The history of good-to-great quarterbacks who are drafted either first or second overall is extremely consistent: Their first season is usually a bummer, a marginal improvement at best over the team’s previous record. But for the Peyton Mannings and Troy Aikmans, those rookie seasons mean nothing. It is the second year, or the third at the latest, when the truth shines.
After so much waiting, even the Redskins owner and fans — both historically characterized by premature optimism followed by impatience — will give Griffin (some) time to breathe and grow: The greater the talent, the longer the honeymoon.
Finally, as if to prove that anything is possible, and all of it arriving suddenly, all at once, right now, the Nats have raced to Washington’s best baseball start since 1932. While Redskins, Capitals and Wizards fans have had long hard times, D.C. baseball fans fall into the biblical suffering category: They’ve been waiting their whole lives, unless they remember the ’33 Series vividly.
But thanks to the Nationals’ fast start and Major League Baseball’s newly expanded playoff format, the dreams of Washington’s long-suffering baseball fans are not just conceivable; they’re realistic.
Everyone, including me, has misunderstood how (relatively) easy it will be to get into the new expanded MLB postseason, which will include 10 teams — three division champions and two wild-card entrants from each league. We’ve looked at the average number of wins that the hypothetical second wild-card teams actually had from 1995 through 2011, when eight teams made the playoffs. (It’s 88.9.) That’s nice information. But it’s misleading. The real standard is the least number of wins needed each year to get the last wild-card spot.
It’s like the old joke: If a bear is chasing you and a buddy, you don’t need to outrun the bear; you only have to outrun your friend. To win the second wild-card spot, you only have to be ahead of the third-best contender.
And, history says, that’s not very tough. Since ’95, an 86-76 record would have been good enough to make the new, expanded playoffs 13 times, plus nine more times when 86 wins would’ve put you in a tie. So, 86 wins would make you about a 50-50 postseason proposition. Also, just an 87-75 record would have won outright 21 of the 34 “second-wild-card” spot since ’95. That’s 57 percent, not including any tiebreakers.
Counterintuitive as it seems, if the Nats play .500 ball the rest of the season and finish 86-76, they’re about even money to make the playoffs. And if they just go 73-71, their chances would go above 60 percent.
Would an eight-game losing streak, as the Nats’ schedule toughens up, change all that? Well, yeah. But this is a daily newspaper. And, right now, here’s how it stands: The Nats have already done almost all the heavy lifting needed to become D.C.’s first postseason baseball team in 79 years.
The Caps may stumble, the Nats falter and RGIII be merely good. But the book on Washington pro sports is being rewritten before our eyes. The Caps don’t always choke. The owner doesn’t always blindside the Redskins. And Washington can have a contending baseball team.
How amusing. Thalia is back in town.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.