Washington Nationals Are the NL's New Standard

on September 27 2012 11:48 PM
Washington Nationals Are the NL's New Standard

If the Phillies and their let-the-good-times-roll faithful merely feel the 2012 season was a blip on their self-believed NL dominance screen, it would behoove all in attendance and beyond to look very closely at Thursday’s home finale at Citizens Bank Park.

There, reality stared them in the face.

In the form of Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, and, perhaps most telling of all, Gio Gonzalez.

Ironic, isn’t it, that as the Phillies’ dynastic delusions sink slowly into the abyss this fall, they get to watch a former farmhand who was cast aside and deemed “not worthy” of dressing out in their red pinstripes put the screws to them at Citizens Bank Park.

Oh, the left-hander wasn’t dominant in this one. Nah, instead he teased a bit. Gave his former club a ray of hope for a few innings, before shutting the door and letting his offense take over in a 7-3 Nationals victory.

The effort left him standing with a major-league best 21 wins. He also possesses a 2.93 ERA, and if not for R.A. Dickey’s knuckle-balling success with the Mets would be a shoo-in for the Cy Young.

He still may get it. But, really, that’s not the point.

What is … is that the Phillies days of ruling the NL, or rather, thinking they rule the NL, are over. That five-year postseason run that included one World Series title and another NL crown, remember them well, Philly, because the Nats, clearly, have the better organization now.

That best-in-baseball 95 wins through 156 games … no fluke, people. Washington has earned it, and been a mainstay atop the standings all season.

The Phillies and their supporters scoffed at talk coming out of the nation’s capital before the season. Instead, they would have been wiser to see the hand-writing on the wall … or get younger.

Sure, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley may play more than half a season in 2013. But they already had begun the downward course of their careers, right in step with the years passing. Even super-spry Jimmy Rollins has showed some slowing down.

No, with the likes of Zimmerman, Harper and Desmond, the Nationals are younger with their core and have some late-blooming studs such as Morse and LaRoche to help fuel the fire. If Werth, a potential five-tool guy and – gotta love the irony – former Phillie, could ever stay healthy, Washington’s lineup would possess six 25-homer players.

Which would be support put to good by quality pitching from Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman (2.90 ERA) and their much-more ballyhooed staff member, Stephen Strasburg (15 wins before being shut down three weeks ago). Oh, the Nats’ closer, Tyler Clippard, hasn’t been too bad, either – 32 saves in 37 attempts.

KEEPING IT REAL

Having evolved from the home-run derby squad that sparked their initial rise to prominence, the Phillies have pitched themselves as the premier arms outfit in baseball. Whether or not that is true depends on your perspective, but there is little denying they had three legit aces the past few years in Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

As 2012 comes to close, most see them down to one: Hamels. In truth, they’re looking at two, and Hamels, really, might not be the No. 1 guy. Halladay, sadly, does look like a shot fighter out there. He has the desire, just not the “juice” anymore. He’ll finish the season with an ERA more than a run above his career average of 3.30 and had the good fortune of the Phillies’ offense showing up when he pitched, which paved the way to his 10-8 mark now as much as anything else.

Hamels, though he dipped a start or two after receiving a huge extension, has been very good down the stretch, going 5-2 in his last 10 games with a 2.89 ERA. He’s young (28), he’s healthy (unlike Halladay), he’s fine. So, too, is Lee – at least on the latter two.

Having muddled through a largely strange campaign, Lee, who turned 34 a month ago, has been the game’s best pitcher since late August. In six games, he’s gone 4-1 with a 1.04 ERA and his one loss came Sunday in an eight-inning effort that saw him yield one earned run while striking out 11.

Beyond him and Hamels, though, what else does the team have?