The month of August - and July before it - have been the two best months in the history of the Nationals franchise. The Nationals have a winning record for every month of this season. But so far they are a combined 33-18 for these past two months, even after the weekend disaster in Philadelphia.
In 2005, there was the magical month of June when the team went 20-6. But what followed - a 9-18 July - was misery. It is important to remember the history of the franchise in order to gain some perspective on where the team stands now. When earlier this month the Nationals attained the best record in baseball for the first time in 79 years, the temptation was to throw reason out the window. Playoff tickets went on sale and enthusiasm went through the roof. But a moment to reflect can only help.
Last year at the end of August, the wild card leader was Atlanta, with a comfortable 8 1/2-game lead. The Braves played solid baseball for five months to begin the season, winning 80 games. They followed it with a month of September where they won only nine games. It was the Cards who went on to win the World Series, not the Braves.
The Nationals head into the final weeks of the season a little beat up. They miss Wilson Ramos. Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder must be barking again, as his errant throw to first in the final inning on Wednesday portends. The fact that he hasn’t hit a home run in two weeks, and only has one for the month of August after hitting 11in the five weeks that followed his June 24 cortisone shot, is an even better indicator that something is not right.
Then there is Ian Desmond, who came back and gave us only a brief glimpse of the All-Star shortstop before coming up lame. Michael Morse has been out with a bruised hand for three games and Adam LaRoche has forgotten that he is a second-half hitter. Add it all up and you have an offense that could manage only five runs in three games in Philadelphia.
The offense that caught fire in Colorado in late June has cooled - hardly an adequate descriptor. And when the Nationals don’t score, they don’t win. When the Nationals score two or fewer runs, as they did this weekend and have done 32 other times this season, they lose three out of every four times.
That statistic has gotten worse as the year as progressed. In April, they were winning the low-scoring affairs. In the first month of 2012, they won four and lost three when scoring only two runs. Since June, they have managed to win only once in 21 games where they failed to get more than two runs. It did not matter when they were mashing the ball in July, but now that they have come back to earth, it does.
So does Zimmerman merely need a second cortisone shot to right the ship? And is there a cost to that procedure that mirrors the cost of allowing the 23-year old Strasburg to put the many years of his career in jeopardy for one postseason run? Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo have some important decisions to make in the coming days.
But whatever happens, the Nationals have made a point to the baseball world that will not be forgotten: They are a team to be reckoned with. After last year’s collapse, the Braves brought much the same team back for another shot. They have been on the Nationals’ heels all season long. Will they fold in the coming weeks in repeat of 2011 or will it be the Nationals who blink first?
Whatever the answer, both teams will be back in contention next season and that is the important point, the perspective to have for this last few weeks. Like the Braves organization, the Nationals are built for the long term and they will be contenders for the foreseeable future because they do things right.
Should they have traded for Josh Becket, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to boost their stretch run? No, this is not Hollywood. It makes a mockery of the game to shift half of one team to another at the end of the season. It can only happen in today’s game of television revenues gone crazy. For my money, I am willing to play out the final weeks of the 2012 season with the real thing, the Nationals. They may be banged-up, they may be the walking wounded, but definitely, they are the real thing - this year and in the future. And that is a perspective I can live with.
Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released last June. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.