Sometimes, being a fan of the Washington Nationals can be very troubling.
Seven seasons ago, they marched into the All-Star break in first place in the National League East with a record of 50-31. They added Preston Wilson and Devi Cruz for the pennant run and seemed ready to continue the magic all the way to the World Series.
Buster Onley was even asked at the All Star break if the Nationals could win the division. “Sure, why not!” was his reply.
The Nationals returned after the All Star break confident and ready. But since then, Washington has gone 361-529, winning barely forty-percent of their games.
And yet throughout all this losing, all the embarrassment, all the jokes and all the refusal of so many quality players to come to Washington, the losses that are beginning to pile up now have been the hardest.
Because they are so close to being so good.
It’s one thing when the team loses 100 games, and a quick glance at the rosters of the top two or three minor league teams verifies that there is no help on the way. But that’s not the case now. A quick count finds at least 20 players currently with Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg who will in the next couple of years don a Nationals uniform.
Some will be starters, one or two an all star and many will fill support roles. But they’ll be here.
For years, the team had to hope that the few minor league players who were supposed to blossom did. Now, players who weren’t being counted on are stepping up.
After a couple of years derailed by injuries, Brad Meyers is 3-1 for Harrisburg with a 2.95 ERA. In 21 innings, he’s struck out 27 and walked no one. Brad Peacock, also with Harrisburg, is 2-1, 1.59, though his control isn’t quite as good as Meyers. In 17 innings, he’s struck out 21 and walked two.
No, the minor leagues aren’t loaded, but they are producing. By 2013, and with a little luck, it could produce an entire roster of capable major league players.
They’re t-h-a-t close.
And the major league roster keeps showing flashes of brilliance that last a game or two, before it returns to the ooze and muck of mediocrity.
The Nationals' early season record is about where most of us thought they’d be, though things aren’t boding well for the rest of the season. They reached two games over .500 because an overachieving pitching staff made up for a lackluster offense.
But now—with the exception of Tom Gorzelanny last night—the starters are struggling right alongside the hitters.
No offense. No pitching. No hope?
These losses are difficult because we all know that hope is coming. Stephen Strasburg will be back by next season and Bryce Harper should be the every-day center fielder by 2013. One or two of those young pitching prospects (Tom Milone, Brad Meyers, Daniel Rosenbaum, etc.) will further embolden the starting rotation.
And really, other than left field and first, the Nationals’ starting eight is pretty much set once Harper makes it to Washington.
It’s because the future looks much brighter that these losses are harder to take. At some point, the Nationals will start winning games regularly and leave this nightmare behind. I mean, you start Stephen Strasburg and have Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos fill the middle of your lineup.
What’s not to like?
So, for now, the losses will hurt a little more because they are less expected. But in the end, the team will likely win 75 or so games this year (I mean, the offense has to warm up eventually) and another Jayson Werth type of free agency signing over the winter should produce a team on the periphery of contention.
It has to happen sooner or later. Really.