There’s no more denying that the Nationals are an outstanding team. For so much of the season, their success has felt like an illusion, like the curtain would drop at any moment and reveal their middling, unsuccessful teams from recent years past, but it’s clear now that they are the best team in the National League, and perhaps even the best in the MLB. They have the best record in baseball and arguably the best starting rotation in baseball. As much as I dislike all the Strasburg hype and the controversy surrounding his inning cap, the attention is deserved. He’s an amazing player and has the potential to be one of the game’s dominating forces for the next decade.
This is what I love about baseball: organizations can build great teams by throwing money at every big name player available, but building an club through good scouting, drafting, smart economical management, and player development is just as viable of a method for success. The Nationals have been careful with Strasburg, maybe even overprotective, but he is paying dividends for the team. Washington also managed to sign Gio Gonzalaez to a five-year deal (with options for a sixth and seventh) for forty-two million dollars. And we can’t forget about the young offense talent in Harper, Espinosa, Bernadina, etc. Not only have they established a great team for 2012, the Nationals have the foundation in place to become a solid franchise, a force to be reckoned with for years to come. For all Braves fans complaining about Liberty Media limiting the payroll (myself included), notice that the 2012 payroll for the Nationals is about two million less than the Braves 2012 payroll.
We’ve now lost the most pivotal series of the season to the Nats, making the NL East championship all but out of reach, but it’s just as important now as ever that we beat them in the remaining games. For years now we’ve seen our team struggle against the Phillies, and many people have suggested that there is some sort of mental block going on, that we couldn’t beat Philadelphia because they got in our heads. Is it possible that the same thing could happen now with the Nationals? Coming in to Wednesday night’s matchup, we are 4-10 against Washington this season and we haven’t won a single series against them.
Losing to Washington on a consistent basis makes it easy to forget how good our team really is. Our outfield is incredible, maybe even the best in the league on both sides of the ball. Our bullpen is solid, better than Washington’s in my opinion, and our starting rotation has been improving all season long. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to compete with every team. Uggla is the only big hole I see in the lineup, and at this point in the season it is too late to do anything with him but just wait it out and hope he gets hot.
We only have one series against the Nats remaining on the schedule, and we have to win that series if we want any hope going in to the post season. Because the way things are shaping up, even if we hold on to our wildcard spot and manage to win the one-game playoff, we will have to face Washington next. How can we have any confidence against the Nats in the playoffs when they dominate us in the regular season? I’m not a big believer in superstition or momentum, but confidence truly is a factor in determining a team’s success. For the Braves, winning the final games against Washington would go a long way towards making them true contenders in October.