If the 2005 season was a magical mystery ride for the Nationals and their fans in baseball’s return to Washington, 2006 was a season where dreams of a playoff run were replaced by the cold, hard reality of a 90 plus loss season. Washington finished 71-91 on the year and Frank Robinson was removed from his role as Nats’ manager at the end of the campaign.
BEST OF TIMES- Terrific Trio
While the season may have been a major downer overall, there were some aspects of the 2006 campaign that were quite positive. Preeminent among them was the sterling production by three members of the Nats’ lineup who made the team dangerous at the plate.
Rookie Ryan Zimmerman made his mark in DC in the 2006 season, hitting .287 with 20 home runs and a team high 110 RBI. Zimmerman’s ability to hit from gap to gap was perfect for the spacious outfield at RFK Stadium, and his 47 doubles was the fifth highest total for two-baggers in the National League.
Outstanding patience at the plate and a smooth swing made Nick Johnson’s 2006 season an excellent one. Johnson’s 110 walks was third in the National League behind only San Francisco’s all-world talent Barry Bonds and Reds’ slugger Adam Dunn. Johnson’s 5.0 offensive WAR was the ninth highest total in the league, and he hit .290 with 23 homers and 77 runs driven in on the season.
In the off-season between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Washington acquired Alfonso Soriano from the Texas Rangers. While the athletic and exciting Soriano would spend only one year in DC, he made it count by becoming one of the National League’s “must watch” performers at the plate. The lithe slugger had 46 homers and brought back memories of Frank Howard with some mammoth blasts into the deepest regions of RFK Stadium. He drove in 95 runs on the year and stole 41 bases to give Washington a true power-speed threat (his power speed number of 44.36 remains the second highest ever, trailing only Alex Rodriguez’s 43.91 from the 1998 campaign).
BEST OF TIMES- What a Weekend
RFK Stadium was alive from June 16th through June 18th as the New York Yankees came to town. Over 146,000 fans packed the old stadium on the weekend, and those who came to the park for the last two games of the series saw arguably Washington’s two best wins of the season.
On Friday June 16th, New York won 7-5 as they rallied from a 5-3 deficit to score two in the eight and two in the ninth for the win. Soriano hit a two run homer and Johnson scored three runs to pace Washington’s attack.
Saturday’s game looked like another win for the Yanks as they took a 9-2 lead after four and a half innings, but Washington rallied for a stirring 11-9. The Nats scored four in the bottom of the fifth to get back into the game as Brian Schneider’s two run single, Zimmerman’s RBI double and Daryle Ward’s RBI hit plated four runs for Washington. In the seventh, Washington plated two more runs on Ward’s solo home run and a RBI hit by Robert Fick. And in the ninth, three more Nationals crossed the plate as Soriano scored on a New York error following a stolen base, Jose Guillen drove in a run with a triple and Zimmerman brought Guillen home to put the Nats’ up by two runs. After Chad Cordero nailed down the save in the top of the ninth inning, RFK was abuzz with the sounds of fans celebrating a fantastic comeback effort by the home team.
A Fathers’ Day packed house greeted the teams on Sunday June 18th, and the Nationals gave their fans a great end to a special weekend. Trailing 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, Marlon Anderson’s one out pinch-hit single off of Yanks’ starter Chien-Ming Wang put the tying run on base with Zimmerman coming to the plate. Zimmerman drove Wang’s first pitch deep into the left field bullpen to give Washington a thrilling 3-2 win. Zimmerman’s walk-off homer was the first of ten he’s accumulated to date.
BEST OF TIMES- Diamonds in the Rubbish
Pitching, particularly starting pitching, was not a strong part of the Nationals’ team in 2006 but in the latter weeks of the season, the Nats received two performances that qualified as gems.
On August 15th, Pedro Astacio allowed only two hits in a complete game 5-0 shutout of Atlanta. Astacio retired the first 14 Braves he faced before Jeff Francouer singled with two out in the fifth. Two innings later, Adam LaRoche singled to give Atlanta its second (and last) baserunner on the evening. Astacio’s shutout was the only one the Nationals’ staff would register in 2006.
On Labor Day (September 4th), it was Ramon Ortiz’s turn to shine. Going into the top of the ninth, Ortiz had a 4-0 lead (built in part by his own home run) and had not given up a hit to the St. Louis Cardinals. Aaron Miles promptly broke up the no-hit bit with a single to lead off the frame, but Chris Duncan lined into a double play to bring Ortiz within one out of the Nats’ second complete game shutout of the season. Ortiz couldn’t seal the deal however, as Albert Pujols ended the shutout bid and Ortiz’s day with one mighty swing that gave Pujols a solo home run. Chad Cordero finished up for the save as Washington won 4-1.
WORST OF TIMES- Road Woes and Starting Slowly
Washington was a respectable 41-40 in games played at RFK Stadium, but struggled to a 30-51 mark on the road. Washington’s staff’s road ERA of 5.43 was almost a full run higher than the team’s home ERA of 4.66.
The team also got out of the gate slowly, losing 17 of its first 25 games to fall 8.5 games out of the division lead before May 1st.
WORST OF TIMES- Early Summer Meltdown
On June 9th, the Nats defeated Philadelphia 9-8 in 12 innings at RFK Stadium to move the team’s record to 29-33 and a .500 record seemed possible. Then the bottom fell out for Washington, as the Nats went 10-19 to leave the team’s record at 38-52 at the All-Star break.
WORST OF TIMES- Double Digit Runs Allowed
29 pitchers took the mound for Washington in 2006, and precious few of them had seasons that were even respectable.
The Nationals staff permitted opponents to score 10 or more runs 20 times in 2006, the highest mark a Nats’ staff has permitted since baseball’s return to DC in 2005. The only other seasons that have seen the Nats’ surrender 1o or more runs in a game at least 10 times are 2007 (10 times), 2008 (15) and 2009 (17).