The season when hope springs eternal is long past. It’s not even the dog days of summer anymore. Twilight comes early, the dogwoods are turning red, crickets are chirping. This is the time of year when baseball fans in Washington, D. C. traditionally succumb to futility as an inevitable part of the experience.
Only this year, with hope lingering into the fall, the baseball gods appear to be setting us up for a new kind of heartbreak … the smashing of rising expectations. A playoff berth has been clinched, the first in this town since 1933. That guarantees a grand total of one postseason game. More wins are needed to close the real deal, a divisional championship. But the remaining schedule is full of other contenders who aren’t about to lie down. The necessary wins to reduce that “magic number” are coming slowly. The team is mostly young and inexperienced, and may be having jitters.
Baseball pundits have never quite embraced the Nationals’ surprising success this season. It seems to have upset too many preconceived notions that the Nats “are still a year or two away.” Some of the commentary is downright mean-spirited, and seems designed to stir up trouble on a team that has enjoyed great chemistry so far. Lately, representatives of the team directly to our north have revived the tired argument that pitching ace Stephen Strasburg, who is recovering from elbow surgery, should insist on pitching past the innings limit that was established for him this year. Reaching new heights of hyperbole, they’ve pronounced it a “sin” and an “abomination” that the team has chosen to follow the best possible medical advice to protect Strasburg’s long-term health.
Further, these geniuses don’t bother to explain how the kid is supposed to “insist” on pitching. They’d love to see him do something flaky. Maybe occupy the pitchers’ mound in a protest? Walk off the team? Kidnap his replacement in the rotation? Get his manager drunk and write his own name on the lineup card?
Strasburg’s replacement in the rotation is a solid Major League pitcher, and this issue is only relevant once every five days. The real problem is that our relatively unseasoned team has fallen apart several times on national TV. That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, where the lights will be even brighter and more unrelenting. This season has been a great ride, however it ends. Still, being Nats fans, we prepare for heartbreak.