In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
The Washington Nationals sudden rise to respectability -- a 19-15 record, co-wild card leaders in the National League, coming off a series win over the New York Mets on the first leg of this current road trip -- can be explained by simply looking at last year's list of players who wore a Nationals uniform.
When you look at the 2009 Nationals -- and taking it a step further, a look back at the 2008 squad -- it makes you ask not how those teams lost more than 100 games each of those two seasons. The question is, how did they manage to win more than 50 games each of those years?
As of today, eight position players who spent time on the Nationals roster last year are not on a 2010 major league roster. It would have been nine, but the Orioles called up Corey Patterson Wednesday to the major league club..
Those seven Nationals players took the field for a total of 325 games. Elijah Dukes (for all you duped Dukes supporters, please note no one picked up him after Washington released him this spring) played 107 games; Josh Bard was behind the plate for 90 games. And when career minor leaguer Jorge Padilla appears in 29 games, you've got a problem.
The biggest difference -- and most glaring -- is the pitching, particularly the bullpen. Six starters -- including Daniel Cabrera -- who made a total of 61 starts last season are not on major league rosters. Some of them, like J.D. Martin and Shairon Martis, are back in the Nationals minor league system.
The bullpen -- which buried the Nationals last season before they ever had a chance -- was an Atlantic League bullpen, when you look back at it. A total of sixteen pitchers who were in Washington's bullpen last season are not on a current major league roster -- Julian Taverez, 42 appearances, Saul Rivera, 30 games, and Kip Wells, 23 appearances, among them, for a total of 362 appearances.
That is what led to a 59-103 win season.
It's comparable to the 2008 team, which through some miracle also won 59 games.
Eleven position players from the 2008 team who appeared in a total of 556 games are not currently on a major league roster -- Kory Casto, 66 games, Wily Mo Pena, 64 games, Dmitri Young, 50 games among that illustrious unit. That squad included three catchers who are not in a major league uniform today -- Paul Lo Duca, 46 games, Johnny Estrada, 23 games and Luke Montz, 10 games. Some of those appearances were pinch-hitting duties, but the fact that they were on a major league bench at all is a commentary on the team that was purported to be major league.
As was the case last season, the 2008 pitching was downright fraudulent. Nine starters who took the mound for 128 starts that year are not currently on a major league roster -- remember Odalis Perez, Tim Redding and Shawn Hill? Fifteen relievers from that bullpen can't be found on a major league team today -- Charlie Manning, Steven Shell and of course, the King himself, Mr. Ray -- among the group that made 277 appearances.
So the 2010 Washington Nationals are better if, for no other reason, the standard for what passed as a major league player was finally raised in the organization to a legitimate level, following the departure of a general manager who is currently not in a major league front office.
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