As the second half of the season gets underway in Major League Baseball, the division races are beginning to heat up. One team that will not be in the hunt for a playoff spot is the Washington Nationals. With a win/loss record of 26-65 and a league worst .286 winning percentage, the Nationals are out of contention yet again and one must wonder; are the ghosts of Montreal haunting the franchise?
An 11-3 loss on Sunday to the Chicago Cubs and interim Manager Jim Riggleman is still searching for his first victory in four games at the helm of the struggling team. After replacing Manny Acta, the Nationals franchise continued their downward spiral and is now 1-9 in their last ten games, on a five game losing streak and they find themselves 26 games back of the first place Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals are 8-31 within their own division and the light at the end of the tunnel may in fact be a train.
The franchise formerly known as the Expos may have switched cities and names but even at the worst of times in Montreal, playing in front of crowds of 6,000 people and watching one star after another get traded away, the Expos never had back to back 100 loss seasons as the Nationals are about to do. Washington has not finished the season with more then 81 wins since the move from Montreal, going 81-81 in 2005, their first year in the American capital. As a franchise, the Expos/Nationals club has not had a winning season since 2003.
The Expos at times appeared to be a cursed franchise. Qualifying for the post season in the strike shortened 1981 season, hopes were crushed when the Expos lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers three games to two in the best of five National League Championship Series. Another decade of rebuilding and Montreal was a serious threat to compete for the World Series in 1994 until another work stoppage led to the cancellation of the season and the World Series. Fans in Montreal turned their backs on the team after players like Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez packed their bags and moved to contending teams. The franchise and the hearts of the fans never recovered from that 1994 work stoppage.
Rumoured to be one of the two teams facing contraction in 2001 - Minnesota was the second, the Expos found themselves without team owners until Major League Baseball took over the club. With a move to Washington to start the 2005 season, the third time a baseball team called Washington home, the Expos became a footnote in the history books.
The Nationals are assembling a crop of young talent via the draft and they finally have a decent home after playing in the Big Oh-No as the Expos for too many years but the lustre is wearing off after several losing seasons. Washington was 11th in attendance in their first year, averaging 33,728 fans per game but that number has steadily declined as the losses mounted. They now find themselves 24th in attendance with 23,931 fans in the stands.
Winning games is the best way to bring fans to the ballpark. With each losing season, the Nationals slip further into obscurity. How many seasons will the Washington baseball fans sit through loss after loss until they too stop coming to games? Shocking at the time, perhaps the best thing for this franchise would have been to disappear altogether through contraction. At least Expos fans could have mourned their team instead of watching their history and team records sitting in the cellar of the National League’s Eastern Division. Have a great sports day everyone.