- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Crow doesn’t taste any better the second time around. Nevertheless, with the Nationals having completed their third season in Washington, we find it necessary to consume another platter.

This team could easily have thrown in the towel after its abysmal start. After losing the last eight games of a nine-game road trip at the beginning of May, the Nats returned to RFK Stadium possessing the worst record (9-25) in Major League Baseball (MLB). Their winning percentage (.265) was on track towards matching the Detroit Tigers’ 2003 record of 43-119, which was the second-worst in MLB since 1935. The Nats had scored the fewest runs and had hit the fewest homers among all 30 big-league teams. In fact, Alex Rodriguez had hit more home runs than the entire Washington team. In the National League, only the Colorado Rockies pitchers, who toil a mile above sea level at home, had a higher earned-run average. The Nats led the major leagues in errors.

We specifically took issue with first-baseman Dmitri Young, who, following a calamitous seven-for-53 streak, was batting .224 with 14 RBIs. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, widely considered the Nats’ “franchise player,” had 1 home run and 8 RBIs.

Instead of continuing their collapse, the Nationals managed to reverse course, winning 10 of 14 games in the mid-May homestand. After beginning the season 9-25, the team played .500 ball (64-64) for the remainder of the season. Before the season began, the Nats were universally projected to compile the worst record in baseball. Instead, they won more games than eight other big-league teams, including the Baltimore Orioles (for the third year in a row). The historic collapse of the New York Mets could not have occurred if the Nats had not taken five of six from the East Division-leading Mets, including a three-game sweep in New York in late September when the Nats scored 32 runs.

No doubt the leadership of freshman Manager Manny Acta played a major role in the highly respectable recovery of this team. Management expressed its appreciation over the weekend by exercising its 2009 option on the 38-year-old manager’s contract. Meanwhile, Young clearly deserves to be named the National League Comeback Player of the Year. Released by the Detroit Tigers in September 2006 after playing in only 48 games last season, Young finished this season with a .320 batting average (tied for eighth-best in the league) after hitting nearly .350 following his terrible start. Meanwhile, Zimmerman hit 23 homers and knocked in 83 runs since the May homestand began, as the 23-year-old reclaimed the right to be considered the team’s “franchise player.”

The Nats — who are set to play in their new ballpark next season — and Acta deserve great credit for turning a potentially disastrous season into one the players could finish holding their heads high. That’s more than can be said for the Mets.


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