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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

August 6, 2009 at 11:42 AM

There goes Riggleman again with that crazy winning business

UPDATE 5:30 P.M. THURSDAY: Rack up another win for the rampaging Nats.

When Jim Riggleman took over as Mariners manager from John McLaren on June 19, 2008, they were a beaten, demoralized bunch, residing deep in the MLB cellar with a 25-47 record. For Mariners’ fans, all that losing had one silver lining — a possible crack at Stephen Strasburg, the pitching phenom of the century. That honor, of course, would go to the team that finished with the worst record in the majors. The Mariners held that distinction by a fairly comfortable margin.

Here were the Strasburg Standings when Riggleman took over:

Seattle 25-47

Washington 29-44 (- 3 1/2)

Colorado 30-42 (-5)

Kansas City 30-42 (-5)

San Francisco 31-42 (- 5 1/2)

San Diego 31-42 (-5 1/2)

Cleveland 33-39 (-8)

Detroit 34-38 (-9)

We all know what happened, of course — the collapse by the Nationals, the mini-rally at the end by the Mariners, who had lost 14 out of 15 from Sept. 11 through Sept. 25, only to sweep the A’s in the final series to get edged by Washington. Here were the final Strasburg Standings:

Washington 59-102

Seattle 61-101 (-1 1/2)

San Diego 63-99 (- 3 1/2)

Baltimore 68-93 (-9)

San Francisco 72-90 (-12 1/2)

Colorado 74-88 (-14 1/2)

Detroit 74-88 (-14 1/2)

Kansas City 75-87 (-15 1/2)

In this column, Riggleman addressed his mindset going into the final series: “There were a lot of things to play for. We had such a bad September, just to win a couple of games felt good. We weren’t really thinking in terms of the No. 1 pick. The feeling was if we’re picking one through five, we’re going to get an exceptional athlete. Although it does appear Strasburg kind of separates from the whole group more than in most years.”

Now let’s flash forward a year. Riggleman, passed over in his desire to be retained as full-time Mariners’ manager, landed as Manny Acta’s bench coach on the Nationals — yes, the same Nationals that landed Strasburg (and have yet to sign him, just as the Mariners have yet to sign No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley. The Aug. 17 deadline is less than two weeks away).

The Nats were a beaten, demoralized bunch when Acta was fired on July 13 and replaced, on an interim basis, by Riggleman. They resided deep in the MLB cellar with a 26-61 record. For Nationals’ fans, all that losing had one silver lining — a crack at Bryce Harper, the hitting phenom of the century. Harper just finished his sophomore year in high school, but plans to attend junior college next year with an eye on entering the 2010 draft. Virtually every scout projects him to be the No. 1 pick if he’s available, a real plum for the team that finishes this year with the worst record. The Nationals can only imagine to what heights they would soar with a Strasburg-Harper combo as their nucleus.

Here were the Harper Standings when Riggleman took over:

Washington 26-61

Cleveland 35-54 (-8)

Kansas City 37-51 (-10 1/2)

San Diego 36-52 (- 10 1/2)

Oakland 37-49 (-11 1/2)

Pittsburgh 38-50 (-11 1/2)

Baltimore 40-48 (-13 1/2)

But as July turns into August, here comes those pesky Royals, sinking to the occasion. Having lost two straight to the Mariners and 15 of 19 since the All-Star break, they look perfectly capable of giving the Nationals a strong run. As do the Pirates, who seemingly traded away all their major-league players, and the Orioles, who have turned the second-half collapse into an art form. And don’t sleep on the under-manned Padres or the disintegrating Reds, either. The fire-sale Indians are never out of it either, of course.

Sure enough, Riggleman seems to have the Nationals playing much better ball since taking over. They are 10-11 under his watch, riding a four-game winning streak. And that’s despite losing their first five games with Riggleman as manager. The Nationals’ once-comfortable eight-game lead for the worst record is down to 5 1/2 games, with the Royals having picked up five games already in just three weeks.

Here are the current Harper Standings:

Washington 36-72

Kansas City 41-66 (- 5 1/2)

San Diego 44-65 (-7 1/2)

Pittsburgh 45-62 (-9 1/2)

Baltimore 45-62 (-9 1/2)

Cleveland 45-62 (-9 1/2)

Cincinnati 46-61 (-10 1/2)

Oakland 47-60 (-11 1/2)

Arizona 49-59 (-13)

Good luck, Jim. The Royals are pulling for you.

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