From 59 wins to 69 wins to 79 wins. Any way you want to slice it, the Washington Nationals have shown clear improvement since Mike Rizzo assumed the general manager's duties in March 2009. With two games to play this year, the Nats have a shot at finishing a game over .500 (they're only playing 161 games this year due to a rainout against the Dodgers that wasn't made up).
If they do that, great. That's gravy. After a 40-41 first half, they've gone 39-39. Not too shabby for a team that generated little offense for much of the season. Through 159 games, they've averaged roughly 3.9 runs per game.As I've mentioned on the air many times, the figure winning teams usually begin at is 4.5 runs per game. Anything below that that produces a break-even record indicates some overachievement.
In Washington's case, there's an assumption by many observers that their pitching staff overachieved, coming in with a staff ERA of 3.60, good for eighth overall in the big leagues and sixth in the National League. But to imply overachievement is to believe that they can't do it again.
I'm not seeing anything fluky about it.
Here's a staff whose top winner - John Lannan - has 10 victories. The bullpen has recorded Ws in 33 games. By comparison, the Phillies' bullpen has 36 wins. Phils starters, however, have 18 complete games, to just three for the Nats. Offensively, Philadelphia has hit 10 points higher than the Nationals, and has scored more than 80 additional runs. The biggest offensive disparity? Strikeouts. The Nats have whiffed about 300 times more than the Quakers. Think that number doesn't annoy the brass on South Capitol Street?
I said many times this season - erroneously - that the hitting had to improve, based upon how the team looked on paper. It's been much better this month, but nowhere near what I and many others thought it might be. Both hitting and pitching, however, will improve in 2012 in my estimation
The final game crowd in Washington on Sunday was loud and proud and into the game. If you were there, you know what I mean. It was a peek into the near future when winning will be quite a bit more routine than the past seven years.
The Mets won it all in their eighth season. I'm not predicting that immediate type of glory for the Nationals, but I do believe they'll be looking at the second division in the rear-view mirror by this time next year.