When a major market has gone without a big league ballclub for 33 years -- as Washington did -- it's logical that the sports fans in that area will get a little soft on their baseball acumen. The Nationals' recent five-game losing streak -- snapped with Thursday's 8-1 win over St. Louis -- brought out the doom-and-gloomers en masse.
It doesn't take hours of research to figure out that every good team goes through highs and lows. Nobody goes 162-0, and it's exceptionally rare for a team to lose fewer than 60 times in a season. Over the 10-year stretch from 2003 to 2011 it happened only twice out of 30 division champions. The 2004 Cardinals finished 105-57 and had a four-game losing streak in September and had three earlier three-game skids. The 2009 Yankees went 103-59 and had a five-game losing streak in May, a four-game skid and five three-game losing streaks. In both cases, quite obviously, there were a lot of winning streaks as well.
Entering Saturday, the Nats were 80-51 with a .611 winning percentage. If they do nothing more than go a game under .500 the rest of the way they would finish 95-67. Atlanta would have to go 22-8 over its final 30 games to beat that, a .733 winning percentage. Not impossible but not likely.
It was also surprising to read the number of comments online advocating the benching of Bryce Harper after his ejection in Miami for throwing his batting helmet. He homered twice in the game already, and then grounded into a double play. He had no dispute with the umpire's call; he was simply mad at himself for the result.
Veteran players have done the same thing without getting tossed, but Harper is likely to have a target on his back for another couple of seasons. Had he waited another step before firing his helmet to the turf, the umpire likely would not have noticed. Still, he had a fatherly chat with Davey Johnson after the ballgame, and I bet you won't see that happen again.
There will always be detractors whenever a team goes from loser to winner. Some local sportscasters seem almost annoyed at the Nats' success this year, based presumably on the notion that it requires them to actually pay attention to something other than the local NFL team once September is underway. That's another function of the 33-year hiatus between MLB franchises: Local programmers tended to hire more football-centric broadcasters, relegating baseball to the level of indoor soccer.
Believe me, I worked for one guy who told me 10 years ago that the District would never get another baseball team, and if they did, a Redskins preseason game would be a bigger deal to him than a baseball postseason game involving a Washington team. He's thankfully no one's boss anymore.
The Nats haven't won anything yet, but a five-game losing streak is no cause for collective angst. It's all part of the journey.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.