Dave Nichols: The only game in town

The Caps were swept in four games by a division rival after another first-place season. Maryland men’s basketball coach Gary Williams shockingly retired, while his best player last year declared for the NBA draft. The Wizards recently completed a thoroughly uninteresting season. The lockout and subsequent lawsuits put the NFL season in jeopardy. Even if they do play, the Redskins went 6-10 last season and might start with John Beck as the quarterback. It’s enough to make a D.C. sports fan hide in a closet.

What’s the remedy? How about a little baseball? From now until September (maybe), the only team in town playing any games that count are the Washington Nationals. Of course, they still aren’t going to challenge for the playoffs, or probably even threaten .500. But at least they’re playing the games.

The Nats are often an afterthought on the sports landscape in D.C., unfortunately. Sure, they’ve had their moments in the sun; the debut of Stephen Strasburg was a national sensation. But for the most part, the Nats go about their business with a quiet anonymity in town, only rarely receiving more than the obligatory mention of the previous night’s score on the local news or the sports talk stations.

But now that all the other sports in town have ground to a halt, the Nats have an opportunity to grab the headlines on the sports page again. The team is only three games below .500, winning games here and there despite an offense that is near last in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Maybe if they can come home from this brutal 10-day, nine-game road trip still within hailing distance of .500 it could spark some interest in a fan base that is aching for a competitive team.

One of the more interesting things to watch the next few weeks will be the battle to see who will represent the Nationals at this year’s All-Star game. Manager Jim Riggleman was recently named as a coach for this year’s team, but it’s up in the air as to whom might join him. Perennial candidate Ryan Zimmerman will probably be out until the break after his surgery, so he’s not an option this year.

None of the hitters really are producing at a level to warrant a mention, and despite some good effort from the starters, there are so many elite candidates in the National League that doesn’t seem likely either. Could the Nats send a reliever? Tyler Clippard or even Drew Storen, perhaps?

Anyway, at least the Nats are still playing. That’s more than can be said for any of the other teams in town.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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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