If you listen to my friend who is a Yankee fan and recently moved from DC to NY (what’s that all about?), the Washington Nationals are playing above themselves, in a weak league, and once they meet some really good opposition, they’ll be found wanting.
If you read and listen to my columnist guru Thomas Boswell, “they are already an exceptional team.”
Could both of these views be correct?*
We may have to wait for DP (Yunkee friend) to enlighten us more fully on why he thinks the Nats are weaker than they appear. I am hoping he will explain himself, etc. in an extended comment below.
In the meantime, a few points that might support his thinking: All three teams leading their Divisions in the National League currently have better won-less records, percentages than the three leading teams in the American League. Specifically, Nats – 611, Reds – .607, Giants – .580 versus Yankees – .577, White Sox – .544, Rangers – .505.
If my friend is correct, then the Nats and other NL teams may have the better records because the competition is not as stiff as in the AL. Or, maybe they have better records because they are simply better than the AL teams?
Looking a bit further, in overall batting, whether judged by BA, OPS, HRs, R, the AL out performs the NL in all those categories. Is that because they hit better or perhaps because they have the Designated Hitter as their ninth batter.
In pitching, the NL pitchers seem to have a clear lead in ERA, but in most other categories, Saves, WHIP, etc., the two leagues seem more even.
In fielding, the NL performs better (Fielding Per Centage, Fewest Errors, etc.).
Bottom line: I don’t know if it is true or not that the Nats face easier teams, and thus how good they really are has not been tested. DP, explain yourself.
If you read Boswell this morning, he makes the argument that the Nats are better than almost anyone realizes (except perhaps for manager Davey Johnson and others closely associated with the team), and this “town has almost no sense, yet, of how exceptional that team already is.”
Boswell writes, “objectively, the Nats are so excellent that 13 big-league franchises have seen only one team as superior as they are, or none at all, in the last 50 years.” On pace for 99 wins, if they reach that, he writes, they will have won more than 60 per cent of their games, and “in baseball, it is a landmark.”
Specifically, he adds,
*The Nats have allowed the fewest runs in baseball.
*They have the lowest ERA (3.28).
*Their starting pitchers, AFTER subtracting Strasburg’s stats, still have the games best ERA.
*Their hitting has progressed to the point where they are fourth in the NL in runs and second in HRs.
*They are 8th in the Majors in Fielding % and 7th in fewest errors.
So who is right?
Will the Nats team that Boswell describes as excellent and consistent for six months, continue along these lines? Will they finish the season over .600.? Will they make their way to the top of the NL in the playoffs? Could they beat the AL in the WS?
Or will they come down to earth in the playoffs?
“No one knows,” as Boswell concludes.
But we’re about to find out.
(*Disclosure: I have a number of interests, including financial, in the outcome of this ‘debate.’ In another post, I will fully disclose these ‘conflicts of interest.’)
James Cooke said:
The Nationals have unlimited potential. They are showing everyone in baseball this year that they have the talent to be the best major league team in 2012 in terms of won-lost record and to cap it off by capturing the World Series. And that’s what it is, a capturing, in other words, a temporary holding onto until the next challenger comes along and tries to take it away from them. Cards fans, enjoy the moment, because the trophy will be taken away from you in the near future.
There are so many factors that go into the winning of a World Series. At this point in time, it appears the Washington Nationals are in a very good position to take advantage of the opportunity and capture a world championship. But first, they have to win the National League penant and then beat the American League champion.
In MLB TV’s most recent daily poll, viewers were asked to vote the current NL division leader most likely to represent the NL in the World Series. The Nationals garnered 45% of the vote. The Giants and Reds split the remainder fairly evenly. If polls are an indicator, the Nationals are poised to win the NL Penant.
Based on the Nationals’ play during the second half of the 2011 season and on the acquisitions since, they have as good a chance as any other playoff caliber team to win the World Series. They have improved themselves by at least ten wins in each of the last three seasons (first team to do so since division playoff baseball began in the 1960’s). They have reached a level of consistent play that is required of a champion. They have achieved a level of depth that is necessary to weathering the vicissitudes of the regular season. In sum, they are poised to win it all this year. But will they?
As Boswell says exactly, we will see. My fondest dream is to see the Yankees avenged and the Nationals vindicated in the wake of a three-game sweep during the regular season. It would add a kind of punctuation mark to their sudden success.
There is much to admire in a team that defeats the most successful franchise in all of professional sports. Who knows, it may even usher in a new dynasty. Baseball does that to us. It allows us to dream. Sometimes it even wakes us up to the achievement of history.
Todd endo said:
Ok, I’ll bite. Two pieces of data that inform what follows. Most specifically, I did predict that the Nats would be 81-81 last season, but predicted that they’d be 90-72 this season (almost went with 92-70) and that they’d be in the hunt in September. But, winning the division or NL pennant? That was a bridge too far, in my March judgment. The historical piece of data is I grew up with the Washington Senators, have attended games in three DC stadiums (going back to Griffith Stadium in the 1940s and 50s) and still think of Damn Yankees and the futility of the Washington baseball team.
So, I’m happy with where the Nationals are right now. I’m content with whatever the fates dictate in the next two weeks or month. World Series? Who knows? If so, I’ll cash in my winnings from Rick Miller’s contest last year with an unexpected home game, rooting for the home team in the World Series.
The Nats are young and untested in the playoffs. Chance and unexpected and unexplainable events often turn the tide. Ask Rick about these and the Red Sox—both positive and negative. So, the Nats could win it all, or even lose in the wild card play in game.
I do know (think) that they’re on the right track. They have built the team the right way (farm system and next to no outrageous free agent signings). They’re young and should improve with experience. They should be in the hunt for the next decade, and I look forward to that.
For this year, I’ll attend a few more games and root them on. They’ve met my expectations and exceeded my predictions. October will be gravy.
But, wait until next year—-expectations will go through the roof. So, I’m just going to enjoy the rest of this season—win or lose.