Nationals Week Filled with High Fives and Smiles
By Scott Bline
Jul 5, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon (6) reacts after scoring a run against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
In the week that was, the Nationals swept the Rockies, won two of three against the daunting Jason Hammel, Jeff Samardzija, Jake Arrieta meat grinder (sort of), went 5-1 overall and made up absolutely zero ground in the standings. In fact, over their last eight, the Nats have gone 7-1 and lost ½ game. How does that happen? The Braves won nine in a row, finally losing on Sunday to the Diamondbacks, and went from 1 down to ½ game up in a little over a week. As a Nats fan, you can be upset that the Braves are doing so well, but don’t you just want to giggle a little over the fact that Atlanta is going through the soft part of its schedule, did what it had to do, and still barely gained in the standings? I’m laughing about it. You will too come August when the Braves see the Mariners, Nationals, Dodgers, Pirates, and Reds in succession. Trust me; you’ll love it then.
Also, the Braves have to be a little upset that Chicago trading Hammel and Samardzija to Oakland came right before Samardzija pitched against the Nats. The Nats should be upset it came after Hammel, who is now 8-0 lifetime against them, pitched. If that trade happens Friday morning maybe the Nats are sitting in first.
Before discussing the individual performers of the week, and there were quite a few, take a look at these rankings by the Nationals pitching staff in terms of the NL: 1st in ERA, FIP, BB/9, K/BB; 2nd in HR/9; and 5th in K/9. The staff is throwing so well that I was shocked when Drew Storen allowed the tying run to the Cubs on Sunday afternoon. What? Jordan Zimmermann was going to get this win, beating Arrieta in the process, and the Nats would roll right into their four games with Baltimore with sunshine and smiles. Well, the Nats came back and won because of another Zimmerman’s heroics, and I was all smiles again, confident that Rafael Soriano would handle the ninth effortlessly.
Should we consider this a bad week by J-Zimm? He did allow 14 hits in 12 innings of work, looking like he had trouble locating his fastball similar to early in the season, but he only gave up two runs. He’s been so good recently, finishing June allowing only 30 hits in 44 innings with an ERA of 1.43 (and accumulating an unbelievable 1.7 fWAR in the process), that a week like this past one sort of leaves you wanting more. OK. If that doesn’t do it for you, how about the run that Gio Gonzalez has been on recently. Since coming off the disabled list, Gonzalez has gone 3-0 with an ERA of 1.38 and allowing a batting line of .165/.258/.200, and that includes the game against Houston where he was working himself back to strength. Exclude that game and teams are hitting .132/.213/.147 in 21 innings of scoreless ball. Zimmermann needed a break so Gonzalez assumed the role of staff ace.
That’s precisely how it’s supposed to work, right?
When a Stephen Strasburg outing where he strikes out eight in seven innings is barely worth mentioning, you know your pitching staff is rolling. Oh, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Tanner Roark had his second straight tough outing against the Cubs. In his last 13 innings Roark has allowed 19 hits and eight earned runs. Believe me, this does not make me happy in the slightest.
All told, the Nats pitchers allowed 52 hits in 54 innings with an ERA of 2.50. They’re one of the best staffs in baseball. Enjoy it.
So, Bryce Harper returns and all of a sudden the Nats hit .303 with four home runs and 22 doubles (hitting eight in Saturday’s game for the first time as Nationals and the fifth time in franchise history). Of course, it was Harper that led the way, right? Well, not really. Harper hit.190/.250/.238 this week, getting his timing back. But, if you watched that game on Monday against the Rockies, then you had to see that there was a real energy to the club that hasn’t been around for a while. Despite the distractions of where Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, etc. would play, and what did or didn’t Harper say about playing centerfield, the team came to the park excited to play.
They then won the first two games against Colorado by a combined score of 14-4, finished the week outscoring their opponents 35-15, and that lineup looked equal parts scary and unfair. In some ways, the lineup now reminds me of the early aught lineups of the Yankees and Red Sox, stacked with professional hitters that won’t give an opposing pitcher an inch. As currently constructed, there aren’t any easy outs short of Ian Desmond swinging at everything, Denard Span swinging at the first something or Danny Espinosa being allowed to swing at anything. But, when Desmond and Span are locked in, it’s fun to watch the team come to bat and hit the ball really, really hard.
Speaking of, Jayson Werth did that very thing this week. Here’s Werth’s batting line for the week: .450/.560/1.000 with two home runs, five doubles, and nine RBIs. The two home runs were as many as Werth had hit from May 14 through the end of June, totaling 40 games and 160 at bats. Werth hit the ball great, but he wasn’t even the Nats best hitter. That honor goes to Zimmerman, who hit .524/.560/.714 with four doubles and six RBIs. Zimmerman had three multi-hit games, including a 3-hit and a 4-hit game and raising his batting line from .233/.302/.383/ to .273/.339/.429 by week’s end. Most likely it was just getting his timing back after spending a month and a half on the disabled list, but a return to third base started this hot hitting, so maybe his return to a familiar position helped ease his mind. Whatever it is, Zimmerman hitting the ball means Adam LaRoche will see more pitches to hit instead of being pitched around like he has been lately.
Desmond hit .409/.435/.636 with seven RBIs. Desmond is now tied for fifth in the NL with 53 RBIs, first among shortstops, and he only struck out in 1/3 of his at bats. It was a good week. Rendon hit five doubles and drove in four. Currently, Rendon is ninth in the NL in fWAR among positional players, ninth in RBIs with 50, and fifth in runs scored with 60. He’s doing okay for himself. Also, Span hit three doubles this week, bringing his season total to 26, which is tied for third in the NL.
As a team, the Nationals are now second the NL in run differential at +59, three behind the Dodgers, and are fifth in runs and 8th in OPS. With the full lineup back, look for both of those to improve.