71 wins. Who had it? (Be honest)
As I've said before in this space, I had the Nationals at 62-100 back in spring training. I thought that was fair. I was fairly impressed with some of the stuff I saw in spring training, adn I believed Manny Acta would work to improve the (absolute dead last) defense and the (miserable) base running. But I coudlnt' get past the pitching staff or the lack of a true 40-homer guy, and so I figured 100 losses was more than reasonable (while still maintaining 120 losses was ridiculous). (I also happened to be on "Washington Post Live" with Stan Kasten a few days before the season started, and when he asked me if I thought they'd be the 30th-best team in baseball, I said something like, "Is there a 31st?" Think I've heard about that since then?)
I'd also say that after a 1-8 start -- when, if you recall, the team simply wasn't competitive -- I thought that maybe, just maybe, 120 losses could have happened, that I overestimated things. But since a 9-25 start, they are now 62-62 since May 11. I don't care who you were or what you were smoking in spring training -- a 124-game stretch of .500 ball was unexpected.
So as the "so-called experts" (my favorite euphimism for "idiot sports writers") begin to get assailed for their innacurate projections, I thought I'd try to dig up some of those projections.
Sports Illustrated had the Nationals 30th of 30 teams in their initial "power rankings." They began their scouting report thusly: "There's no truth to the rumor that Al Gore is on the verge of declaring his candidacy for the Nationals' rotation, although anyone who lives near the Beltway and can work nights might have a shot." (Note to self: Damn, why didn't I write that?)
The enormously respected Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com had a one-line preview with his predictions (sample: "Yankees: Shaky rotation could make for year of transition"). Here's his line for the Nationals: "48-114".
A pretty mild prediction from Stan McNeal of The Sporting News: "Nationals: Next year: beautiful new ballpark. This year: ugly times aplenty. Thanks to the weakest rotation in the major leagues, 100 losses appear likely."
Let's check in at espn.com. Every single one of their experts -- Gammons, Stark, Crasnick, Olney, Neyer, Kurkjian, Phillips, Law, Caple, Karabell -- picked the Nationals fifth in the NL East. (Keep in mind how reasonable that prediction was.) But here's what appears under the "Fixed" category of the preview: "You don't need a congressional study to know the Nats might be historically bad. But there's a new vibe in the clubhouse. Last year vets owned the floor. Now that Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen and Livan Hernandez are gone, it's power-sharing time. And while Frank Robinson is a legend, 38-year-old Manny Acta may relate better to the young squad."
From USA Today: "Nationals roster: In most camps, non-roster invitees hang around a few weeks, pick up big-league meal money and ship out to a Class AAA outpost. In the Nationals camp, they're favorites to crack the starting rotation."
In the Tacoma News-Tribune, under a category called, "Teams that are chokin'", the following: "1. Washington Nationals. You can't audition 12 pitchers to fill out your starting rotation and expect to have any sort of success. If they don't lose 100 it will be a miracle."
(What did Al Michaels say? Do you believe in miracles?)
I'm sure there's more out there. I'll poke around a bit more tomorrow. Please note: Time change for the chat today. It'll be at 1:45 p.m. That'll allow me to get out to Shea and do it from there.
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