Month of surprises in baseball
The Tampa Bay Rays are the best team in baseball right now (17 - 6), and the Boston Red Sox are below .500, confounding most people's expectations. In the NL West, the San Diego Padres have first place with a 14 - 8 record, while the L.A. Dodgers are at the very bottom. Some usually-mediocre teams are playing very well, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates (10 - 12), and most of the divisional races are pretty competitive, with only one team below .300: the Baltimore Orioles. What is going on?
But perhaps the biggest surprise is in Our Nation's Capital. Who would have thought that the Washington Nationals would be only one game behind the division leader in the National League East? Earlier this week, they bounced back from a frustrating extra-inning loss to the Cubs in Wrigley Field, winning the next two games. (Their "tick-tock" streak of consecutive win-loss switches thus ended at ten games, for those of you who are keeping track of such things.) Livan Hernandez continues to pitch splendidly, having one of the best seasons of his career, with a 0.87 ERA! After beating the Florida Marlins tonight (7-1), the Nationals pulled ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies -- the back-to-back NL pennant winners -- to claim second place. If it weren't for the Mets' amazin' eight-game winning streak, the Nats might be in first place right now!
In tonight's game, Ryan Zimmerman made a splashy return after resting a pulled hamstring for several days, hitting two home runs and a double. Marlins finally got on the scoreboard in the seventh inning, and loaded the bases, forcing shaky relief pitcher Brian Bruney out of the game. Ronny Paulino smashed a drive to right-center field, but Nyjer Morgan made a diving catch to end the the inning. Morgan deserves a lot of credit for preventing a big Marlins rally, and for preserving Tyler Clippard's superb record as a relief pitcher. See MLB.com.
The combination of skilled veterans such as Pudge Rodriguez and enthusiastic youngsters such as Willie Harris seems to be working out very well for the Nationals. As a result, they ended up with their best win-loss record ever for the month of April: 13 - 10. The following table shows that, except for their inaugural year in D.C., the Nats have gotten off to a lousy start every year:
* Including March in 2008.
So, how does this season compare to the glory days of 2005? The Nats won the hearts of Washington baseball fans by climbing to first place in early June, and by July 4 they were 50-31, which is a .617 average. Even though they tumbled in July, they stayed at or above .500 for the rest of the season. Washington fans have every reason to expect at least that good an outcome this year.