Some things are hard to believe, even when you have watched them come into focus every step of the way. The sudden prominence, and respect, shown to the Nats here easily surpasses what Washington probably expects. Is this partially wish fulfillment as baseball hopes a strong franchise will emerge in a top-10 market in the Nation’s Capital? Yes, among Selig’s long list of wishes before he retires, that would probably be one.
But because baseball plays so many games, has so much data to sift through and gets to evaluate players over such a long truth-serum span of time, the game has very clear internal views on the state of promising franchises. For example, everybody here chucks the plucky Pirates under the chin and hopes they finish over .500. The Orioles are encouraged to keep up the good fight in a tough division; but they’ve been outscored by 36 runs and have the fifth-worst rotation ERA in baseball. Are they serious? Not yet.
For the Nationals, this could be a dry run for a first postseason chance, maybe this October.
To show how tantalizingly close this is to reality, if the season ended now, the Nats would be the highest seed in the NL playoffs. They’d not only avoid a one-game play-in between the two wild cards, they would also be rested for the Division Series and get to face that wild card winner the day after that team had used its best available starter to avoid elimination. MLB’s new postseason structure was built to hamstring wild-card teams and help division winners advance more easily to the League Championship Series. Who imagined that might apply to the Nats!
No one did, except perhaps Manager Davey Johnson, as recently as three months ago. On Opening Day, the Nats were considered, perhaps, the 12th best team in baseball and, if things worked out, the fifth best in the National League with a chance for that new wild card spot.
As this night showed, anything, no matter how novel in Washington’s long and mostly bitter baseball experience, might now apply to these young gifted winning Nats. And if not now, then it may apply fairly soon.
From shutout innings to 98 mph fastballs to gold shoes and teenage mistakes, this was a night for the Nats to get their first huge gulp of national exposure — and, perhaps for the first of many nights, shine in it.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/boswell