The Washington Nationals are a very good baseball team. This simple fact has been overshadowed to a degree this season by the controversy over Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit, the emergence of Bryce Harper as an everyday player (whether he deserves that distinction or not) and even the wrist injury suffered by Jayson Werth earlier in the season. While we might look at the standings and laugh a little bit at the Baltimore Orioles’ run differential or the Oakland Athletics’ paltry offense, there are no fluke factors associated with the Washington Nationals.
They’re legit. One might even be of the mind that they’re too legit to quit.
After a five game losing streak that saw the Atlanta Braves creep back to within four games of the Nationals in the National League East Division, the team bounced back to dismantle the Miami Marlins last night thanks a great measure to the first two home run game of Bryce Harper’s career. Despite his recent struggles, which have been bad enough to allow ESPN’s Keith Law to suggest that the 19-year-old should be used in a platoon for the remainder of the season, Harper has kept his spot in the lineup.
This says more about the team’s mentality than merely assuming stubbornness on the part of manager Davey Johnson. The team is certainly playing to win, but the talent and the age of the talent that they put on display every night suggests that the Washington Nationals are not a one-and-done team. With the notable exception of starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, almost the entirety of their roster is under team control for the next season. And so there is some method to the seeming madness of giving Bryce Harper every day at bats and enacting an innings limit on Stephen Strasburg.
Rightly or wrongly, the team is thinking about a dynasty, instead of a mere single run at a World Series title.
This is a far cry from where the franchise was eight years ago, or really at any point following the 1994 strike-shortened season. Jim Caple of ESPN reminds us today of just where this organization has come from in his piece about baseball in Montreal. Hopeful is likely a nice way of describing some of the sentiments expressed in the piece.
Montreal IS a great city with a great baseball heritage; Jackie Robinson played there with the Dodgers’ farm team before being called up to Brooklyn. More importantly, Montreal is one of the larger broadcast markets in North America. And the old Expos fans remain. As others have noticed, the ExposNation Facebook page wasn’t far behind the official Washington Nationals page in “likes” (151,000 to 181,000). The city could easily support a team again.
The story of baseball in Montreal is far more complicated than pointing blame at Jeffrey Loria and counting “likes” on Facebook. I think we’ll have a collectively better understanding of this after a book that Jonah Keri has been working on comes out in just over a year’s time. Until then though, we can admit that yes, Montreal is the tenth biggest city in North America, and larger than most of the towns that host top level baseball games. However, if we’re admitting this, then we must also be honest in assessing Major League Baseball’s interest in expanding or moving a team back to Montreal, which is an emphatic 0%.
It’s nice that Mr. Caple writes positive things about baseball in Montreal, but if anything, his latest piece only serves to remind me of how rarely I make the connection between the present day Nationals and the former Nos Amours. I didn’t grow up in Montreal, and I never shared the same sentimentality that many of my Canadian baseball friends feel for the Expos. However, that doesn’t stop me from feeling as though it is a shame for the Expos faithful that the team no longer exists.
I don’t know if it has to do with MLB’s operating of the team in that final year or what exactly it is, but I don’t often link Montreal and Washington in terms of baseball. I’ve heard bitterness directed at the Nationals from former Expos fans, and I’ve also heard the sentiment that the Monrealer who spoke with Mr. Caple for his article expresses.
I can’t really root for the Nats and I don’t hold them accountable for the plight of the Expos.
Overall, I don’t know if Montrealers and former Expos supporters will be cheering/booing/shaking their heads this coming post season. Personally, and without any semblance of bitterness or even connection to the past, I’ll be cheering on this team. Gimmicky #Natitude promotions aside, they’re a likeable bunch with extraordinary starting pitching and a lineup of both expected and unexpected greatness.
Come to think of it, the team is full of the type of players that would’ve garnered cheers and attention had this franchise remained dans la belle province.
And The Rest
The Minnesota Twins will host the 2014 MLB All-Star Game. [Old Time Family Baseball]
Why didn’t the Minnesota Twins trade Justin Morneau to the Los Angeles Dodgers? [L.A. Times]
Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is considering a switch to third base. [The 700 Level]
Roger Clemens will start again on September 7th for the Surgar Land Skeeters. [Deadspin]
Introducing Fielding Dependent Pitching (we’ll have more on this later today). [FanGraphs]
The future of Josh Beckett and the Los Angeles Dodgers. [Baseball Nation]
Alfredo Aceves is no longer the closer for the Boston Red Sox. [Boston Herald]
The Pedro Alvarez show continues to kill the St. Louis Cardinals. [Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke?]
San Diego Padres young starter Casey Kelly is the new rad. [Baseball Prospectus]
2012: The year Buck Showalter became a genius. [Baseball Nation]
Baseball in France. [New York Times]
The Boss will dominate October baseball. [Daily Pitch]
National League pitchers who might hold some interest from the Toronto Blue Jays this off season. [DJF]