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Thomas Boswell: Nats Need to Make Most of This Horrow Show

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By Thomas Boswell
Friday, September 11, 2009

A horrible season is a terrible thing to waste.

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So as the Nats' losses mount, with 10 defeats in their last 12 games and a current pace of 106 beatings, the biggest issue, from ownership on down, is to focus on how bad this team still is -- and vow not to inflict any similar product on Washington next year.

Because the Nats are less atrocious under Jim Riggleman (22-31) than they were under Manny Acta (26-61), because they signed Stephen Strasburg and made Mike Rizzo their permanent general manager, and because half of the team's payroll falls off the books after this season, leaving the way clear to sign $20 million to $25 million a season worth of free agents, there's been a sigh of relief in the franchise.

But there shouldn't be. Not too much of one, anyway.

Even nice moments, like the debut of shortstop Ian Desmond on Thursday night, including a through-the-wind homer that came within two rows of clearing the left field bleachers in front of the Red Porch, shouldn't take the tension out of this franchise's neck.

Misery focuses the mind wonderfully. And those who run the Nats, who'll be tempted to enjoy one-game reprieves like Liván Hernández's win over the Phillies on Thursday, shouldn't forget too quickly how painful this season was.

Some local fans, because baseball was gone so long, lack context for evaluating what they are watching and paying for. In the interests of consumer protection, let it be pointed out that if the Nats finish with 106 defeats, they will be one of the five worst teams in the National League in the last 40 seasons. And they are on track to be the second-worst team in Washington since 1909.

Yes, out of all those legendarily bad Senators teams in the last 100 years, only the '49 version, which Nats owner Ted Lerner probably remembers ("stars" like Clyde Vollmer and Ray Scarborough), were worse than his current bunch.

Baseball is back in Washington, but not major league baseball. Not yet anyway. But, if the Nats keep reminding themselves over and over that the last two years are utterly unacceptable, they may be closer to an actual big league team than cynics think.

"We're all excited for next year, as bad as that sounds," said Ryan Zimmerman, whose transformation into a genuine 30-100-.300, Gold-Glove star may be the team's best piece of news. "We're all hopeful that they will go out and get a couple of pitchers. We have faith that they'll go out and make us better this winter."

The key word is faith. Do you believe the Lerners? Do you believe that, when President Stan Kasten and Rizzo speak, the owners are now truly on the same page? The pattern for the last 10 months has been encouraging. But not the 30 months before that.

Everybody in the clubhouse knows what needs to be done. And they'll tell you. Add two pitchers to the rotation. The bullpen needs another good arm. Add a fine defensive infielder at either shortstop or second base and play Cristian Guzmán at the other spot.


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