It's been over two weeks now since the season mercifully ended for the Washington Nationals. It was an odd ending for the Nationals since usually they finished strongly and left fans with a promise of a better day (even if that better day was only 75 wins)
In 2006 the Nats went 15-13 in September, and featured the "Charge of the White Brigade" as Nick Johnson, Ryan Church, recently acquired Austin Kearns, and Zimm all finished very strongly. This is the core of a very good offense!
In 2007 the Nats went 15-12 in September, played .500 ball after the All-Star break, and finally got the power threat they desperately needed stealing Wily Mo Pena from the Red Sox. This kid is going to mash 40 homers!
In 2008 the Nats went 14-15 in August, and in the final couple months saw Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes finish strong. The future is now! Other teams would kill for the young OF talent we have!
In 2009 the Nats went 14-15 in August and won their final 7 games, thanks in part to the recently acquired spark plug Nyjer Morgan. Finally the CF this team has been dying for! At least that'll be settled for next year!
This year though there was no strong finish. They last were close to .500 in July (12-13) and generally had been playing poorly since mid May. There were no young studs finishing hot. After a nice August, Desmond struggled and Bernadina tanked like a tanker full of Tank McNamara comic strips. After a super hot start Danny Espinosa leveled off at "he's ok". Wilson Ramos picked it up a bit, but then again you know he'll be splitting starts with the Living Dead next season.
Add to that the shadow hanging over the end of the year because of Strasburg's injury... and the growing inevitability of Dunn's departure... and Kasten's abandoning ship, and you get a September that would drive away even the most ardent fan.
In totality though, through the 20/20 ness of hindsight, was the season that bad? The Nats won 69 games, 10 more than each of the past 2 years. They did this despite the injuries to Strasburg, and Marquis, and Lannan, and Detwiler, and Willingham. They did it despite getting almost no production from 2 1/2 spots in the lineup and 3 spots in the rotation at any time. Desmond hung on enough to be encouraging. They introduced some young players in Espinosa and Ramos, who are actual prospects rather than veterans looking for a second chance or fill in guys from AAA that happened to have a strong month. The injured Lannan and Marquis looked healthy at season's end which bodes well for them being ok next year.
I'm not ready to call the season a success by any means, but a few weeks out and I'm ready to look at it with a lot more optimism. It was a tough year - mostly by design (Pudge AND Kennedy/Guzman AND no RF plan, all while starting a rookie at short? Really?! You really want to wait out the time until Strasburg and ZNN with Stammen, Atilano and Olsen? Really?!) Next year looks to be tough too. But in a different, much more appealing way. Start Desmond again, along with Ramos and Espinosa? Fill-in the rotation with 2 of Detwiler, ZNN, and Maya? That's not plugging holes with whatever you can find lying around. That sort of seems like a viable plan to find good young talent.
Of course, with that much variability in potential the Nats do need to make the moves we've all heard they want to. They need an anchor to the staff, and not a 200 IP, 4.00 ERA anchor and actual starter you'd like to call your #1. They need Adam Dunn, or someone with Adam Dunn like influence on the offense, helping to anchor the middle of the lineup. A good RF would help, even if it's only a nice fielder who can hit righties to complement Morse. If they can do all that though, 2011 looks to be a year worth watching. At least for the first few months.