The Washington Nationals are on a path to the playoffs and that’s about as rare a thing in the nation’s capital as cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.
It should be remembered that this is the third Major League team to grace D.C. and those two predecessor teams, both named the Washington Senators, did not produce much success. Really, Congress has been more productive than the baseball teams and that’s hard to imagine.
The Nationals have a six game lead in the National League East Division over the Atlanta Braves and the fact that it is a fairly weak division doesn’t diminish the fact. They’ll take anything resembling first place in any manner, shape or form in Washington. No Washington big-league club has won a pennant since 1933.
Washington is 18 games over .500 with a month to go in the regular season and how the Nationals have compiled their solid record is surprising on a couple of counts. A few years ago when the first hints surfaced that the Nationals had drafted wisely and stockpiled talent for the future, it was felt that they owned the contracts of a couple young stars. Stephen Strasburg had greatness written all over him and he would become the ace of the staff and young Bryce Harper had greatness written all over him and he would anchor the batting order.
While Strasburg and Harper have been contributors to the Nationals’ success in 2014 they are not making venerable Washington fans forget Walter Johnson or Goose Goslin. They are doing fine, but they are not carrying the club.
Coming out of San Diego State, Strasburg was supposed to be the second coming of Roger Clemens. He soared in his early outings, got injured and then in 2012, the first time in more than a half century a Washington-based Major League club was really respectable, the team shut him down before the playoffs for fear he would pitch too many innings.
This was an outrageous move and the Nationals poor choice probably contributed to their early exit from the post-season. Strasburg was a powerful and feared pitcher, but lately he is just one of the guys in the rotation with a 10-10 mark. Only a few weeks ago a slumping Harper was the subject of stories in the greater Washington area that suggested he should be sent to the minors to reboot, just like a computer. That was almost as foolish as the sidelining of Strasburg. He’s up to .260 now.
It is an interesting scenario. The Nationals’ smart draft picks have made it to the majors and are leading the once-horrible team to prominence. The irony is that the team is having this type of success without relying on Strasburg and Harper becoming superstars. They may yet, but right now the good news for the Nationals is that they are a fairly well balanced squad and don't have a heavy dependence on these two guys.
It is early in the careers of Straburg and Harper. They could break out at any time and even lead the team to playoff victories this October. To this point they have not emerged yet as the kinds of players a team can ride to a World Series title.
Yet the duo remains the kind of prospects a franchise can build around for a long time, and if put in the position to excel in the upcoming playoffs we may learn that their time has arrived in a hurry.