Before going overboard with the plaudits for this past week, we should all remember that the Nationals faced the Phillies, the 11th best offense in the NL, and the Padres, the worst, both in terms of runs scored. Going 5-1 against these two teams, and one out away from being a perfect 6-0, isn’t the same as playing the Braves or the Giants, but this was the first week since early April that discussing the Nats as a possible postseason team wasn’t just blind optimism. They played great baseball.
That being said, oh wow. The Nats starters tossed three shutouts this week, two of them by Jordan Zimmermann, and the other by Tanner Roark. Zimmermann went eight or more in each start, totaling 17 IP while allowing only seven hits and striking out 16. Oh yeah, he also had a perfect game going on Sunday afternoon until it was broken up with one out in the sixth. Earlier I had written that Zimmermann had looked pretty average so far this season, but this week he looked completely different. He wasn’t leaving pitches up and in the middle of the zone, his fastball showed real life, not just velocity, and his curve looked sharp with real bite to it. Let’s just say he impressed.
Roark pitched another great game, tossing three-hit baseball over eight innings against the Padres while striking out 11. It was the first time in his Major League career that Roark recorded double-digit strikeouts, and it was the first time since Gio Gonzalez on 07/25/2013 that a Nat other than Strasburg had double-digit strikeouts. Did I also mention that Strasburg struck out 11 Phillies? Three double-digit strikeout performances from the starting pitchers? Did anyone not a complete homer see anything like that happening? For the week, the Nats starters struck out 44 batters with only one walk allowed.
This week, the pitching staff posted a ridiculous 1.29 ERA, allowing 34 hits in 55 2/3 innings while walking 4 and striking out 57. Gulp. The second best team was the Cubs, a full run higher at 2.33. Expanding those numbers out a bit, over the last 30 days the Nats staff has an ERA of 2.83 and has allowed only 209 hits in 238 1/3 innings. Their ERA is 36% better than the Major League average and 33.57% better than the NL’s. Say, when did Doug Fister return again? That’s right, May 9th. I’m sure it’s just coincidence, however. No way Fister’s five straight starts where he’s allowed two or fewer runs have helped. Collectively, the Nats are now tied for 2nd in the NL in ERA, third in both WHIP and K/9.
Maybe there’s something to this Danny Espinosa batting stance change. For the week, the slick fielding second baseman hit .455 with five RBIs and three runs scored. He had three multi-hit games and on Sunday his first three hit game since way back on April 24th, which, coincidentally, also happened to be against the Padres. I’m convinced that if Roark and Espinosa played for the Giants or the Dodgers and saw the Padres 19 times a year these two would be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
Both Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon hit three home runs apiece this week. For Desmond, he has now hit nice home runs and driven in 20 RBIs since May 12th, the home runs tops in the NL during that span. Rendon did his damage in only four games due to hurting his thumb fielding a ground ball in Friday’s game. He’s listed as day-to-day, which is good news for the injury prone Nats, but it’s even better news for Rendon. Since a prolonged slump that saw his slash line go from .316/.352/.544 to a low of .255/.306/.426, Rendon has hit four home runs, driven in eight, and scored 10 runs.
Denard Span continued with his hot bat, hitting .286 on the week with four doubles and seven runs scored. Since May 3rd, when Span was sitting at .221/.290/.319 he’s hit .312/.345/.442 with a wRC+ of 119, creating 19% more runs than league average. I don’t know if it’s going to last; his BABIP of .333 is over his career average of .319, and he still rarely takes a walk, but as long as the hits keep falling, swing away.
The biggest worry for the Nats is the prolonged power outage from Jayson Werth. On the season, the right fielder has only five home runs, and he hasn’t hit one past May 14th, a span of 21 games and 83 at bats. He has one home run since April 29th with a microscopic ISO of .061. The bats have been picking up of late, so Werth’s light hitting hasn’t been as noticeable, but it’s something to keep an eye on as June progresses. Thankfully the Nats haven’t needed those early-season heroics.
As a team, the Nats hit .267/.338/.451 this week, with an ISO of .184. Their OPS of .789 and ISO are both third in the NL for the week (sixth and tied for third in the Majors, respectively). They also hit seven home runs, tied for second in the NL and seventh in the Majors. If you consider the pitching as well, I believe the color commentators call that “firing on all cylinders.”
The Nats outscored their opponents 34-10, bringing their season run differential to +38, second in the NL to the Giants. The Nats are currently in a three way tie for first place in the East with the Braves and the Marlins, but staying there will remain a challenge in the week ahead with four against the Giants and three against the Cardinals. It will be their toughest week so far this year, and a strong showing will put them in a good place in the weeks ahead. The end of June and early July brings two series against the Cubs.