In 2012’s greatest baseball success story, the Washington Nationals went 60-40 on July 28th, having won more games as they won all year in 2008 and 2009. In the National League they’re first in pitching, tied for second in fielding, and seventh in hitting, although in the last month their batters have been on fire.
Tied with the Yankees for the best record in baseball, the precedents fall weekly. 2012 is supplanting 2005 as the best year since baseball returned to Washington. The Nats are now about five games better than they were at this time in 2005, when they dove from first to last place in the second half.
With 20 more wins than losses, they’ve drawn even with the 1945 Washington Senators, who almost won DC’s fourth pennant and finished 87-67.
Coincidentally, 100 years ago the 1912 Washington Senators finished 91-61, their first winning season, a 27-game improvement from year before—the first of many winning years including three pennants and a World Championship over the next few decades. (Washington has a much richer baseball history than acknowledged by those who recall only the bad stretches.)
There are still precedents left. The pennant-winning Senators of 1924 and 1925 finished with 40 and 39 more wins than losses. The all-time winning percentage of .651 was set by the pennant-winning Senators of 1933, 46 more wins than losses. Can 2012 top that? Probably not, but few will bet on it.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers, who fell to the DC juggernaut on July 26th, cites the most arresting aspect of the 2012 team: “They’re down two or three of their best guys—their starting catcher [Wilson Ramos] is out, their starting shortstop [Ian Desmond] is out and their starting right fielder [Jayson Werth] is out…that’s pretty amazing for that team to be that good and be down those three key guys right there. Pretty impressive.”
The 2012 team has yet to play one game whole. Outfield slugger Michael Morse was out the first couple of months; Gold-Glove third baseman Ryan Zimmerman spent weeks on the disabled list. Closer Drew Storen has only just begun his 2012 season. Washington’s best pinch hitter, Chad Tracy, has been out for weeks.
The mark of a good team: players pick each other up. On July 28th rookie phenom Bryce Harper was out of the lineup too: the game was won by a pair of home runs by two other youngsters called up to fill the bench, Tyler Moore and Corey Brown. “They’ve hung in there when times were really tough,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Shoot, we’ve earned it.”
Nationals veterans know it’s a long way to October. Says first baseman Adam LaRoche, who carried the team early when hits were scarce: “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things happen in the last month or two of the season where teams have blown big leads.” Ryan Zimmerman added: “[When] we have the best record in September or October, then you can talk about it.”
For now, we’ll take it. Long suffering Nats fans, who watched their team finish last or next to last for seven years, are hungry. Whatever happens now, for those who have stuck with the team in the worst of times, it’s drinks all around.
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