It almost feels like summer in Washington, D.C. At least as far as the sport scene is concerned.
Each August, Washington-area reporters, columnists and fans begin buzzing about how it will be a breakthrough season for the Redskins. They make bold predictions, claiming the team will go 11-5 or 12-4 and contend for the Super Bowl. And every year the Redskins struggle to reach .500.
Well, this year the rabid optimism has spread to D.C.’s baseball squad.
The Montreal Expos moved to our nation’s capital for the 2005 season, went 81-81 and finished in last place. They haven’t even reached the break-even point in the six seasons since. But this year, we’re told, will be different.
“We want to make the playoffs,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said this spring. His field manager went ever further. “We should make the playoffs. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Davy Johnson added. “You know, and they can fire me.” Whether they’d be firing him for missing the playoffs or for over-hyping his team is an open question.
There’s no doubt Washington has a strong, young team. It could make the playoffs, especially if by that one means the silly one game Wildcard play-in. But there are many things that could still go wrong. Let’s go around the horn.
At first base, the Nats are counting on Adam LaRoche to rebound from shoulder surgery. When he went under the knife last season he was hitting .172 batting and slugging .258 through 43 games. Will he rebound and come closer to his career .267 average? Or, at age 32, is he on the downswing? Time will tell.
Up the middle, Washington is counting on the young combination of shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa. They’re solid defensively and work well together, but neither carries a threatening bat. Espinosa hit .236 (on-base percentage .323) and Desmond hit .262 with an OBP of .304. For the Nats to contend, both men would need to get on base more often than they did last year.