- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012


It might be hard, but let’s not make World Series reservations just yet for the 12-4 Washington Nationals.

So far, 2012 has been positively supercalifragilisticexpialidocious for the Nats and their hardy band of overachievers. Is that really Davey Johnson standing calmly in the dugout? For a moment, I thought it was Mary Poppins.

As the radio and TV announcers annoyingly keep reminding us, though, this is still a “young” season. The Nats have played about one-tenth of their schedule, which means a continuation of this magic would mean a record final record of around 121-41. And we all know that ain’t gonna happen.

So let’s not break up the Nats, as folks used to say about all those old Yankees powerhouses. In fact, injuries already have partially done that, even if nobody wearing a curly “W” seems to realize it.

Every season produces one or two clubs that tear up the pea patch in April and early May only to disappear. We had an example of that hereabouts in 2005, when the first-year Nats somehow went 50-31 during the season’s first half as thousands rocked the stands at RFK. The second-half numbers were the same in reverse, meaning a final 81-81. Where have all the flowers gone, and why so quickly?

(Here’s another way you can tell it’s early: Albert Pujols has nada dingers and is batting .246 for the unappreciative Angels.)

Don’t get me wrong — my fan side loves what the Nats are doing. But baseball, above all other sports, exists on logic. And it behooves us to wonder, logically, how long their marvelous rotation can thrive and survive with about as much support as Mitt Romney gives Barack Obama.

Against nutty Ozzie Guillen’s Marlins over the weekend, the Nats scored five runs in two games and won both. Their .243 team batting average ranks ninth in the National League, and their 10 home runs are merely one more than Matt Kemp has bashed for the Dodgers.

Now, it’s possible to win big with superb pitching and sickly hitting (see Los Angeles Dodgers, 1965-1966), but it’s not likely. Right now, Nats starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are having more problems with their own hitters than with the opposition. The team ERA of 2.34 leads the majors, and that’s with Tom Gorzelanny (6.48) included.

If giddy fans need another reason to put hysteria on hold, how about this: The Nats are sort of a walking rehab unit. Their closer, Drew Storen, and best power hitter, Michael Morse, are out until possibly midseason. Another potentially powerful starter, Chien-Ming Wang, has yet to throw a pitch that counts. And Ryan Zimmerman, the “face-of-the-franchise” third baseman, missed Saturday’s game with shoulder inflammation. He says it’s “nothing,” but any health problem for No. 11 makes loyalists shudder.

Then, too, consider the schedule. Nine of those 12 wins have come against the Cubs, Astros and Mets, likely bottom-feeders in their respective divisions. The toughest team the Nats have faced is the Reds, who will go only as far as Joey Votto and his bat take them.

So I’d wait a while before going totally bonkers. The preseason prediction here was for an 88-74 season, which would represent solid improvement but probably not get the Nats into the playoffs. It has seemed all along that 2013 would be the Big Year for Washington baseball, and I see no reason to change that evaluation.

Tell you what — let’s check back in a month or so. From May 20 to 27, the Nats will play three games each against the Phillies and Braves, the presumptive bad boys of the power-packed NL East. If Washington is in or around first place after that, you have my permission to get excited.

Really excited.

• For more of the author’s columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com

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