Remember the end of the 2009 season? The Nationals won seven straight, including a four-game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta. It brought their meager win total up to 59, but gave fans a degree of hope entering 2010.
After 35 games in 2010, the Nats were 20-15, and though they didn't maintain that pace, they finished with 69 wins, a 10-game uptick.
Today, on the heels of a four-game road sweep of the Phillies - coming just a week after a four-game road sweep of the Mets - the 76-win Nationals still have a shot at finishing above .500 should they go 5-1 in their final six games. That would be terrific, no?
Of course it would. But does it really matter that much?
The immediate future is there for all to see. The pitching staff looks well-stocked for 2012 and beyond. The club looks pretty strong up the middle, though the question of who plays center field is still open. The bullpen has the requisite pieces to allow the manager to mix and match. The top draft picks are signed and preparing for the fall, be it instructional league in Florida, Arizona Fall Leagu, or both. Rumors are flying indicating the ballclub may be a major player in the free agent market again this winter.
Whether or not the Nationals top the .500 mark this year seems of little consequence. There's no trophy for finishing third. The embers that spark hot stove speculation are red-hot at the moment, and perhaps even more importantly, the image of the franchise nationally has done a 180-degree turn.
If you watch the games on MASN you're familiar with the phrase "defining moment." The 2011 season, it appears, may be the collective defining moment for this team. It's had some peaks and valleys, but just when you think they might be entering a "death spiral" (my Saturday "Nats Talk Live" co-host Mike Wallace's term), they come out of it and play pretty solid baseball. No mailing it in, no let-me-at-the-postgame-spread-during-the-seventh-inning-stretch. Instead, genuine character.
The 2011 Winter Meetings are in Dallas this December. There will be organizational meetings prior to leaving for Texas, and hopefully, well before then, there will be some clarity insofar as Davey Johnson's tenure as field manager is concerned.
The signs are in place. Even the worst cynic would have to admit that.