May 15, 2010

Thomas Boswell of the DC POST is trying to show that Washington may not be first in our hearts and in last place in the National League much longer.
“So much has happened so fast it’s hard to keep up with the transformation of the changes began late in 2008, when the Lerners finally decided to spend some money, then accelerated last spring when Mike Rizzo became GM and Stan Kasten’s views were given more weight. In the past month, it has all come together.
Suddenly, the Nats are in the sport’s mainstream.
In ahead of the rich Mets, are the rebuilding Braves and gritty Marlins. Second place might be a bit pricey for a summer-long stay, but a classy neighborhood is where the Nats actually live these days.
Never tell big leaguers who’ve found some chemistry and momentum how many games they can win. Let them tell you. It’s more fun that way. But whatever you expected from the Nats it’s a whole handful more now.
When you add a southpaw starter (healthy Scott Olsen with a 3.51 ERA), a closer (Matt Capps, who’s 14 for 14 in save opportunities), a setup man (Tyler
Clippard, 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA) and a gifted shortstop (Ian Desmond), all 26 or younger, you’ve changed your future. When a fit Livian Hernandez (4-1, 1.04)
and an energized Ivan Rodriguez (.383) play like stars, you suddenly have postseason MVPs as leaders.
On Wednesday, the Nats got the kind of bad news that might have derailed other seasons: Jason Marquis, a 2009 all-star and $15 million free agent will miss four to six weeks. But with Craig Stammen developing and a stockpile of serviceable starters such as Luis Atilano (3-0) and Matt Chico, the Nats’ rotation might be okay as long as John Lannan remains healthy after skipping his last start.
Then there is the parade of established pitchers returning from injury (Chien-Ming Wang) and lefty prospects (Aaron Thompson and Ross Detwiler) who
might be ready before midseason.
Too much starting pitching “is a mythical creature, like the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman and the agent with a heart of gold in ‘Jerry Maguire,’ ” Kasten said. Because the Nats had an apparent excess of arms, they may still have enough now.
It was typical of the Nats — that’s to say, atypical of any team, heretofore part of the weak right field platoon, hit the first two homers of his career, including a 420-foot game-winner off $37 million closer Francisco Rodriguez, and saved three runs with a diving catch.
The other Nat with three RBI? Stammen, the starting pitcher. The winning pitcher? Clippard, who was clobbered in the Mets’ six-run eighth inning Tuesday night. This season, resilience is a Nat.
As much of a spring shock as the Nats have been, they may morph again by this time next year. Few teams have the immediate youth pipeline, the quality arms recovering from injury and the low-payroll flexibility to improve so quickly.
With the full-time arrival of Strasburg and rookie reliever Drew Storen, the recovery from surgery of Jordan Zimmermann, as well as the possible signing of a power-hitting, free agent right fielder next winter, the Nats could nudge into the top half of the sport as a wild-card contender next season. For such a thing to happen, every young pitching arm doesn’t have to pan out — just enough of them. That’s how winning organizations do it.
Rizzo has blown up the roster he inherited and tried to explode its defeatist mind-set, too. Seven Nats have played in the World Series and an eighth in the AL Championship Series. That doesn’t include Adam Dunn, headed toward a 500-homer career, all-star Ryan Zimmerman or power bat Josh Willingham.
The Nats no longer lack experience or attitude.
Progress has been big, but more annoyance may be in store in the short term. With Marquis out and Lannan worrisome, with the bullpen one strong arm shy of stability and six road games against the Rockies and Cardinals on tap, the Nats are temporarily vulnerable.
Next week, the Nats may return home having survived the 40 toughest games of their whole season — 19 against ’09 playoff teams and six more against
nemesis Marlins — with a winning record. Or they may limp back after doses of Ubaldo Jimenez and Albert Pujols.
But in a month, if Strasburg and Storen are aboard, or in a year with more reinforcements, one conclusion is sensible. The Nats are one of the game’s
fastest-rising teams.
Of course, when you start from 205 losses in two years, “up” is relative But the Nats aren’t just some lousy team staggering up toward respectability. They’re
probably past that. In their last 105 games under Manager Jim Riggleman, they’re 52-53. Once back home, they play 63 straight games against non-playoff teams.
The last four years, the Nats’ season has, for competitive purposes, been over by now. So, fans may think baseball answers our questions quickly. But
normally that’s not the pleasure given by the long season. You have to wait Revalue. Then wait again.
Most teams have at least one hot streak where they go 10 games over ..500 as well as one when they are 10 games under .500. For example, the ’06 Nats
had streaks of 6-17, 15-5 and 4-15 by the end of June. This year’s Nats haven’t even had their first real period of exhilaration. Or potential disaster. They’ll
have both, maybe multiple times.
The difference this season is that those streaks and skids, that process of going from worst-to-good that’s now only a month old, will actually be worth the watching.
Washington got a major taste of baseball pleasure in ’05. But that was a team without a future, an ex-Expo club being gussied up for sale. This is entirely
different. The Nats have needs, especially at the top of the rotation. But count the current Nats who could be key contributors to a winner in ’11 or ’12. Two
years ago, you could count them on one hand. Now, you run out of fingers — fast.
The next few days could get scary. But the next few years should be fun.”

Frank Deford wrote on SI.com that the Wall Street Journal has started a sports section.
“At a time when newspaper sports departments are disappearing as fast as Baltimore Oriole fans, I’m delighted to have The Wall Street Journal aboard as a new member of what has long been characterized as the toy department. Yes, America’s sober-sided business gazette has started a ballyhooed section in the New York market that features local news, culture and . . . sports.
However, while I admit that I’m not qualified to advise The Journal on how to write about credit swaps, may I be so impudent to dare tell the Journal
that if it purports to cover sports on its gray pages, it must get on the same page with the rest of us world’s jock literati.
That is, my dear stock market friends, if you’re going to write about games, you don’t call players Mr. or Ms. In sports sections or sports TV or sports
internet, the world over, nobody — not even fancy-pants team owners — gets to be a Mr. or Mrs. Or a Senor or a Mademoiselle or a Herr. Why, they don’t
even use courtesy titles on the jolly olde Wimbledon scoreboard any more.
But because it is the Journal’s style to refer to hedge funders in their bespoke suits and Turnbull and Asser shirts and ties by their courtesy title, it has foolishly decided to maintain this same policy in sports. Thus we have a discussion of a Mr. Braden’s perfect game, a Mr. Barajas behind the plate and a Mr. James, who works for a Cleveland firm. Having The Journal report on sports is rather like having Miss Jane Austen write them for you, with Mr. Darcy batting and Mr. Bingley pitching.
Thank heavens the legendary Grantland Rice was not working for Mr. Rupert Murdoch when he wrote about a Notre Dame backfield — that most famous
line ever to appear on a sports page — or it would’ve come out this way: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In
dramatic lore they were known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Mr. Struhldreher, Mr. Miller, Mr.
Crowley and Mr. Layden.”
Or, as Howard Cosell would’ve called out memorably on Journal television: “Down goes Mr. Frazier. Down goes Mr. Frazier.”
Now, it is true that there was a double standard on the sports pages for many years. Whereas male athletes would be identified by only their last name, it was felt that sportswomen could not be treated so rudely. Thus we had Laver vs. Rosewall, but Mrs. King vs. Miss Bueno.
If anything, though, now we are heading downscale, where more and more athletes — both genders, all sports — are referred to in the media simply by their first name or a nickname. Thus we have Kobe and A-Rod and Serena and T.O. — all far better known in those informal ways, than by what appears last on their passport.
Yes, Mister Wall Street Journal, we welcome you to the arena, but please, one of the nice things about our business is that there are no misters in sport. Just players.”


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