A Football Town Becomes a Baseball Town
The Washington Post had something like ten reporters covering the Redskins training camp this year. And on the eve of the pre-season debut of RGIII, you had to work pretty hard to find any Nationals story above the fold on the Post’s sports page.
These things happen because the Redskins won a few Super Bowls a generation ago.
Meantime, on the banks of the Anacostia River, there is a baseball stadium now hosting a minimum of 30,000 fans a night and a team that is no longer a flash-in-the-pan or a charming curiosity. It is, in fact, the most dominant team in the sport.
You see, there are three basic elements in the game of baseball; hitting, pitching and fielding. The Washington Nationals, as homegrown a team as I can remember, have led both the American and National leagues in pitching all season. It’s now well over a month after the All-Star break, and since the mid-season classic, no team has scored more runs than the Nationals. So, we have offense and defense covered. As for fielding, they rank 3rd in the NL right now.
It is expected that in a couple of weeks, the Nats will get their All-Star shortstop, Ian Desmond, back (poor things have gone 17-5 in his absence) and for the first time all year, the Nats will have their intended line-up in place. It does not seem to matter that a dozen players have hit the disabled list this year. They are 28 games above .500. They are on pace to win 100 games. They have an embarrassment of riches.
Take the San Francisco Giants, for example. They lead the NL Western division and are not exactly chumps. Sure, the Nats swept them in Washington earlier in the season, but it was so long ago. According to Bay area media, there has been great anticipation about this week’s visit by the Nationals- a test of what the playoffs may hold in store.
The Nationals led 14 to 0 after five innings of the series opener. They ended up winning 14-2. Next up, the Giants face Jordan Zimmermann, who has been so dominant on the mound that his last performance triggered considerable Cy Young award talk around the league. He now has the lowest ERA in all of baseball. He can thank his teammates for that. The San Francisco pitcher his teammates roughed up last night was the only hurler ahead of Zimmermann in ERA. And then Wednesday, the Giants get to face Stephen Strasburg.
All of which offers some perspective on Washington’s heretofore favorite sports franchise- the Washington Redskins. The contrast of how these two teams have been built is startling. Over in football world, Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, has spent well over a decade bringing in a revolving door of coaches, buying splashy free agents past their prime and, until recently, ignoring the more traditional and boring aspects of team development, like stockpiling draft choices and sprinkling in a few non-splashy free agents.
Over in Nats land, they got really bad over the years in order to get really good. They played a patient game that emphasized the basics; scouting, drafting and developing young talent. They did sign one huge contract when they went for Phillies outfielder, Jason Werth, two years ago, but it was meant as a statement to the rest of the league. Every now and again, in addition to developing what is now widely considered the best farm team in baseball, they showed they were willing to open their wallets and spend.
And they made a trade last year, giving up some of their hard-earned prospects for a young, proven pitcher named Gio Gonzalez who’s turning out to be having a career year and gives Washington the absolute rarity of three frontline-, #1 aces on the mound.
There is no doubt there is a sense of excitement about Robert Griffin III. His limited play in the Washington pre-season opener showed he has great presence and patience and real talent that was only made more obvious after back-up quarterback, Rex Grossman, got into the game and stunk up the joint. And the Skins seem to have a pretty powerful defense. But numerous injuries along the offensive line spark questions as to how much RGIII will have to be running for his life in his rookie season.
Anyway, in this town, it’s the Redskins that have something to prove. They come off a 5-11 season and two decades of futility since their last NFL title. They do have a real talent at quarterback for the first time in a long, long while- but it’s early and they have accomplished nothing.
Meantime, the now universally recognized best team in baseball, keeps chugging along piling up the most wins of any team in the sport, the highest run differential, the best pitching the game has seen in decades, and led by Davey Johnson, one of the best managers in the business.
Longtime WRC-TV anchorman, Jim Vance, did a wonderful on-air commentary on this Nationals vs. Redskins business a few weeks ago. And one of his closing lines simply cannot be improved upon. “The ‘Skins promise. The Nationals deliver.”