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NATIONALS GIVE HOPE TO O'S FANS, '62 METS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Human beings need hope to survive. And nothing gives a baseball team more hope than looking at its schedule and seeing the following words: Washington Nationals.

This is why the Orioles should be in a terrific mood Friday when they open a three-game series against the Nats at Camden Yards.

Oh, you may be an Orioles fan and think your team stinks.

You may be a Kansas City Royals fan or a Cleveland Indians fan or an Arizona Diamondbacks fan and think your team stinks.

But your team does not stink nearly as much as the Nationals stink.

No, the Nationals, despite a core of promising young players, have brought stinking to a whole new level.

They stink in epic proportions, in ways baseball has not seen in many years.

In fact, the Nationals are threatening to break the all-time record of 120 losses held by the immortal 1962 Mets.

Let's go to the numbers: Right now, the Nats are 20-49 after 69 games.

The '62 Mets were 19-50 after 69 games, prompting manager Casey Stengel to utter one of his greatest quotes: "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Nats manager Manny Acta hasn't used that line yet - at least not publicly. But he might break it out any day now, if he isn't fired first.

You know that annoying Southwest Airlines commercial where they keep repeating "It's on"?

Well, the race to be baseball's all-time biggest loser is definitely on. And lots of people feel it's a race the Nats can win hands-down if they keep playing the way they're playing.

"I know we're better than the '62 Mets," pitcher John Lannan told the media after Sunday's 9-4 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays. "We're not going to go down as the worst team in baseball history, that's for sure."

But this was before the Boston Red Sox crushed the Nats, 11-3, Tuesday night at Nationals Park, scoring six runs in the eighth inning and sending the crowd streaming for the exits as if someone had called in a bomb threat.

And it was before the Nats were beaten, 6-4, by the Sox on Wednesday night, too.

Look, you knew this team was in for a tough season back in April when two of its best players, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, took the field at a home game wearing jerseys with the team's name misspelled.

Yes, with the "O" missing, Zimmerman and Dunn proudly took on the Florida Marlins in spiffy "Natinals" jerseys, with news and photos of the screw-up quickly disseminated all over the world.

Oh, some good came of the whole embarrassing incident when Dunn's jersey fetched $8,000 at a charity auction the next month.

But you talk about bad karma. The Nats were probably expecting to see upside-down W's on their caps next.

So this is a team with a lot of problems, to put it mildly.

The pitching's been shaky. The team ERA is 5.19, which ranks 29th out of the 30 major league teams. (Only the Indians have a worse team ERA. And the Orioles can't laugh - their team ERA ranks 28th.)

Mostly this is because of the Nats' bullpen, which blows up with astonishing regularity and leads the majors with 24 losses. Washington's 11 saves are the fewest in baseball.

Did we mention that Manny Acta, a class guy, might be fired any day now?

Yes, I think we did mention that.

The question is, how many Nats relievers will he strangle once they fire him? Unless he takes it out on one of the media jackals who have been speculating about his job security for weeks.

(Note to Manny: This is my first time speculating about your job, honest. But just in case you come looking for me, I'm a little skinny guy with blond hair. Five feet 5, 120 pounds, tops. Really, it wouldn't be worth your time.)

As if all that's not enough, the Nats are also having problems attracting fans to their gleaming new ballpark, which opened last year.

Sure, they drew great crowds for the recent series against the Red Sox - 41,517 on Tuesday and a record 41,530 on Wednesday. But that's because Red Sox Nation travels better than an army of well-heeled retirees.

To that point, the Nationals were averaging 8,000 fewer fans per game than last year, a dramatic drop-off for a team still trying to find traction with its fan base.

So it looks like the Orioles are catching the perfect team at the perfect time.

Three games against the Nats in June.

And no one's rooting harder for the O's than the '62 Mets. The ones who are alive, anyway.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM.

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