Before the season begins, it’s almost a right of passage for baseball bloggers and podcasters to make their predictions, and I am no different. As the Washington Nationals left spring training, I was hopeful about another improvement over last season and predicted the Nationals would win 87 games this season. On September 10, the Nats hit that mark, with 21 games remaining on their regular season schedule. You could say things have been going well for the best team in baseball.
As the Nats win their 87th game, Gio Gonzalez became baseball’s first 19-game winner this season. I know I’ve said a million times that pitcher wins don’t tell the whole story, and they really don’t. In 2010, when Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young with 13 wins, 33 MLB pitchers had more wins than he did. Wins aren’t everything, but they do mean something about the quality of the team. It’s also remarkable that Gio is responsible, in large part part, for more than 20% of the Nats wins so far this season.
I knew entering this season that the Nats would have good pitching, and that Gio and Edwin Jackson would help a lot, but I had no idea it’d be this dominant. Jordan Zimmermann has had a breakout year, despite recent struggles, Ross Detwiler looks like he's putting it together, and Stephen Strasburg had a great year in recovery from Tommy John surgery. The bullpen has been equally impressive.
The pitching has been the biggest part of the Nats success this year, but the offense doesn’t want to be forgotten. As recently as May and even June, people called for the head of hitting coach Rick Eckstein. The Nats stuck with him, and it’s paid dividends. The Nats hit their 168th home run on Monday night, which is only behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. In the last 14 days, the Nats have hit 33 home runs. They’ve been doing just fine, too.
The point of this post is really to say this: when I predicted 87 wins, I would have been thrilled with tha result. I thought a year like we're actually seeing would come in 2013. I’m glad to be wrong about my prediction, and with a 6.5 game lead in the division with three weeks of baseball remaining and a magic number of 15, it’s hard to love baseball and everything around it. But if you told me in March that the Nats could win 100 games, I’d have laughed in your face. No one is laughing now.