Sunday, July 03, 2005

Meet me half-way

Hey Kenny: how's this for a new beginning of another (Nats) life?

Don't listen to me. Really.

Before the season started, I picked the Washington Nationals to go 75-87 in an exciting and (dare I say it?) scrappy inaugural season---well, inaugural in this incarnation, anyway. But I also expected it to be an outgunned campaign, one that would present patches of frustration covering up the joy and novelty of having this team to follow. (Who would have thought my make-believe prediction might be closer to the mark, except it would require Atlanta coming from behind, not Washington?)

I don't know exactly why I picked 75 wins; I couldn't get a very good bearing on the team, worse than my normal bearings I suppose, and realistically imagined this team ending anywhere from, say, 68-to-84 wins. Seventy-five seemed reasonable and accounted for a bit of a September fade.

Boy, was I wrong!

I take solace in not being alone in my cluelessness; just check out this article at, for instance. It looks like many of us in the Natosphere acted in cohoots and provided a standard 75 win prediction. I promise that was not the case, though; I didn't know what any of those chuckleheads were predicting, not even Needham. We didn't expect much, though. Heck, the generally more optismistic Nat Fanatics guys were predicting 82-80. That's okay, but nothing of which legendary seasons are made.

So, get off your high horse, folks; it's the least you can do, because I'm certainly off mine. Admit it: you weren't predicting 90 wins, and you barely dreamed of an even one hundred.

Yet, that's the Nats' pace right now: 100-62. They are flinging raw sewage on the grave of poor old Pythagorus, who wouldn't have expected the Nats to be much better than straight up .500 right now, in fourth place instead of first. Frank Robinson might as well swing by Toronto in early August and moon the fellas at the annual
SABR convention.

His team is doing as much right now.

I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like this. It's not just the run differential; this team simply and repeatedly wins in curious ways. Take today's game. It only adds to the incredible record in one-run games, but to tell the truth, it was a garbage win. The bullpen blew a two-run lead in Chicago's last at-bat; not satisfied with that, the bullpen did it again two innings later. The game made it an inning beyond that second guh only because Todd Walker decided to throw a ball away; the Nats displayed their gratitude by resolving to squander much of that opportunity. (Thank goodness for Brad Wilkerson's double.) Yet, at the end of the day---a very long day---the Washington Nationals won. That's what counts, of course, and this team has been doing a lot of counting in that column lately.

I've learned enough by now to alter my Frobby lexicon. His style is not so much old and cranky as it is stern and steady; his bunting is not wasteful, but quaint. I trust him this season, and I'm willing to forget anything thereafter. His team could go 48-114 next season and it wouldn't change the fact that his team is winning---and winning if not big then steadily---this season.

I cannot see events changing drastically in these last 81 games. Evening out, sure, but not reversing course completely. Maybe in another season, with another team---maybe then, I'd retain some healthy skepticism. Here, the skepticism is gone; what has replaced it is worry. Not worry of embarrassment, though---I have no fear that this team will revert drastically, finish the season in a 25-56 free-fall, and end up at my 75 win prediction. No, I'm talking about the worry of blowing the division.

Blowing the division? Yeah. Look at how far this team has come: three months until a division championship. Start the countdown, baby.

Do I think the team actually will win the division? I don't know; I live in a dull dread that the Braves will rally, as they always do, in the second half. I schedule my dental appointments around Braves' finishing kicks in August; that way, I can get both out of the way at the same time and consolidate misery. However, I do not particularly doubt that the Nats can in fact win. I'm almost there, Frank Robinson. I'm meeting you more than half-way.

Second half prediction, carefully treaded: 43-38.*

Final record: 93-69.

Fifty wins to tie, Atlanta. Bring it on; we'll even spot you tonight's win against Philly.

* Includes some cushion in there for a reasonable yet inevitable bounce-back in one-run games, reversion to excellence yet mortality for Chad Cordero, etc. Like Frank & the gang need the cushion, though . . .

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