Hello, Nationals fans! Doesn’t it feel good to be in first place? Right now the Washington Nationals are 1 1/2 games atop the NL East, with the Atlanta Braves breathing down our backs. But it has taken a lot of toil and trouble to get to the top – the Nationals have battled injuries, hitting slumps, and Bryce Harper tantrums, and through it all, they still manage to persevere.
Many critics have stated that the NL East has the most “uninteresting” race in Major League Baseball. They claim that the Nationals and Braves are “boring,” and that they don’t really have any standout players. You want “boring?” Check out Rafael Soriano pitching in a save situation in the ninth inning and you’ll see how your stress rises and your blood pressure elevates. He may have 200 career saves, but he’s not as “lights out” as other closers are, always making things interesting. And standout players? Denard Span has an OPS of .739, went 4-for-5 two days in a row last week, and has a fielding percentage of .996 (only 1 error at center field). Nope, not a standout at all!
And how about those two 10-game winners, Doug Fister and surprise ace Tanner Roark? I know that Strephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann haven’t been as sharp as they were last year, but Strasburg is still leading the league in strikeouts, Zimmermann will surely have his third straight season with double-digit wins, and Gio will be fine as well – I’m not worried. And neither is General Manager Mike Rizzo, because he’s not expected to make any moves before Thursday’s trade deadline.
The one thing that worries me the most is the absence of Ryan Zimmerman. Poor Ryan strained his hamstring trying to run through first base (hustling like he always does) against the Rockies last week and is on the 15-day Disabled List. I read somewhere that he may be out 6-8 weeks, which would be heartbreaking. Ryan is my favorite National – he is a natural hitter, always comes through in clutch situations, and is the ultimate team player, OK with playing in whatever position he is needed (third base, first base, or left field). Though the team did fine when Ryan was on the DL with a fractured thumb, his presence is definitely missed when he’s not in the lineup. Yes, moving Anthony Rendón to third base is not an issue, but the Nationals still need a solid bat at second base, and Danny Espinosa is just not it. Zach Walters, the most recent call-up, can hopefully fill that void left by Zimmerman in the lineup. No need to trade for anybody there, unless you can get some prospects for Espinosa.
Bryce Harper’s attitude bothers me too, but that’s a whole other blog post for another day. His immaturity showed last week when he made several base-running mistakes, and he has the worst haircut I have ever seen. Bryce still has a lot of growing up to do; I just hope his growing pains don’t end up affecting the outcome of more games.
So what is next for our Nationals? Sixteen games against the other NL East teams (with one game against the Orioles as a make-up for a previous rain-out). Hopefully by mid-August, the Nationals will have a more solid hold on first place after winning most of their games against the Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Braves. There is still a lot of divisional baseball to be played – the next 3 weeks are crucial. Stay tuned – it’s going to get more exciting!