Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Wil Nieves congratulates Matt Capps at the conclusion of tonight's 6-4 win.
The Nats had just pulled off another in a string of gritty victories and again surpassed the .500 mark.
Too bad hardly anyone was there to see it.
This isn't going to be a screed against local sports fans, and it's not going to be a trashing of a Nationals organization that has brought much of this upon itself following back-to-back 100-loss seasons.
It's more an observation of the state of baseball in the District on the third Wednesday in April. The home club is by no means playing great ball right now, but it's somehow finding a way to win on a regular basis and is doing so in an entertaining fashion that should be captivating the town.
Unfortunately, the Nationals' track record over the last four years has left this organization an afterthought among a population far more interested in whether the Caps beat the Canadiens in Game 4 of their Stanley Cup playoff series (they did) and whether the Redskins will draft a quarterback tomorrow night (who knows?).
On a rainy, chilly Wednesday night on South Capitol Street, a paid crowd of 11,191 -- there were perhaps half that many fans actually in attendance -- watched D.C.'s ballclub scrap its way to another victory. It was the smallest crowd in the District since the franchise arrived in 2005, smaller than the previous low of 11,623, set only two days ago.
A grand total of 37,851 fans have attended these last three games against the Rockies. The ballpark is capable of holding more than 41,000 on any one given day.
Yes, it's April. Yes, the weather's miserable. And yes, this franchise has done little to deserve increased attention based on its play the last four seasons. But don't hold that against the 2010 Nationals, who feature only four remaining players from the 2007 squad: Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, John Lannan and Justin Maxwell.
These new Nats have more talent than their predecessors (Adam Dunn, Ivan Rodriguez). They have more quality veterans than their predecessors (Adam Kennedy, Matt Capps). They have more exciting young players than their predecessors (Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard).
And guess what? It's all translating into a better on-field product.
Is this team going to hover around the .500 mark all season? Common sense says no. But did anyone expect Frank Robinson's 2005 club -- a club with far less talent than this one, by the way -- to stand at 50-31 on July 4?
That club also didn't have a midseason reinforcement like Stephen Strasburg waiting in the wings. Imagine what could be if the kid joins the rotation in six weeks and joins a club that's on the fringe of the pennant race.
The defining characteristic of the 2005 Nats (at least during the magical first half of the season) was an ability to eek out close victories late. How many times did they rally in the seventh or eighth inning, then hand a 1-run lead to their rock-solid bullpen to finish off?
This is the part where we mention the 2010 Nats are now 5-0 in games decided by 2 runs or less. They've also got a closer in Capps who is 7-for-7 in save opportunities and a setup man in Tyler Clippard who is 3-0 with an 0.77 ERA and a team-high 14 strikeouts.
And like that 2005 team, this one is beginning to believe in itself.
"Once you win a few of those games, you get a little confidence in yourself," left fielder Josh Willingham said. "You really believe that you can do it. I think that's a lot of it, having that confidence. We've got it right now. We're obviously going to battle you to the 27th out, whether we win or lose."
We're only 15 games into a 162-game marathon, but it's hard not to like what we've seen out of these Nationals. Those hearty few who have trekked out to the ballpark over the last week surely feel that way.
When and if the rest of this town comes to realize it, perhaps victories like tonight's will be met with the kind of enthusiasm a scrappy, above-.500 ballclub deserves.