- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

That’s it. I’ve had it. Enough already. With the Nationals, I mean. Again.

Roy Campanella once famously said that a man has to have a lot of little boy in him to play baseball. The same applies to sportswriters. No matter how impartial we try to be, it’s only human nature to want “our” team to do well.

But there comes a time when stark reality rears its ugly head.

A time like 22-31, which is where the Gnats — excuse me, I mean Nats — were before slinking onto their home greensward Tuesday night to face the first-place Phillies and superduper lefty ace Cliff Lee.

A while back, I picked the Nats to finish 77-85 this season, a figure that would reflect promising progress. Now, with the season slightly short of the one-third milepost, they’re on pace to go 67-95, or two games worse than in 2010.



Nobody likes somebody who bails when the going gets tough. But how about when it stays tough — year after year, decade after decade?

Discounting the 33 seasons when D.C. was cursed with no baseball, I’ve spent 30 seasons watching men with a curly or uncurly “W” on their caps play (misplay?) the greatest team game ever invented (non-invented?). Exactly two of those teams had winning records, the most recent in 1969. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.

Division titles? Pennants? World Series victory parades? Dream on, jock breath.

A columnist across town insists these Nats are going to be very good very soon. He should know better because he grew up here, just as I did. Dream on, Boz.

True, the Lerner family and general manager Mike Rizzo are trying to build the right way, from the ground up. These days, I’d say, the project is still at basement level, literally and figuratively.

This season, supposedly strengthened by the addition of veterans Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, plus promising kids Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, the Nats got off to an encouraging if not dazzling 18-18 start. That was May 11. Since then, they’ve gone 4-13, including a recent 1-7 road trip and two losses in three games to Baltimore and San Diego, two fellow cellar-dwellers. Heck, these punchless patsies didn’t even wait for June to swoon.

Did I just say the Nats were punchless? Punchy would be more like it, especially with bats in hand. They’ve wasted generally excellent pitching by failing to hit even with the modest force of a spring shower. Pretty soon opposing hurlers might start getting them out by rolling the ball to the plate. A suspicion grows that these pretenders couldn’t even muster a consistent attack in T-ball.

On Monday, however, they observed Memorial Day the holiday by somehow whacking three home runs off Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in captivity (I wonder what kind of odds Las Vegas might have posted against that). Naturally, they lost anyway.

Speaking of Las Vegas, let’s look at the numbers, like .230. That’s the Nats’ team batting average, next to last in the majors. They’ve been shut out seven times, scored one run four times and erupted for two runs six times. Heck, even the 1906 White Sox (aka the Hitless Wonders) dented the dish more often than that — and won the World Series besides.

All this futile flailing has produced some frightening batting averages: Matt Stairs .088, LaRoche .172 (before escaping to the DL with shoulder miseries), Espinosa .205, Rick Ankiel .214, Pudge Rodriguez .211, Desmond .226, Jerry Hairston .248, $126 million man Jayson Werth .255.

So I’ll find other things to watch and do between now and April, when a healthy Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and maybe Bryce Harper will be around to provide excitement. Call me a fair-weather fan if you like, but I know enough to come in out of the rain. And where the Nats are concerned, it always seems to be pouring.

Read more of the author’s columns at dickheller.wordpress.com.

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