And so begins the Jim Riggleman Era. This probably won't go down like the Industrial Revolution or the Holy Roman Empire as important eras of human history, but Caretaker Jim's mission is a bit different than reforming the economy or taking over Europe. All Riggles has to do is avoid 120 losses and his mission is accomplished.
All things considered, that should be an easy task. The team isn't nearly as bad as it has played. They're middle-of-the-pack in runs scored. Their starting pitching has moved up to 13th in the league -- not great, but better than you imagined, probably. That's not a recipe for worst team of all time; it's just a recipe for plain ol' bad.
Tom Boswell wonders if Riggleman's biggest challenge is changing the clubhouse culture. This is a team that hasn't won since that magical June of 2005. Everything since -- the entirety of the Zimmerman era -- has been L after L after stinking L.
As the losses have become mountainous since then, some players, including Ryan Zimmerman, have worried. How much can you lose, and for how long, without becoming losers?...
Riggleman, in his 75-game hometown trial, will have to cope with the hand he has. "You manage what you have," he says. "But the most important part of managing is what happens in the clubhouse. There's an aura about a club. We played Tommy Lasorda's Dodger teams and we'd say, 'How can they beat us?' But they believed that they could."
Right now, the Nats believe that they "can't" as deeply as any team you'll see. It curses them with the body language, especially in close games, of 97-pound weaklings expecting sand to be kicked in their faces.
But beyond any culture changes -- and Riggleman got high marks from M's fans about how he influenced the clubhouse last season -- this team is poised for some decent performances.
The Njyer Morgan trade gives some balance to the team on the field, greatly improving the defense and pushing other players to their natural position (ie: Kearns to the bench). The starting pitching is learning on the fly -- every next start could be the one where everything finally clicks for Jordan Zimmermann.
No, they're not going to play .500 going forward, but this was a team that, on paper, was good enough to win in the low 70s. That's about a 44 percent winning percentage. There's no reason they can't approach that in the second half, warts and all.
If Riggleman can guide them to 30 more wins (a 40 percent winning percentage), that's a 56-106 record. There probably aren't too many Nats fans who wouldn't take that in a heartbeat.
Chris Needham used to write Capitol Punishment. He'd keep Riggles if he managed to avoid losing 100.