Ted Leavengood: Winning is never a sure thing

The exuberant confidence that gripped Washington in March was a false dawn. It was not backed up by the play of the Nationals in Viera, Fla., and now two months later, the giddy talk about the postseason does not deserve ink. Happy talk does not win games. The precious commodities absolutely essential to winning - determination and focus -were not there in the spring and they have been missing for much of the first two months of the season.

The hell-bent-for-the-World-Series Nationals have a losing record at the beginning of June. That fact is disturbing enough. But what confounds the depression is players like Ian Desmond echoing the Tom Boswell line - no disrespect meant - that it is going to get better from here on in because the schedule is easier.

Believe in magic if you like, my friend, but the rest of the teams on the schedule will not roll over and play dead for the Nationals any more than the Orioles did. Boswell cannot make a 6-2 lead hold up against the Mets or Twins. The runners on third with no one out can not be driven in by fairy dust. If the Nationals continue to play as they have in the first two months, they will not win against the Mets, Twins or any of the other teams who we might believe are sure things.

Twice in the past week, the Nationals had the game within their sights. If the situation were the same, if the 2012 Nationals who made the most of their opportunities were faced with two runners in scoring position against the Braves and a chance to win in the ninth inning, they would have found a way to score the run and hang on for the win. They would not have waited for someone else to do it; they would have pulled the trigger.

There are hungry players in the minors who would like a chance to show whether they can step up in those key situations and deliver. Erik Davis took his first bite at the apple and looked better than Zach Duke, Henry Rodriguez or any number of Washington relievers in the first two months. Anthony Rendon played second base at Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. He is one hot streak away from promotion to fill in for the injured Danny Espinosa.

The recent promotions of Rendon, Nathan Karns and Davis should send a message to minor league players. There will be openings in Washington in the near future. Rise to the occasion and the opportunity will be yours eventually because the current major league roster is not getting the job done.

Caleb Clay heard the commotion and he tossed a three-hit, nine-inning shutout for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators on Saturday. Ross Ohlendorf struck out 22 over twelve innings in his last two starts and gave up only a single run. That kind of rising to the occasion gets attention.

After Rendon, Chris Marrero is the best answer Syracuse can offer. He has 10 home runs and is batting .341 for the last 10 games because he hears someone knocking at the door.
Much of the talent is at Harrisburg. Ian Krol has been superb out of the Senators bullpen. His partner in crime, Michael Broadway, was promoted to Syracuse just a week before Rendon. Broadway has a 1.80 ERA in his first two relief appearances at Triple-A, and may be next in line after Davis.

The best hitter still at Harrisburg is Stephen Souza, who is just back from an injury and is raking at a .436 clip, showing both power and speed. His OPS of 1.261 is off the charts. If he can stay healthy and continue to hit, he may be the left fielder of the future who plays for an injured Bryce Harper or Jayson Werth.

Is it too late? It is never too late. But wishing will not make it so. Assuming that an easy schedule is going to make losers into winners is absolutely the wrong approach. It is all hands on deck time; the bells are clanging. There is a fire. Who will put it out? The next few months will answer that question. It will be players who perform in the clutch whether they be Davis or the same players who did it in 2012. All 30 major league teams play the game the same way and it is time for Washington to look for players who come to win against any and all of them. Wherever we can find them, we should look.

Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released in June 2011. 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.

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