- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 31, 2007

“Rebuilding” is this season’s Washington Nationals watchword. Actually, that’s the positive spin. For realist Nats fans, “tradition” is the word, as in, traditional league doormat. “First in war, first in peace and last in the American — now National — League.” The Nats still offer some of the best ticket prices in baseball, plenty of seats and some promising youngsters to watch. Those are three very good reasons to head out to RFK Stadium for tomorrow’s opener against the Florida Marlins. Just don’t expect much —except a year of bloopers and goofs.

Sure, our belief that this year’s Washington Nationals could rival the Bad News Bears might prove to be wrong. New manager Manny Acta’s enthusiasm can only help. The starting lineup has a few bright spots, especially up-and-coming star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, a hustler of a right-fielder in Austin Kearns and a solid, well-hitting second-baseman, Felipe Lopez. Old friend Cristian Guzman, once a promising young shortstop, could return to form, while center-fielder Ryan Church could deliver on his touted natural abilities. Since we’re speculating, it’s also possible that injured first baseman Nick Johnson’s replacement, Dimitri Young, can overcome personal troubles and a diabetes diagnosis in a bid for Comeback Player of the Year. Don’t count on any of it, though.

This year’s Nats arguably have the worst starting rotation in major-league baseball. John Patterson is the only legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher on the team, but he is coming off a season-ending forearm injury. Number two starter Shawn Hill is 2-5 lifetime with a 6.90 earned-run average. Number three Matt Chico has never pitched in the majors nor above the Double A level in the minors. We won’t go into it, but the pitching gets worse from here.

We could simply choose to look on the bright side: These first few seasons have been appreciably better than the first years of the Washington Senators’ last incarnation. That club lost 100 or more games in each of its first four seasons (We’re referring to the franchise now known as the Texas Rangers, which left town after the 1971 season). That legendarily bad club burned through three managers in 1963, its third season, compiling an awful 56-106 record. That was not even the worst record in the history of Washington baseball. No, that honor goes to the 1904 Washington Nationals. They won 38 and lost 113. Now, there’s some bad-news baseball.

We recently came across old Washington Times-Herald reportage from that 1963 campaign detailing a two-loss April doubleheader to the Minnesota Twins. Yes, those Minnesota Twins, the club which Washington had just lost. The Twins bashed 12 home runs while newly installed manager Gil Hodges sat at home with the flu. Ex-Washingtonian Harmon Killebrew clouted three of the twelve home runs. Ouch.

So, bad as this year’s Nats are likely to be, at least we don’t have an ex-Washington ballclub around in the National League to clobber them.

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