I know it feels sometimes that the Nats are like the Pirates - a consistently terrible team that hasn't won in forever. Truth be told though really there was only a three year stretch (2007-2009) where Nats fans couldn't fool themselves into thinking there might be something more in a given season. We all remember 2005. In 2006 the Nats overcame a 2-9 to 9-20 start to pull to 30-34 on Jun 11th. Given they competed the previous year and that the NL Wild Card leader was the Reds (they haven't been good in years!) a fan might hold out hope. And last year a number of people got excited about a team that was hovering around .500 (30-31 on Jun 10th) with a stretch of games against bad teams coming up and the debut of Strasburg.
We also know what happened in 2006 and, more relevantly 2010. 3-14 and 3-13 stretches respectively that pushed the Nats out of any relevancy for the season. The 2010 results interest me the most because up until now this is pretty much the same team having the same level success with the same formula. Solid pitching carries a offense that's just good enough. The question is are we looking at the same crash somwhere in 2011?
If you are a doubting type of person there are a lot of reasons to believe that a crash has to happen at some point.
The Nats offense was bad last year. It's much worse now. The '10 team had ok lines in April and May (.257 /.336 /.413 and .262 /.331 / .413) before crashing down in June (.246 /.308 / .361). The 2011 Nats haven't even matched the crash. They have put up lines of .226 / .305 / .353 in April and .223 / .272 / .325 in May. Looking at the positional line-up right now it's hard to see where the Nats are clearly better outside of Werth.
On the mound, fans would like to believe there is a big advantage for this season but the Nats pitching staff was just as good last year. It's hard to believe it but the bullpen was fantastic last year (3.35 ERA - 4th in the NL - closer to 1st than 7th) and the starters sandwiched a decent middle around a bad start and finish. Strasburg was really good. Atilano, Stammen and Martin all started strong. Livan was very good for a lot of the year. Lannan and Marquis came back nicely.
If the hitting is worse and the pitching is no better how can the Nats avoid a crash? They have better gambles in play this year.
While last year the Nats had has-beens and never will-bes giving them terrible offense for much of the season, this year they have a couple of young players with potential. Ramos and Espinosa might actually be good major leaguers. And while the pitching staff was good last year, you have to like the guys they have going this year better. Zimmermann is better than Atilano, Stammen or Martin. Olsen was a guy trending in the wrong direction. Gorzelanny is a guy that has a control issue. Lannan and Marquis are dependable if nothing else. This isn't even talking about the possibility of Maya coming in, or the chance that Bryce or Strasburg or Wang help this year (mainly because they won't)
I also like the fact that the shot in the arm coming in June is at the plate (a returning Zimm) rather than on the mound.
I do think this team is a lot like last year and if you ask me to put down money I'm definitely betting the under on 80 wins. I might be that way if they sat at 79-77 going into the last two series. However, if you want to get behind this team in mid-May, I think you're in a much better position than you were jumping onto last year's Nats bandwagon.