It is still early but…

Ryan Zimmerman high five Nyjer Morgan.jpgThe season is officially two months in the books. The 2010 campaign has reached the point when the contenders start to separate themselves from the pretenders–the cream still hasn’t risen to the top but this is the time of year where the record starts to become an accurate measurement of a team’s ability.

“They say if you’re in the race on Memorial Day, you’ll be in it all season,” right-hander Craig Stammen said.

There isn’t a team that is mathematically out of the playoff race–there are still 110 games remaining–but most teams know right now whether they have a shot at the postseason or not. Of course, you don’t have to look too far–the 2009 Rockies–to find a team that was left for dead on June 1 and eventually made the playoffs. The Rockies were 20-30 and 13.5 games behind the Dodgers last year on June 1 but they finished the season 72-40 to earn a Wild Card berth.

The Rockies proved that there is still a lot of baseball to be played on June 1 but we have a good idea of the haves and have not’s.

“Whenever somebody says something positive, I always say, ‘It’s still early,'” General Manager Mike Rizzo said.

It is still early but the Nats are for real. At 26-26 and only 3.5 games behind the first-place Braves, the Nats are one of the most surprising stories of the 2010 season. There are two ways of looking at it: you can be ecstatic because on June 1, 2009 the Nats were 14-36, 15.5 games out of first place and entered the All-Star Break with 26 wins or you can be slightly disappointed because they could realistically have 5 to 7 more wins.

If you were to have asked the Nationals players at the beginning or March if they would have enjoyed a .500 record on June 1, all of them would have said yes. They would respond differently today. It is a tough question because teams at the present time don’t look at their record relative to past records. Yes, they are 11 games better than they were at this point last season but teams are never satisfied with their current record–every team wants more wins and every team thinks they could have won a few of the games that they lost.

That being said, it is fair to say the Nationals are right where they want to be. They are only going to get better with the arrival of Stephen Strasburg and it is only a matter of time before their offense consistently scores runs like they did yesterday. The lack of offensive production has lead to a lot of close games–20 of the Nationals last 26 games have been decided by two runs or less (9-11 record), including 12 contests decided by one run (6-6 record). The Nats have played more games decided by two runs or less–31–this season than any team in the Majors.

Back in February, we were trying to brainstorm ways in which the Nationals could improve 22 games and become the eighth team since 1961 (the year the schedule was expanded to 162 games) to win 60 games or fewer in one season and finish at or above .500 the following season. It is now June 1 and no one is talking about only finishing .500 in the Nationals clubhouse.

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