At this point in the 2010 season it is clear that the Nationals are a marginally better team than they were in either 2008 or 2009. With 42 wins entering this week's homestand against the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, they are on pace for 69 total -- 10 better than their last two campaigns.

That doesn't exactly signify a contender, of course. But despite their continued struggles on the field, the Nats are slowly making progress off it. A SportsBusiness Journal report this week says the club has finally climbed out of last place for local television ratings among the 29 Major League Baseball teams in the United States. The Toronto Blue Jays were not included in the survey. It's the first time the Nats have been out of the cellar since they moved to the District in 2005.

Washington has averaged a 1.34 rating on MASN and MASN2 this season -- a 139-percent increase from 2009. The year before that the Nats averaged just 8,000 households-per-game -- far and away the worst ratings of any big-league market. This season they have passed both the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland A's (1.23 each). As of the All-Star break, Washington's household average is now 31,290, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings.

So why the ratings spike in 2010? Well, the Nats were so bad they turned good. By promoting 2009 No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg -- the reward for a horrible 2008 season -- the team generated enormous buzz both in Washington and around the country. Strasburg, who pitches again Tuesday at Nationals Park against the Braves, has lived up to the hype. His starts average a 4.4 local rating on MASN and MASN2, according to SportsBusiness Journal. Attendance is also up from 22,715 per game to 23,426 per game. That's good for 22nd overall, two spots higher than last season. During Strasburg's home starts at Nationals Park -- five so far -- crowds have averaged 37,298.