2007 was a year of one step forward and two steps back for the Washington Nationals. The good news was that the Nationals moved out of last place in the National League East by rallying in the second half of the year to post a .500 record over the team’s last 74 games. The bad news was that the Nats were so bad in the season’s first half (36-52) that the team’s solid second half really didn’t matter. In a year when the team introduced Manny Acta as its new manager, the team also said goodbye to RFK Stadium. Here’s a look at some of the good and bad times from the season.
BEST OF TIMES- Forever Young
When Nick Johnson went down with a nasty fractured leg in the final series of the 2006 season, the Nationals knew that they were looking at having a big void at first base for most, if not all, of the 2007 season. Into that large void stepped a large but talented player.
When the Nats signed Dmitri Young as a free agent on Valentine’s Day 2007, few could have imagined the impact he’d have on the team. Young was a solid Major League player who had success in prior stops, most notably with the Cincinnati Reds, but he exceeded expectations greatly in 2007.
Young hit .320 with 13 homers and 74 RBI on the year, making the National League All-Star team and giving the Nats a solid threat to protect Ryan Zimmerman (.266 avg, 24 homers, 91 RBI) in the team’s lineup. The new National was particularly effective at RFK Stadium, hitting .329 with a .902 OPS in home games.
BEST OF TIMES- A Six Pack of Wins at Home
From July 31st through August 5th, the Nationals ran off a streak of six wins at home, sweeping series from the Reds and Cardinals. The Reds’ series started off with a bang as Washington plated five runs in the fifth innings (keyed by a Zimmerman three run double) to win 6-3. In the second contest of the three game set, John Lannan earned his first Major League win with 5.2 solid innings on the mound and the Nationals scored seven runs in two innings off of Reds starter Bronson Arroyo to win 7-2. Washington capped the sweep with a 7-3 win on August 2nd as Zimmerman went 3 for 5 with three RBI and Young chipped in with two hits and two RBI of his own.
The good times continued to roll for Washington when St. Louis came to town. The Nats earned a walk-off 3-2 win in game one of the series when Zimmerman’s seeing-eye single scored Felipe Lopez with the game winner in the bottom of the ninth. The second game of the series saw Washington rout St. Lous 12-1 as Zimmerman hit two homers and drove in three runs and the bottom three in the Nats’ order (Brian Schneider, Nook Logan and pitcher Joel Hanrahan) combined to go 6 for 10 with six runs scored, six RBI, three doubles and a home run (by Schneider). The Nats completed the sweep on Sunday August 5th with a 6-3 win that was earned when Washington scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to break a 3-3 tie. Zimmerman (RBI single) and Young (two run double) had the big hits in the game’s key inning.
BEST OF TIMES- Saying Goodbye In Style
40,519 fans packed RFK Stadium on a beautiful early fall Sunday afternoon to see the Nationals say goodbye to RFK Stadium, and the home crowd did not go home disappointed. Facing the Phillies who had won 10 of their 14 games at RFK in the 2007 season, Washington won 5-4 as Chad Cordero fanned Wes Helms and future National Jayson Werth with the go ahead run at first base to preserve the win.
WORST OF TIMES- Slow Out of the Gate
As it was in 2006, the season’s first month was not kind to Washington. The Nats dropped 17 of their first 26 games, including six in a row from April 5th through April 11th, and never really recovered from the slow start. The team’s ineffective offense was the culprit in the early season slump as Washington scored two or fewer runs in eight of its first 11 games.
WORST OF TIMES- Double Trouble
Sometimes teams excel at one part of the game and that excellence helps to overcome deficiencies elsewhere. Unfortunately for the 2oo7 Nationals, they struggled both on the mound and at the plate.
Washington gave up 189 homers on the year (a higher total than only three other National League teams) and hit only 123 of their own. The Nats pitching staff was last in the league in strikeouts and 10th in ERA. At the plate, Washington scored the fewest runs in the league and featured three regulars (Schneider at catcher, Lopez at shortstop and Logan in center field) who posted below .700 OPS numbers.
WORST OF TIMES- Westward No!
The Nats late August trip to Colorado, Los Angeles and San Francisco was a death march type experience for the squad as Washington lost seven games in a row from August 24th through August 31st. The awful stretch started out about as poorly as it could have as Washington blew a 5-1 lead in the bottom of ninth at Colorado to lose 6-5. The trip included five one run losses and featured a game where the Nationals lost despite having nine runs and 16 hits (they lost 10-9 in 12 innings at Los Angeles in the final game of the Dodgers’ three game sweep of Washington).