- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2011

When a team is “fortunate” enough to have the No. 1 pick in back-to-back years, with once-a-generation prospects available in back-to-back drafts, we shouldn’t be surprised if good karma is scarce afterward. Few franchises are fortuitous enough to ever draft a Stephen Strasburg or a Bryce Harper; snagging both within a 12-month span was like winning the Powerball on consecutive drawings.

No one expected the Nats to contend for a pennant this year. After improving from 59 wins in 2009 to 69 wins in 2010, the team still was considered too young with too many holes to play meaningful games in September. A .500 record would constitute success, especially considering Strasburg’s absence from the rotation.

But it appears that Strasburg’s injury last year was just the initial payment of misfortune to balance out the luck in landing him and Harper. Limping home after a 1-7 road trip dropped them to 21-28, the Nats might need the entire season to clear the ledger.

Writing off 2011 wasn’t part of the deal, but not much is going as planned.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman didn’t last two weeks before landing on the disabled list with a torn abdominal muscle. First baseman Adam LaRoche just went on the DL with a left shoulder tear and a .172 batting average. Center fielder Rick Ankiel just came off the DL, and he’s batting .215. Right fielder Jayson Werth, the team’s prized (and pricey) offseason acquisition, is on pace for a mere 60 RBI.

On the plus side, after hitting just .200 entering April 20, Werth is heating up. He’s batting .366 with six extra-base hits and a 1.057 OPS in his past 11 games. Since May 1, he’s hitting .293 with a .381 on-base percentage and .869 OPS.

On the minus side, he offered some cryptic comments Wednesday after a 6-4 loss to the Brewers. Werth declined speaking to the media following the first two games of the series, but he opened up after Milwaukee completed the sweep. Well, he sort of opened up, leaving room to read between lines that don’t sound good.

Asked what the Nats need to break out of their funk, Werth told reporters, “I’ve got some ideas obviously and some thoughts that I don’t really want to share with the world. But I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on around here.”

It’s obvious that the team is dreadful at the plate, next-to-last among NL teams in batting average (.229), on-base percentage (.299) and OPS (.660). But Werth’s analysis of what’s wrong can’t be as simple as a lack of hitting. He believes the win-loss record isn’t indicative of the talent in the clubhouse.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We’re a way better ballclub. … We have been close the whole time; we just can’t get over the hump. We’ll get right there, and we’ll have opportunities and chances to win games. But we don’t win them and we should.

“Good ballclubs are resilient,” he said. “The players are resilient and they bounce back. I believe in these guys in here. We’ve got a great group of guys. We’ve got a lot of talent. We just need to keep going. A lot of these guys are still learning and we’ve got to make sure that they continue to develop regardless of winning or losing because I think that’s important for the future of this club. But things need to change.”

A change of fortune would be beneficial, and perhaps enough to make Washington an acceptable 25-24 or 24-25. But Werth’s comments seem to suggest something more tangible. If you thought he was pointing toward manager Jim Riggleman’s office, you wouldn’t be the only one reaching that conclusion.

I don’t see how Riggleman gets the blame, but it often lands in the manager’s lap, regardless. The fact that general manager Mike Rizzo hasn’t picked up Riggleman’s option for next year will increase speculation if the season continues at this pace.

Clearly the team was due for some bad luck after landing Strasburg and Harper, but I hope it doesn’t extend to Riggleman personally. If he isn’t around to reap the benefits in 2012, it’ll be like he won the lottery but has to watch someone else cash his ticket.

A lost 2011 season should be enough to pay off the debt.

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