- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

So our newly beloved Washington Nationals have been skidding lately like D.C. drivers in an ice storm?

So what, when you come right down to it?

Let’s face it: This team probably is not going to win the World Series and maybe not even the National League East, no matter what general manager Jim Bowden and manager Frank Robinson say. They know better than anyone else how much the Nats have overachieved for all those wonderful fans who awoke July4 to find the first Washington team in 34 years with a 51/2-game lead in the division.

In baseball, more than any other sport, talent tells because of that 162-game regular-season grind. If the Atlanta Braves were fielding a typically strong team, rather than one without Chipper Jones for 43 games and too many rookies in key positions, we already might be chanting, “Wait ‘til next year!”

As it is, the Braves are hot on the Nats’ trail and tail, eager to extend that startling run of 13 division titles. The teams will meet 10 more times, seven at Turner Field, and it could be those games will decide matters in the uninspiring NL East.

If, that is, our little team that possibly could resumes playing like the Nats instead of the Gnats.

But really, in the long run, it doesn’t matter what happens on the field this season, unless Washington finds itself in a World Series for the first time since FDR was a White House rookie.

The important thing, as stated in this space before Opening Day, is building a solid base for the future. The Nats’ fabulous feat in winning 50 of their first 81 games was strictly a bonus — one that has made us understandably greedy for additional success. But it’s what happens in years to come that counts, starting with whatever deep-pocketed group Major League Baseball decides to sell the franchise to.

And, please, let it happen before the leaves fall. Enough stalling. Let’s get somebody in charge who cares about the club and its fans, unlike Bud Selig and his cronies. They’re the guys, remember, who originally wanted to contract the Expos.

Even in ancient RFK Stadium, deep in the heart of nowhere charm-wise, average crowds of 33,000 or so have been rocking the joint. Has there been a more heartwarming recent sight and sound in these parts than those of young fans jumping up and down until the stands shiver and shake?

When the Nats move into their new digs on the renovated Anacostia River waterfront in 2008 or ‘09, the excitement figures to be endless.

As far as 2005 goes, let’s not forget 19 of 29 games in September and October will be at our own Friendly Confines of RFK. But that won’t matter if the Nats continue to bring toothpicks rather than bats to the plate.

Ninety-nine years ago, a Chicago White Sox team known as the “Hitless Wonders” pecked its way to a World Series championship, so perhaps the Nats are seeking to emulate it. Bad idea.

I mean, Wil Cordero batting .118, Cristian Guzman .190 and Gary Bennett .232 before last night? Leadoff man Brad Wilkerson second in the league in strikeouts? Platoon left fielder Marlon Byrd with zero home runs? Jose Vidro still rusty after sitting out 54 games and griping over legitimate called third strikes? Vinny Castilla on pace to drive in 76 runs instead of last season’s 131 for Colorado?

If the Nats ever win by seven or eight runs again, Robinson might faint dead away. But that might be hard to tell because his dugout demeanor often suggests he’s snoozing anyway.

Probably, though, he’s pondering whether to grab a bat and march up to the plate himself in search of career home run No.587. Heck, F. Robby won’t reach his three score and ten until Aug. 31, and if some whippersnapper were to throw him a fastball down the middle …

That’s a preposterous idea, admittedly, but so is Bowden’s stated idea of asking Barry Larkin to leave his easy chair at age 41 and replace Guzman at shortstop. Desperation, anyone?

When the Nats lost to the last-place Rockies on Monday night, committing three uncharacteristic errors in the process, there was reason to hope they had reached bottom — and with 13 more wins than losses. Robinson described the debacle as “unacceptable,” but he might have to accept it unless his players can dig deep again for a little extra.

These Nats have been extremely plucky, if not lucky, as they approach the 100-game mark. The hope here is that they’ll rise to many more occasions this season, but if they don’t … well, to summon up Scarlett O’Hara one more time, tomorrow is another day. In fact, a lot of other days.

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