It might seem hard to be optimistic about the Nats these days, with Elijah Dukes joining the mob of Nationals headed to or already on the DL, or with the team dropping six in a row, securing the least-good record in the majors. It seems hard, but it’s not impossible.
DCO has been silent on the Nats for a little while, searching for meaning. Meaning in things like 19 trips to the disabled list, 8 of 9 Opening Day starters missing time, injury diagnoses of 2-4 weeks or 4-6 weeks turning into 1-2 months (Zimmerman, Kearns, Estrada), or the entire season (Johnson, Cordero). Meaning in things like steadily improving players (Zimmerman, Milledge, Dukes) suddenly and freakishly encountering calamities taking them out of the lineup right when they were starting to make true contributions. Meaning in Shawn Hill straining his forearm yet again. Meaning in wondering if Ryan Wagner still plays baseball. Meaning in a Nick Johnson owie wiping out yet another summer.
Maybe there are a couple of larger forces at play here, providing a compelling explanation for this seemingly cruel injustice of a season being thrust upon the Nats. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s talk again about Dukes, he of the batting average surging to .263 in mere weeks after floundering in the sub-.100 arena for so long; he of the non-clubhouse-tearing-apart attitude since the forgotten brush-up with ManAct a few weeks ago. With his injury apparently comes great motivation, and Manny-like ‘tism, if his comments to the Nationals Journal from earlier this week are any indication. He wants to come back as soon as possible. He wants to continue to prove himself. He wants to help this team get better. Not the type of franchise disaster forecasted when he was first acquired and after his long-forgiven spat with the Master. This injury, while bad now, may yet serve to illustrate what a stroke of genius signing Dukes was for the future of the franchise. So there’s your optimistic take on that.
Now, the team as a whole.
It’s fairly obvious that this entire season is a design by God/Fate/Destiny to secure the #1 draft pick for the Nationals. With that draft pick, it is apparent the Nats are destined to select some sort of baseball #1 overall equivalent of Alex Ovechkin (it would serve as a nice tie-in to our analysis of last fall). This player will usher in a decade of dominance such as the one Ovie is bringing about, helping to lift the Nats from hacky joke to league-wide darlingism like that currently being enjoyed by the Rays. The Rays! Who saw that coming? The shock at Washington’s rise will be comparable.
To secure this pick/player for the Nats, it has been (painfully) necessary to inflict upon the team this utter cruelty of an injury-plagued (putting it lightly) campaign. It’s the only way. The team and its manager are too damned resilient to fall to the bottom of the league with anything short of extreme compulsion. This explains why so many rising youngsters have been cut down so relatively early in the season. If they were allowed to properly flourish, the Nationals would be back on last year’s track of shocking the league. Even Jim Bowden is taken aback by the unprecedented-ness of it all.
It may seem like DCO is throwing up their collective hands, merely accepting the Nats are the worst team in the majors with no hope. Far from it. Manny and the lads may yet pull it all together again, cruising into late summer and early fall with designs on ruining another Mets’ season (a snazzy performance from John Lannan and clutch pinch-hit home run by Jesus Flores last night provide hope for such a scenario). That would be wonderful. It may just be that all of this losing of players may be part of a PLAN even bigger than The Plan.