Aug 17, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Scott Hairston (7) is doused with Gatorade after hitting a walk off sacrifice fly against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the eleventh inning at Nationals Park. The Nationals won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals Celebrate Best Week Yet

It only took three complete meltdowns until Rafael Soriano blew a save this week, but when you’re determined enough, not so great things can be achieved if only you keep tossing meatballs to the opposing batters. This isn’t a plea to Matt Williams to remove Soriano from the closer’s role, although I think we’re looking at a guy that doesn’t have much left in the tank right now, because Williams will stick with his guy no matter what. Having a big divisional lead gives Williams that wiggle room. Maybe Soriano figures it out, and maybe he doesn’t, but right now it’s pretty clear he has no confidence.

The ugly truth is that Soriano hasn’t had a decent slider in weeks. At the moment it just sort of spins to the plate, and he compensates by throwing fastballs on the corners. Unfortunately, he also stays up in the zone, and a low 90s fastball at the belt is easy enough to serve just about anywhere the batter wants it. The Nats were lucky to win Game 2 against the Mets and Friday’s game against the Pirates. Poor Adam LaRoche is going to get decapitated by a liner one of these days. For LaRoche’s sake, or Anthony Rendon’s, give Drew Storen a chance to close a game or two. Save the corner infielders!

The Nationals had no business going 6-0 this week, and by all rights they should be 3-3 and could easily be 2-4 if Josh Harrison’s popup to Ramos on Friday goes into the stands. They did everything in their power to lose on Wednesday, somehow came back to score four in the last two innings on Saturday (made possible by this LaRoche bullet) and pulled off not one but two comebacks on Sunday. Instead of feeling crummy about how Sunday ended, the Nats now have a season high six-game winning streak, are 16 games over .500, and have nearly eclipsed the +100 mark for run differential, which is almost twice as much as any other NL team and is third in the Majors to only Oakland and Seattle.

Even when they were down, the team played with emotion, and Kevin Frandsen looked like a maniac racing for home Sunday, then looked even crazier celebrating his score. Maybe he dropped an easy catch on Wednesday, but he won me over against the Pirates. Basically, I’m saying that this team plays with heart.

Facing the Mets was exactly what the Nats starters needed to prove their dominance once more as Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, and Stephen Strasburg didn’t allow a single earned run in a combined 20 1/3 innings. Fister pitched great against the Pirates as well, going seven more without allowing an earned run. Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark both pitched effectively, each giving up three earned runs to the Bucs and each time allowing runs in just a single frame.

Gonzalez allowed seven hits and two walks in Saturday’s game, and it was the fifth time in the last seven starts where he’s allowed three or more earned runs. Yes, I fully realize that I am spoiled. Three earned runs is not a considerable number, but of those seven starts he’s thrown 6+ in just two of them. Since his decimation of the NL Central in late June, early July, Gonzalez is 0-5 (the team is 2-5) with an ERA of 5.20. More importantly, in 36 1/3 innings he’s allowed 41 hits and 17 walks. Some of that is bad luck as BABIP is .390 during that time, but a lot of that is the inability to hit his spots.

I hate to ask the question, but will Roark have anything left by the end of the season? At the moment, he’s currently thrown 153 2/3 innings, six more than in any of his other professional seasons, and with the possibility of another eight starts, he could be nearing 200 innings by the end of September. Seeing how Strasburg was shut down in 2012 after 159 1/3, will the Nats employ the same strategy here? I haven’t heard one peep about this, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Tyler Clippard continued to pitch brilliantly. He made the All Star team, but doesn’t it feel like Clippard gets no real credit? Since his one fairly onerous outing against Houston where he allowed four earned runs, Clippard has thrown 24 innings, allowing one earned run on 12 hits, four walks, and striking out 29. The opposition is hitting just .139/.181/.139 against him. Walks were his biggest issue early in the season, but that hasn’t been the case lately. He’s just been extremely good.

Craig Stammen pitched great in relief of Gonzalez on Saturday, and I wrote prior about how big Storen was in the win against the Mets. Collectively, the relievers allowed six earned runs in 18 innings, but five of those runs were credited to Soriano, and it’s only by a miracle that it wasn’t eight or nine.

The Nats pitching staff went 6-0 this week with an ERA of 1.93. In 56 innings, the team allowed just 47 hits and eight walks while striking out 41. The starters as a group went 4-0 and had an ERA of 1.42 while the bullpen’s ERA was 3.00.

Denard Span saw his 36-game streak of reach base draw to a close this week, but he still managed to hit .240/.240/.280 with a double, two stolen bases, and an odd choice to attempt to steal third in Friday’s Pirates game. His 25 stolen bases on the season are one away from a career high. That being said, he could have hit .100 this week and it wouldn’t have mattered. His at-bats late on Saturday and Sunday (two singles and moving Jayson Werth to third after his leadoff double in the 10th) were critical to both games. Even by his own recent run of incredible, those last two games were sort of special.

LaRoche and Bryce Harper both hit two home runs this week, though non bigger than LaRoche’s game-tying homer against the Pirates on Saturday. That ball was hit so hard and low I imagine it probably whistled as it cut through the air. Ian Desmond reached 20 home runs for the season, his third straight season reaching that plateau, and he’s six stolen bases away from reaching 20/20. I’m certain Harper will be happy to see it happen so Desmond will stop trying to steal on every two-strike count.

For the week, Desmond hit .333/.440/.476. Ramos had a great week as well, hitting .381/.381/.476 and driving in the game winning run on Saturday with an opposite field double that plated Harper. Asdrubal Cabrera hit his first home run as a Nat, made one or three more amazing plays in the field, and hit .300/.391/.550 for the week. Call up Michael Taylor hit a home run in his first game with the club, though in nearly every other at-bat he looked overmatched and struck out in 38% of his plate appearances. He played a solid right field in place of the ailing Werth, however, and looks like a solid defensive replacement. Oh, and there’s the slumping Harper. All he did this week was hit .286/.360/.571 with the two homers, three runs scored, and seven RBIs.

Offensively, the Nats are fifth in the NL in both runs scored and home runs, and while their 70 stolen bases are good for seventh in the NL, they’ve been caught just 14 times, tied with Miami for the fewest. For the week, the Nats hit .269/.345/.423 with eight home runs (tied for fourth in the Majors).

Next week the Nats conclude their 10-game home stand with a four-game series against the Diamondbacks and three against the Giants. On the season the Nats are 2-1 against Arizona and 3-1 against San Francisco. The Giants currently own one of the two spots for the NL wild card while Arizona recently lost first baseman Paul Goldschmidt with a fractured left hand.

On the Atlanta watch, the Nats are six games up on their divisional rival. The Braves visit Pittsburgh and Cincinnati this week.

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