The Washington Times - September 16, 2009, 11:27PM

Well, Jim Riggleman obviously reads the paper. Which one, I’m not 100 percent sure. But he’s picking up what has been written in this one, in the other one in town and in just about every paper in every town the Nationals travel to during the season.

The Nationals are “the worst team in baseball.” That’s what their record says. That’s what their play on the field frequently says. That’s what writers and broadcasters and scouts and fans who have watched this team all season say.

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Riggleman doesn’t believe it’s true. He doesn’t think his team is the majors’ worst. But he understands why most everyone else does believe it. It’s because of performances like tonight’s during a 6-1 loss to the Phillies. This one was ugly. Four Washington players were thrown out on the bases. Defensive lapses led to Philadelphia runs. Poor pitch selection and execution didn’t help, either.

So Riggleman gathered his players — as he always does after every game — and spoke to them. This time, he went into more detail. He told his team he doesn’t believe it is the worst in baseball. But he told them they will continue to be stuck with that label until they start playing a better brand of ball.

“You pick up the paper, you hear things and a lot of comments get started with: ‘The worst team in baseball, the Washington Nationals.’ You know, we’re not the worst team in baseball,” Riggleman told us reporters afterward. “Unfortunately, you are what your record says you are. But we’ve got a good ballclub. And this good ballclub just found ways tonight to shoot ourselves in the foot and lose a ballgame, which adds to the record and the negativity and allows people to write those things.

“For me, our record does not indicate the quality of the ballclub that we have. The score of that ballgame did not indicate the ballgame that was. That ballgame was 2-0 for a long time and now it ends up 6-1 and it looks like the worst team in baseball again, people write.

“I’m just reminding our players that when you make that many mistakes in a ballgame, you are going to allow those things to be said. And we’ve got to be accountable for that.”

So, are the Nationals the worst team in baseball? Well, the standings say they are 5 1/2 games behind the next-worst team (the Pirates) and eight games behind the team above them (the Royals). Has some progress been made this year? I would say yes. I do believe this year’s team (even though it might finish with a worse record than last year’s 59-102 bunch) was better. I think they are better positioned moving forward to build a contender than they were a year ago.

But most outside observers aren’t going to pay attention to those things. They look at the record, and they look at the evidence when they see the Nationals play before their own eyes.

And it’s hard to dispute the conclusion they all draw: The Nationals are the worst team in baseball.