 2009 (along with their winning percentages):

 

Angels

Spring: .779

Regular Season: .599

 

Giants

Spring: .525

Regular Season: .543

 

Cubs

Spring: .528

Regular Season: .516

 

Mariners

Spring: .515

Regular Season: 525

 

White Sox

Spring: .458

Regular Season: .488

 

Yankees

Spring: .721

Regular Season: .636

 

Red Sox

Spring: .588

Regular Season: .586

 

Rays

Spring: .500

Regular Season: .519

 

Blue Jays

Spring: .483

Regular Season: .463

 

Astros

Spring: .422

Regular Season: .457

 

Orioles:

Spring: .382

Regular Season: .395

 

These teams played better in the spring than in the regular season:

 

Brewers

Spring: .734

Regular Season: .494

 

Rangers

Spring .614

Regular Season: .401

 

Royals

Spring: .625

Regular Season: .401

 

Athletics

Spring: .514

Regular Season: .463

 

Indians

Spring: .422

Regular Season: .401

 

Braves:

Spring: .636

Regular Season: .531

 

Cardinals

Spring: .645

Regular Season: .562

 

Twins

Spring: .645

Regular Season: .534

 

Mets

Spring: .561

Regular Season: .432

 

Pirates

Spring: .578

Regular Season: .385

 

Nationals

Spring: .468

Regular Season: .364

 

And these teams played better during the regular season than in the spring:

 

Rockies

Spring: .515

Regular Season: .568

 

Dodgers

Spring: .405

Regular Season: .586

 

Padres

Spring: .371

Regular Season: .463

 

Diamondbacks

Spring: .324

Regular Season: .432

 

Tigers

Spring: .484

Regular Season: .528

 

Phillies

Spring: .438

Regular Season: .574

 

Marlins

Spring: .419

Regular Season: .537

 

Reds

Spring: .419

Regular Season: .481

 

So 11 of the teams played about the same, 11 played better in the spring, and eight played better during the regular season.

 

Of the 11 teams that played equally well in both the spring and regular season, all but two—the Mariners and Orioles—opened camp without any significant personnel issues.

 

Four of the worst teams in baseball in 2009—the Nationals, Pirates, Indians, and Royals—played much better in the spring than during the regular season.

 

Perhaps these teams had rosters that were so thin they were forced to play their best players through much of the preseason and thus matched up well against the second and third string players from the other teams.

 

Half of the teams who played better during the regular season were contenders with nothing to prove.

 

The Dodgers and Phillies won their division the previous season while the Tigers finished second.

 

And though the Rockies finished 74-88 in 2008, they were just one season removed from their World Series appearance.

 

These teams were not trying to win; they were just trying to prepare for the upcoming season.

 

They had nothing to prove.

 

So where does all this leave the Nationals? In which group will they fall in 2010?

 

I think they will be part of the group that plays much better during the regular season.

 

There are relatively few questions facing the team in 2010.

 

Seven of the eight positions are set; only shortstop is a question and even that is a win-win situation. The Nationals will head north with either a proven veteran or a promising rookie playing there.

 

The bullpen is solidifying now that Eddie Guardado has been released, and if Scott Olsen remains healthy, the Nationals need to find just one more starter to complement Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Olsen, and Livan Hernandez.

 

No, Hernandez has not "officially" been named a starter, but there is little doubt he will.

 

Because of this new-found stability, the Nationals are playing many more non-roster types because veterans like Adam Dunn, Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, and Jason Marquis just don’t need a great deal of time to be ready for the regular season.

 

In that 7-3 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday, seven players who have no chance of making the 25-man roster saw playing time against the defending NL Central Champions.

 

The Nationals are going to be just fine. For the first time since coming to Washington, the team has a solid core of quality major league starters.

 

Spring training isn’t for them.

 

It is for Eric Brunlett, and Gil Mench, and Jesse English, and Jamie Burke.

 

By the end of the week, the regulars should be playing semi-regularly and the wins will come.

 

Really.

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