It’s a summer like no other for the Washington Nationals.
As of Tuesday evening, the team had the best record in all of baseball (72-44) -- and was the only team in Major League baseball with 72 wins. The squad’s on a 11-3 winning run for the month of August.
Based on ESPN’s calculations, the Nats have a 98.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, and this after 100-loss seasons in recent years. The home team -- again, as of Tuesday afternoon -- led the Atlanta Braves by 5.5 games. Heck, even the New York Yankees had won four fewer games than the Nats.
The seats at the ballpark are seeing more fans, proving correct what the team owners said during the difficult days: A winning team draws the fans better than any promotional giveaway, any talk of next year or any appeals to local pride. Win and they will come.
Now everyone take a deep breath.
There’s a lot of work between now and the postseason.
The Nats were due to wrap up a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants this afternoon and begin a string of three-game home stands Friday night, first with the New York Mets and then the Braves. Right after that, the Nats will head to Philadelphia for three games with the underperforming but always-dangerous Phillies.
That’s a nine-game stretch against teams that trail in the National League East. It’s a stretch that could give hungry D.C. fans a real taste of what may come in the postseason -- or it could burst the bubble.
ESPN senior writer David Schoenfield noted earlier this week that seven teams were within five games of a playoff spot in the National League. He wrote that the Nats should be helped by the return of Jayson Werth, who had been out with a wrist injury: “Werth won’t ever live up to the $126 million contract, but he's a huge key as the Nats push for a division title.”
More importantly, Schoenfield surveyed the whole Major League Baseball season this year.
“There is no clear-cut No. 1 team in baseball,” he wrote. “We have parity, we have excitement, we have fans filling ballparks... and we have a crazy, unpredictable finish ahead of us.”
And yes, folks, it’s good for the nation’s capital to be right in the thick of things.
It’s particularly pleasing to former Mayor Anthony Williams.
When we interviewed him for an NBC4 Olympics story last week, the conversation veered off to the Nats. We asked him if the team -- for which he spent a lot of political capital -- is living up to its potential.
“I think so,” he said with a smile. “I’m there all the time. I’m a big fan.” The former mayor recited a few big plays he had seen in recent games. “And I was saying to myself, ‘This is amazing,’” he said, broadly waving his hand to evoke the big crowds in attendance. “‘This is amazing,’” he repeated. “‘This is so good.’”
And this being a political city (and column), the mayor couldn’t resist a little jab at those who had opposed the city-built stadium.
“I wish they would [play] on the big screen -- which is one of the best HD screens in baseball -- I wish they would play the comments of all the detractors on the big screen before 30,000 fans.”
And then he laughed in a gentle way, but kind of like someone getting the last laugh.
• Batter up for blood. Baseball fans who want to be part of the Nationals’ winning season could consider signing up to take part in the team’s second blood drive of the summer.
According to the team, the blood drive will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at the ballpark.
The team says each donor will get two tickets to a future Nationals game and a special Nationals T-shirt. There’ll also be opportunities to take behind-the-scenes tours of the ballpark, and donors will be eligible for autographed team memorabilia.
But you can’t just walk in off the street.
The blood drive is being run by Inova Blood Donor Services, which supplies blood and blood products to more than a dozen Washington-area hospitals. One donor’s blood may help save as many as three patients.
To sign up, call 1-866-BLOODSAVES (256-6372) or visit inova.org/donateblood.
• Traffic jam? One downside to the higher Nats attendance is traffic. There are demonstrably more traffic headaches, and the ballpark Metro stop is brimming with fans.
The city’s Department of Transportation has commissioned a traffic study of the M Street corridor that runs from Southeast to Southwest. But it’s unclear whether the study will include the impact from all those big baseball crowds.
The Nats ownership is asking that the study be broadened to include the baseball effect. By our deadline this week we were still seeking information on whether that will happen. To an outsider, it looks like an obviously good idea.