Ryan Zimmerman's 30-game hitting streak counts as one of the few-and-far-between bright spots in what otherwise has been the latest Nationals Disaster of a season for the capital's last-place baseball team.
It's not just that the Washington Nationals are losing _ it's how they're losing, blowing leads game after game. And it's not just that they're not drawing fans to the ballpark or the TV _ it's how few they're drawing, game after game.
There was more of the same Friday night, when Washington took a 4-1 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies into the sixth inning, only to lose 10-6 in 12 innings thanks to another bullpen collapse. A crowd of 23,430 at 41,888-capacity Nationals Park _ many cheering loudly for the World Series champions, not the hosts _ saw Washington drop to 11-22, the worst record in the majors, despite coming off a .500 road trip.
"The way I put it is: If you want people in the stands, you've got to win," said Zimmerman, whose streak ended Wednesday at San Francisco. "You win, people come watch. I think that's the way it is in any city."
Heading into the 11-game homestand that began Friday, the average attendance in Year 2 at Nationals Park has been below 20,000; only the Pirates and Athletics bring in fewer fans. Last season, Washington averaged 29,005.
Team president Stan Kasten won't discuss details of season-ticket sales, acknowledging only that they decreased. He is fond of saying that a team gets the attendance it deserves.
Asked whether baseball is concerned, MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy wrote in an e-mail: "The Nationals had a difficult year on the field last year and got off to a tough start. The team has good young talent and everyone in baseball is convinced that as the product on the field improves, given the wonderful ballpark, fans will come out."
Not many people are watching from the comfort of the couch, either. According to The Nielsen Company, the Nationals are averaging 11,000 households for local telecasts and a rating of 0.48 _ meaning less than half of one percent of area homes with TVs tune in.
At least that represents an uptick from the 8,000 households for 2008, numbers that, at the time, DuPuy called disappointing.
Put in a baseball-wide context, the numbers look worse _ and, combined with the attendance figures, might raise questions about the popularity of baseball in a city that was without a team for more than three decades.
According to Nielsen, local telecasts of Nationals and Orioles games average a 0.57 rating in Washington _ more than 80 percent lower than the average across major league U.S. markets for local TV baseball coverage.
To DuPuy's point, the Nationals opened 0-7, equaling the worst start in the history of the Expos-Nationals franchise and baseball's longest losing streak to open a season since 2003.
"Fans kind of got down on us early," said Adam Dunn, the cleanup hitter whose production is one of the positives so far.
Missteps in 2009, some the team's fault, some not:
_ GM Jim Bowden resigned during spring training and team employee Jose Rijo was fired, shortly after the revelation that a Dominican prospect the Nationals signed for more than $1 million had lied about his age and name.
_ The "Natinals" game, when Zimmerman and Dunn wore jerseys that had the team's name misspelled;
_ The "Elijah Dukes Little League Episode," when the outfielder was scratched from the lineup and fined $500 for showing up late after making a paid appearance for a Virginia kids league. Dukes' replacement in center field, Roger Bernadina, broke his ankle making a catch that day.
_ Zimmerman and Dunn are two of the four players pictured on the team's 2009 media guide. The others? Pitcher Scott Olsen, who is 1-3 with a 7.00 ERA, and outfielder Lastings Milledge, who lasted a week before being demoted to the minors (then broke a finger trying to bunt at Triple-A Syracuse and needed surgery).
_ A third of major league teams declined in value over the past year, according to the annual estimates by Forbes magazine released in April, and the Nationals took the biggest hit, dropping 12 percent to $406 million.
The wins and losses could amount to one explanation for why fans are not buying tickets (the economic downturn and a rash of rainy weather are others). The Nationals were a majors-worst 59-102 last season.
Washington's 5.46 ERA ranked last in the NL through Thursday, as did its .973 fielding percentage and 34 errors. The bullpen blew 10 of its first 16 save opportunities, and nothing has helped, from shifting roles to shuttling pitchers to and from the minors.
"We have tried just about every one of those guys," manager Manny Acta said.
At least the offense is much improved, ranking in the NL's top five in runs and homers, with Dunn and Zimmerman leading the way. During his streak, Zimmerman hit .382, with 11 doubles, eight homers and 26 RBIs.
Looking for more signs of hope? A pair of 22-year-old starters, Shairon Martis (5-0, 4.10 ERA) and Jordan Zimmermann (2-1, 5.90), accounted for seven of the club's first 11 victories.
Those are the sort of players Zimmerman probably had in mind when he spoke Friday about the increased media coverage his streak generated.
"Any time the team with the worst record is the lead on 'SportsCenter' every night, it's kind of fun, not only for me, but for the rest of these young guys," Zimmerman said. "It gives us some motivation, and what it could be like hopefully in the future when all of us mature together and we're that team every year that is in the playoff race."
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in San Francisco contributed to this report.