With today’s Fourth of July win, the Washington Nationals have improved their record to 47-32 and continue their sole possession of first place in the National League East. As the first half of the season draws to a close this weekend, the Nationals have proven that they have heart, determination, and talent.
While the middle of the Nationals’ batting order had been struggling in May and early June, the bats of Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, and Ian Desmond have woken up a major way in the past two weeks. In their last 8 games, the Nats have hit 18 home runs and have averaged 8 runs per game. Gone are the days of squeaking by with a 1-0 or 3-2 win – they have recently beaten teams like the Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves, and San Francisco Giants with scores of 9-4, 9-3, 8-4 and 11-5.
The Nationals are not-so-quietly making a statement, and are finally being noticed. 3 Nationals players have been selected to play in the upcoming All-Star Game – shortstop Ian Desmond and starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez (the first time that 3 Nationals players have been chosen in one year). Desmond is batting .279 with 24 doubles and 15 home runs and has made tremendous strides defensively. Stephen Strasburg is tied for first with the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez with 122 strikeouts and has an ERA of 2.81. Gio has a record of 11-4 with an ERA of 3.01 and is making his second consecutive trip to the Midsummer Classic (he was there last year as a member of the Oakland A’s).
So is this team for real? Can they keep it up for another 3 months? They are definitely for real, and are most certainly playoff-bound. But they do have some things to consider as players come off the disabled list, the trading deadline looms, and rosters expand. Where will Jayson Werth play in the lineup and on the field once he has recovered from wrist surgery? (I say let him be an overpaid bench-warmer since he wasn’t doing so hot before his injury.) Will Drew Storen replace Tyler Clippard and resume his former job of closer? (I think it will take a while for Drew to get back into closer shape, so put him in as a setup guy or middle reliever.) What will happen in the playoffs when Stephen Strasburg reaches his innings limit for the season in August? (I really don’t have a solution for that one, other than maybe having a six-man rotation, but I don’t know who that sixth man would be – perhaps they could trade for one.)
The Nationals also have a LOT more games to play against other NL East teams (interleague play in May and June got in the way of that). The Braves and Mets are playing well, and with the Mets only 3 games out and the Braves close behind, the Nats need to continue with their good pitching and solid-of-late offense to remain atop the NL East.
The Nationals go for the sweep of the Giants tomorrow and then host the Rockies for 3 games before entering the All-Star break. Let’s hope those few days off next week don’t affect their momentum, that Gio and Stras don’t throw too many pitches in the All-Star Game, and that Zimmerman, Morse, Desmond and the others can continue their offensive tear in the second half of the season.