- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

Over the course of a baseball season, clubs are going to experience highs and lows. That’s simply the nature of the 162-game marathon.

The Washington Nationals, though, have taken this to new extremes in 2006. Seriously, has a team ever bounced up and down with such frequency as this bunch?

Consider this: With yesterday’s 5-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Nationals completed their fifth four-game winning streak of the season. Unfortunately, they’ve also endured an astounding nine losing streaks of at least four games.

The only thing we’ve come to learn about this team is that it is consistently inconsistent. And that’s not an especially good way to be remembered.

It’s one thing for a club to win a game here, lose a game there, win two, lose two, win one, lose two, win two, lose one. It’s quite another to lose five, win one, lose four and then win four as Washington has done over the last two weeks. It takes consistency to succeed in the major leagues, on the team level and on the individual level.

So what to make of this sudden and dramatic upswing by the Nationals: four straight wins, all in games they trailed by at least two runs entering the eighth inning (the first team to do so since the 1923 New York Giants)?

Is this perhaps a sign of better days to come? A glimpse into the promising future of a rebuilding team?

Or is this a mere aberration? A tease that only foreshadows another week of lifeless losses for this last-place ballclub?

Frank Robinson has experienced enough of these ebbs and flows over the last 50 years to know how quickly things can turn sour again. But if nothing else, the Washington manager hopes his players — especially his young players — take something out of these four remarkable wins.

“Don’t ever give up,” Robinson said. “As long as you have an out left, you have a chance to win a ballgame. That’s a good lesson for a ballclub with a lot of young players on it. If you just keep battling and keep battling and keep battling, good things can happen to you and for you.”

Look at the names of those players most responsible for pulling off these last four comebacks. Brian Schneider, Felipe Lopez and Marlon Anderson on Thursday. Ryan Church, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero and Austin Kearns during Saturday’s doubleheader. Lopez, Zimmerman, Kearns, Nook Logan and Jon Rauch yesterday.

With only a few exceptions, these are the players the Nationals are trying to build around. These are the guys who are supposed to represent the core of the ballclub in 2007, 2008 and beyond.

It didn’t seem to matter to any of them this weekend that they were playing for a last-place club with no real motivation to win over the season’s final month. But they saw firsthand what it takes to pull off four straight comebacks, against playoff-contending opponents no less.

“You can talk about it,” Robinson said. “But actually experiencing it is a totally different thing.”

The Nationals need to experience this kind of stuff. These games may not mean anything in the standings (unless you’re one of those poor saps who believes they’re still in the wild-card race despite the fact they still trail 10 other teams) but they do mean something.

Robinson was asked several times last week if he was worried his players were starting to go through the motions and give up on this season. The veteran manager insisted that was not the case, saying his team had too much pride to allow that to happen.

Looks like he was right. Just when you thought the Nationals were ready to roll over and play dead, they enjoyed the best four days of baseball this town has seen since June 2005.

It was the kind of weekend that makes you believe this whole thing could work out in the end. Or, at least until Washington comes back this week, reverts to its old ways and loses five in a row.

That’s what happens when you are consistently inconsistent.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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