November 6, 2009
Perhaps looking back on such an awful year is more painful than it's worth, but somebody's got to do it. The Washington Nationals began the season on the road, and lost their first seven games. New arrival Adam Dunn provided lots of slugging firepower, while infielders Nick Johnson, Cristian Guzman, and Ryan Zimmerman started off the season on a hot streak. Zimmerman had a 30-game hitting streak through May 12, but his luck ran out on the 13th. The weak spot throughout the 2009 season was the pitching staff, especially the bullpen, causing the team to lose many close games. In May catcher Jesus Flores suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, a major blow. At the All-Star break, the Nats were only 26-61 (.299), and manager Manny Acta was replaced by Jim Riggleman. The acquisition of fleet-footed Nyjer Morgan from the Pirates at the end of June raised hopes, but he broke his hand while sliding on August 27, and was out for the season. In August, the Nats traded away two reliable veterans: Nick Johnson to the Marlins and Ronnie Belliard to the Dodgers. At about the same time, Livan Hernandez returned to the pitching rotation after a two-year absence. The highlight of the season was the eight-game winning streak from August 2 to August 9, and the low point was an eight-game losing streak from August 28 to September 5. Adam Dunn raised his batting average to almost .290 in August, but then slumped; he fell short of 40 home runs (38) for the first time in five years. Boosted by rookies Ian Desmond and Justin Maxwell, the Nats swept both the Mets and the Braves to end the season, becoming the first MLB team ever to lose their first seven games of the season and then win the final seven games. This surprising streak of wins provided a glimmer of hope for the future, and may have saved Jim Riggleman's job as manager.
A slightly modified version of the above text and the below list of 2009 highlights has been posted on the Washington Nationals page. A full-page ad in the November 1 Washington Post placed by the Nationals' front office listed some of the same highlights as shown below, while thanking the "Natstown" fans and looking forward to a better season in 2010. Well, at least it can't get any worse -- right?
I was lucky to be watching ESPN on Monday night when a well-dressed Ryan Zimmerman received the first-ever "Web Gem Champion award," a fitting recognition for the All-Star third baseman's defensive prowess. See MLB.com; for some reason, I couldn't find that news item on ESPN's Web site. If Zimmerman hits as well next year as he did this year (.292 batting average, 33 home runs, and 106 RBIs), and keeps up his superb fielding performance, there is no reason why the Nationals shouldn't win a much bigger share of their games.