The Nationals are going for it.
With Drew Storen called up Sunday and Stephen Strasburg starting (most likely) June 4, Mike Rizzo is announcing to the senior circuit that you can’t spell National League without the National(s).
This was not the case last season (or the year before that, or the....stop!). The Nats would make mistakes or get crushed in the bullpen and nothing would happen. Now, the team is making moves to get the guys on the 25-man who can play and play now.
Rizzo told me recently what he said to the team in spring training, “I told the guys 2009 is dead to me. All of you players in this room who played for the Nats on that team, I don’t remember anything from that season. All I will remember is what you do on this team this year.”
No longer will the Nats front office allow mediocre (or worse) play. If they aren’t getting what they need from a particular player or area of the team, they’ll make a change. Rizzo has some options available to him that he didn’t have the last two seasons.
At 20-18, despite their longest losing streak of the season at three games, the Nats are still in this thing.
Mike Rizzo has seen every team in the East already in the first month and a half of the season, has sized up his squad, and feels they can compete, not only for the Wild Card, but for the division.
Some have said, “Oh wait until 2011. That’s when the Nats will be contenders.”
Rizzo is looking at his cards and realizes right now is the time. He can make a move.
If the Nats can stay in the race until at least June, that buys them the time to get Stephen Strasburg in the mix and continue the momentum. The Nats have 12 home games in June, plus three more at Baltimore 30 minutes away. With series against the Pirates, Royals, Orioles and Astros, there are opportunities to win some series.
Look at the Atlanta Braves last year with Tommy Hanson. They called him up in June. He charged up their starting rotation. The Braves made a run for the Wild Card and came within the last week of the season of reaching the playoffs.
The Nats could do that as well.
If they can, at a minimum, split in St. Louis and come home above .500, the schedule heads in the Nats’ favor in June.
Going 3-4 on this current nine-game road trip is good, even with the three setbacks Saturday and Sunday. Going 4-5 is a competitive roadie. Going 5-4 is attention grabbing.
Yes, the San Francisco, San Diego and Houston trip to end the month will be difficult. But then the Reds and Pirates arrive. That will mean two starts with Strasburg for the Nats at home.
As I tweeted last week, I expect #37 to start the June 4 game versus Cincinnati and the June 9 game against Pittsburgh, both at Nationals Park.
If Strasburg can continue what he has done at the minor league level - and there is every indication that he will - the Nats could put together one of those June runs that will make everyone buzz about Washington during the All-Star break.
(Not to mention the 10-game homestand in the first two weeks of July right before the All-Star break. The Nats are not on the road in July until the 16th! Starting June 4, the Nats have 22 of the next 34 games at home.)
Yes, there is work to do. The offense needs to keep up with the starters. Relief pitchers must repeat what the starters have produced early in games. Right field has to put some runs on the board.
In the bullpen, as manager Jim Riggleman has said, you sprinkle Drew Storen in there in the 6th, 7th or 8th innings, followed by Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps, and you have that shutdown back half you need to compete at the highest level.
As for right field, There was a glimmer of hope with the mid week explosion off the bat of Roger Bernandina and his splendid defense. It would seem that Mike Morse (who looked like he played in the NBA standing next to his Syracuse teammates during the National Anthem last week) would be the answer to utility or start if needed.
Morse has some pop to his bat that should help that position reach the stands for some long ball RBIs, which that spot in the lineup needs to show for the Nats to contend.
Mike Rizzo has some chess pieces to play with now. He is no longer playing checkers in a chess world. The Nats are now being mentioned on all the national talk shows.
With apologies to George Costanza, The “Summer of Nats” begins now. Dates for you to remember: May 16 - Drew Storen; June 4 - Stephen Strasburg makes first start; June 7 - Bryce Harper drafted.
Right now - 2010. The Nats are going for it.