All-stars? All-stars. I vaguely recall the term. So Washington — the town that sports’ good times frequently bypass — has three players in baseball’s All-Star Game? (Maybe four, but if Bryce Harper isn’t going to vote for himself, he’s got no chance to make it in this cruel, old world.)
Well, I’ll be jiggered. We few, we happy few have known for a while that the Nats are for real this season — from those who thought they’d win the World Series to those (like me) who thought they’d be in the hunt for a wild-card spot. And of course, it’s way too early to know if any of us will be right. What we know now is that none of us is stark raving mad.
Monday morning’s standings showed the Nats with the third-best record in baseball and Monday morning’s Sports front showed three Nats chosen for the National League all-star team: Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Ian Desmond.
Harper is in the running in the fan voting category, where it’s hard to say how he’ll do. He would vote for Chipper Jones, playing his final season, and he’s probably not alone in that sentiment. Making the All-Star Game at 19 would be another feather in Harper’s cap — or another pound of eye-black on Harper’s face, if you will — but it also won’t stunt his growth to have to wait another year or two for it, either.
But three means the word is finally out. Through Sunday, Strasburg led all of baseball with 122 strikeouts; Gonzalez was eighth with 112 and his 11-3 record was second only to the eerie R.A. Dickey’s 12-1 mark.
Gonzalez was an all-star last year, just not for the Nats. But Strasburg was throwing rehab a year ago and Desmond was learning to play shortstop at the major league level by playing shortstop at the major league level. It was about as smooth an education as you’d imagine, and a lot of Nats fans had little patience for the experiment. You couldn’t uncover one now with a polygraph, but you know who you were.
Desmond is still learning — he’s an all-star reserve this year — but the improvement he’s shown in the field and at the plate has clearly been impressive — here comes the dread expression — outside the Beltway. GM Mike Rizzo took a chance in throwing the kid out there and seeing what happened. A trip to Kansas City is what happened. That was a good call.
Honors are nice and all, but of course the bigger goal for the Nats is well down the road, and that is a postseason appearance. With the injuries they’ve suffered, it seems almost impossible that they could still be leading their division, and yet they are. When you lose Jayson Werth (broken wrist) and closer Drew Storen (elbow surgery), your top power hitter from a year ago, Michael Morse, misses the first 50 games (back), and your starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, tears up a knee, well, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day, or a lot of days.
And yet, they played with a patchwork lineup and kept winning. That speaks volumes about the use of the bench and the minor league system, and the work of the front office to make sure those pieces are in place. Harper has been a huge cog in that machinery, which is an argument for a vote or two for the teenager. Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore and Rick Ankiel have bounced around from position to position. Adam LaRoche has plugged the power vacuum with 15 homers — attention, Pepco! — and should get a look as a reserve should someone drop out of the All-Star Game. And someone always does.
Now the Nats’ hiccup is in the starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang has been sent to the bullpen and he may need to be sent even further. The difference this year, from years past, seems to be the lack of worry about these problems. Because the front office and Davey Johnson and Steve McCatty have solved worse problems than this one.
Yikes, I’m turning into Boz!
Well, there are worse things. Maybe it’s because there are bigger fish to fry — and in a good part of our region, our houses are so hot we can fry fish without using the stove. But even Strasburg’s literal meltdown on Saturday doesn’t seem worrisome. Strasburg is a fair-skinned fellow who has never loved heat and humidity, which I believe shows good judgment. It’s inconvenient that his profession requires him to work it part of the year, but what can’t be cured must be endured. I’m sure that scientific lab we see in those Gatorade commercials is working on a special Strasburg Blend even as we speak. It should contain red, white and blue components that stay separate until you shake the bottle. (I’m giving this idea away — come on!)
And do hurry. The Midwest has been in the grip of a long heat wave, combined with the standard wind and little rain. The early forecast for Kansas City on July 10, however, is a high of 92 and a low of 76. The chance of rain is 10 percent. The chance of a grasshopper invasion is 12 percent. The good news is that Kauffman Stadium has one feature that’s tailor-made for Strasburg — a giant fountain in the outfield. He can just fall in, Lipton style. After all, the Nats are sending at least three players to Missouri; they want them all back in the same condition. Because the second half of this season is shaping up to be a doozy, and Washington no longer has the element of surprise.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.