Saturday, June 11, 2005

« Hey! How 'bout them Nationals? »

By Suss
Ladies and gentlemen, the Expos are in first place.

Wait ... (checks notes) I'm pleased to inform you they are no longer the Expos. They are the Nationals.

Our nation's capital inherited a team that made the playoffs once in their 36-year history. They've never been to the World Series. They haven't had a winning record since 1996. The team saw many promising players leave their spacious Olympic Stadium: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Cliff Floyd, Ugueth Urbina, Rondell White, Vladmir Guerrero, Moises Alou, Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, Milton Bradley.

The Quebecois had very little to cheer about with this team in the neighborhood. Instead of relocating the team, MLB (which owned the team because nobody else wanted to) decided to have the Expos play a portion of their home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Greenland would have been closer to home for Montreal. After the Great Latin American Experiment, MLB shipping Les Expos to D.C. The team got a fresh start and a fresh name, and the Nationals added two key players: journeyman pitcher Esteban Loaiza, veteran third baseman Vinny Castilla and accomplished outfielder Jose Guillen.

Equipped with talent already, the Nationals are not just in the thick of things in that NL East: They are leading it. With every team in that division possessing a winning record, the Nationals aren't exactly the survivors of a pitiful division.

Their record is equal to that of the Padres. They're a half game behind the Angels. They have a better record than the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Dodgers. But the team probably cherishes the team stat they lead the National League in: record at home (22-9). They haven't played a true home game in quite some time, given the attendance in Montreal.

And it's not a fluke. Their ace Livan Hernandez is a proven winner, having won a ring with the Florida Marlins. Young players like Brad Wilkerson and Nick Johnson are finally coming into their own. Castilla leads the team with 32 RBI, young outfielder Ryan Church is performing well with a .333 average in 132 at bats.

And their current eight-game winning streak happened without the only recognizable player on last year's team -- second baseman Jose Vidro -- currently injured.

And now the team is looking like a team that wants to win, because they aren't satisfied with winning now -- they want to ensure they'll keep winning all year. So they made a few moves. With Vidro as a question mark because of his health, they acquired former All-Star second baseman Junior Spivey from the Brewers in exchange for pitcher Tomo Okha. And to account for Ohka's absence, they claimed pitcher Ryan Drese off waivers from the Rangers.

Players on the team don't have the flashiest stats in the league, and five of their players are currently on the DL. But with Frank Robinson managing that team, it's difficult to wait for them to take a nose dive in the standings. And it's hard to believe they'll stop making moves. Behind Hernandez and Loaiza, their rotation is filled out by Tony Armas, John Patterson and Drese.

And if you want to see them play, catch them against the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday, June 15 at 10:05 (eastern) on ESPN2.

Also seen on BLOGCRITICS


Blogger Zach said...

Credit Mr. Bowden. He's a genius at making something out of nothing. Remember, however, the Expos would have made the postseason in 1994.
I feel bad for Montreal fans, all six of them. The Nationals will fade, however.

June 11, 2005 3:01 PM  

Blogger -J. said...

It's difficult to believe the Nats will fade. Maybe it's the hopeless romantic in me, but there is little reason to forecast their doom.

They've got one of the most consistent closers, some serious prospects in the minors, and all without being near 100%.

Unless one of the other teams in the NL East can maintain consistency (like the Phils are currently), and the Dodgers and Cubs can take it up a peg, the Nationals have a damn good chance of getting to the playoffs.

June 14, 2005 2:47 PM  

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