Let’s hop in a time machine and journey back to 1971- the American League had not yet implemented the designated hitter rule, the voting age in the US was still 21 and Deep Purple’s Machine Head album had not been released- meaning that aspiring young guitarists could not yet hone their chops with the intro riff to Smoke on the Water.
1971 was also the year of the Twins’ most recent visit to our nation’s capital. On July 19, a squad featuring Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Jim Perry lost 5-2 to skipper Ted Williams’ Washington Senators at RFK Stadium.
Following the ’71 season, the Senators bolted to become the Texas Rangers, leaving Washington without a team for more than 30 years – until the Montreal Expos were sold for scrap by Major League Baseball and forcibly relocated to the District in 2005.
Now fast forward 42 years later to this weekend, when the Twins – who were the original Washington Senators before moving to Minnesota in 1961 – will be making a homecoming visit to take on a young Nationals club coming off its first ever NL East title.
While these two teams have played a grand total of just six games against one another, it’s easy to think of the Nats as being the Twins’ younger step-brother. Their roster features popular former Twins OF Denard Span and C Wilson Ramos, and Nationals 2B Steve Lombardozzi is the son of former Twins’ 2B Steve Lombardozzi- who helped Minnesota win its first World Series title in 1987.
Talent-wise, the Nats’ roster is also similar to the successful Twins teams of the 2000s- a blue collar squad featuring strong starting pitching and an above-average lineup that desperately lacks a big bat.
After a blowing a four run ninth inning lead against St. Louis in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS, the Nats learned the hard way- much like our beloved Twins- that although they could win over the course of a 162 game season, they were not equipped to win a playoff series.
But that’s where the similarities end, as the Nats are a team on the rise with a core of young superstars – Stephen Strasbourg and Bryce Harper – that far surpasses what the Twins had in the heyday of the M&M boys.
The Nats’ starting rotation is one of the best in baseball, and any of Strasbourg’s colleagues- Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler or Dan Haren would be the immediate ace of the current Twins’ staff.
As the Nationals enjoy the spotlight that once focused on the Twins, Washington, DC is hoping its team will reach the commanding heights of baseball that Minnesota fell painfully short of over the past decade.