An awful closer…

Bryce Harper not living up to his lofty expectations….

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper fouls off a pitch on the way to earning a walk off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jordan Lyles during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 in Denver. Colorado won 12-10. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper fouls off a pitch on the way to earning a walk off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jordan Lyles during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 in Denver. Colorado won 12-10. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Nothing from former franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman…

Leaky bullpen….

Very little from the leadoff position until recently…

Injuries and lackluster starting pitching at times….

Yet, the 2016 Washington Nationals continue to flourish. Since 2012, the Nats have the second-most wins in baseball behind the Cardinals, which seems hard to believe but it’s true.  Postseason struggles aside, this team has been the antithesis of underachievement.  Maybe two playoff appearances each followed by two sub-par seasons made the fan base feel that the glass was half-empty. General Manager Mike Rizzo has delivered what most sports fans in D.C. have been clamoring for from the district’s other pro sports teams: a perennially solid ballclub with a chance to compete for divisional titles every season.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, left, tags out Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez as he tries to score on a single by pinch-hitter David Dahl during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016 in Denver. Colorado won 6-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, left, tags out Colorado Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez as he tries to score on a single by pinch-hitter David Dahl during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016 in Denver. Colorado won 6-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The team has “overpaid” players such as Jayson Werth, who are not “living up” to their respective contracts. But how does he still seem to make winning plays year after year? Wilson Ramos was once a kid who was abducted in his native Venezuela, and a player also considered to not be living up to expectations, but now he’s become possibly the best overall catcher in the sport.  Danny Espinosa has grown from being a fan punching bag to a solid contributor as the starting shortstop. 

Washington Nationals center fielder Ben Revere (9) makes a catch at the wall on a ball hit by Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman (5) in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Atlanta, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. Right fielder Bryce Harper (34) looks on. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Washington Nationals center fielder Ben Revere (9) makes a catch at the wall on a ball hit by Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman (5) in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Atlanta, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. Right fielder Bryce Harper (34) looks on. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

There has been a revolving door at centerfield between former National Denard Span, Michael A. Taylor, Ben Revere and now currently Trea Turner. There’s also a transition underway at first base from Adam LaRoche to Ryan Zimmerman and Clint Robinson; second base even saw changes range from Steve Lombardozzi, Dan Uggla, the aforementioned Espinosa to the newly acquired MVP candidate Daniel Murphy.

And let’s not forget the managerial changes within these last five seasons.  Davey Johnson took over for interim manager Jim Riggleman, who abruptly quit during a winning streak. When Johnson retired in 2013, Matt Williams was hired for the gig.  After the Williams debacle of 2015, Dusty Baker was hired.  Three totally different types of managerial styles, yet the team still seems to win ballgames.

This season should end with the Nationals being crowned the National League East champions, their third division title in five seasons.  If it does, this would be a feat to not only celebrate for the moment, but a chance to relish in the glory of being one of the best franchises in the sport. And with the newer reinforcements that have been added to the ballclub this season, stocked minor league system, and deep checkbook in the form of team owner Ted Lerner, the franchise should continue to be in contention for years to come.

It’s funny: as a city D.C. has been so preconditioned to expect mediocrity from the local franchises. But we have one right under our noses being overlooked and overtly criticized for being the exact opposite of those teams.  Enjoy these good times, Nationals fans—success is fleeting and things can change very quickly.

 

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO