What a difference a few weeks make! The Washington Nationals went 14-5 during a 19-game stretch against the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies. It was a crucial run of wins, and combined with a few slip-ups from the Reds recently, it’s gotten the Nats only 5 games back of the National League wild card race (I’ll be wearing my black and gold this weekend while I root for the Pirates to sweep the Reds!).
Now that the season series with the Mets and Phillies are wrapped up, the Nats’ schedule gets a lot tougher from here. They have three games against the Braves in two days at Nationals Park (the Braves are 12-4 against the Nats this year), host the Marlins for four and then head on the road to face the Cardinals for three and the Diamondbacks for three. The Marlins are the only one of those four teams with a sub-.500 record, so these last remaining 13 games should be interesting.
So how is it that the Nationals have been playing such good baseball lately? Here are the highlights:
Denard Span has hit safely in his last 26 games, which is the second-longest hit streak in the Majors this year (Michael Cuddyer had a 27-game one) and the second-longest in Nationals history (Ryan Zimmerman had a 30-game streak in 2009). Span has a .387 average, five doubles, two triples and two home runs during the streak, which began Aug. 17. He is spending more time at the batting cage during batting practice, and has accepted a lot of pointers from new hitting coach, Rick Schu. Span also continues his Gold Glove-caliber performance in center field, making amazing catches day in and day out.
Jayson Werth’s bat is still hot, despite pitchers recently figuring out how to pitch to him. He is patient at the plate and is fourth in batting in the NL with a .322 average.
Ian Desmond continues to be the best-hitting shortstop in the Majors. With a .285 average and 20 home runs, Desmond needs only one more stolen base to join the 20-20 club. His defense has improved tremendously this year.
And what’s with Ryan Zimmerman and all those home runs? He has hit 7 in his last 10 games and leads the team with 24 homers. Let’s hope he can hit a few against the Braves in the next 3 games!
Oh, and have you seen Bryce Harper’s assists from left field lately? No wonder this kid was a catcher before reaching the Majors – his cannon arm is accurate and he’ll get you out if you’re trying to streetch a single into a double. He may have been plagued with injuries this year, but when Harper is in the lineup, chances are you’ll see something exciting from him either at the plate or on the field. I still like this kid!
So what are the Nationals’ chances of clinching that last wild card spot? Despite being a huge fan, I am also realistic. Baseball Prospectus is giving the Nats a 3.1 percent chance of making the postseason, up from 1.5 percent just a couple of days ago. I’m no mathematician, but 3.1 percent sounds like a low number to me. So while I would love to be proven wrong and would definitely welcome the surprise, I see the Nationals’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 29 as their last game of the year. 🙁 After that, it will be time for me to root for the Pirates.
But for now, I will be enjoying these last 13 games, hoping Span gets more hits and the Nationals can end on a good note.