The Washington Nationals put up another lucky number 13 on the board as they pound the Atlanta Braves 13-4 in the rubber match of the series. This team looks like it might have turned the corner after a stirring, come-from-behind win two nights ago. While I realize the Nats can’t score 13 every night, there are some huge positive signs for this club going into the most important series of the year so far against the New York Mets at Citi Field
The first positive is the Nats are hitting much better with runners in scoring position. The Nationals have not been good in those situations so far this year. They have managed to only hit .230 in that situation, which puts them 21st in baseball. The past two nights, the team has not had any problem driving in runs. Last night, the Nationals went 8-for-17 with runners in scoring position. RISP batting average may be an over-emphasized stat, but a .230 average translated into only 82 runs so far this year, good enough for 18th in the league going into last night’s game, and the Nats showed what they can do when they display timely hitting.
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The return of Denard Span has really helped this club and he came through again in a big way. He chalked up another double and homered for the second consecutive night, driving in three runs. We all have to remember Span did not get a chance to get his timing right in spring training, and, now that he is up at 44 plate appearances, Span seems like he has his timing down and is locked in for the better.
Bryce Harper also had another good night going 2-for-4 with a double and three runs scored. Harper getting o- base was key and will be key for the offense to keep clicking. Bryce is an on-base machine this year with a .422 OBP good enough for tenth in the National Leagiue. He is also seeing the ball better than anyone in the league with a 22% walk rate. Once he gets his strikeout rate down a tick, he is going to be a monster this year and his presence on the bases will give the Nats a huge boost.
As good as Bryce has been, the middle of the order can’t always carry the load. Last night, an unexpected three hit night for Wilson Ramos, a 4-for-5 night from Danny Espinosa, and a bases-clearing single from Jordan Zimmermann really helped the ball club pile on runs. This is a great trend that needs to continue to stave off streaks like Ian Desmond‘s 0-for-22 streak he is currently nursing to make this line up dangerous from top to bottom.
The starting pitching for the Nats was never a question this season, but injuries to the bullpen have made the last few innings an adventure to say the least. I think the most important positive from last night may have been the impressive performances from Matt Grace and Aaron Barrett.
Grace came in for the bottom of the eighth and put up a 1-2-3 inning with two strike outs and Barrett finished off the game with a 1-2-3 inning and a strike out. I think having a huge lead helps take the pressure off, but both relievers looked great tonight and that is a welcome sign for the Nationals.
Up next, the Nats head to New York for a four-game set against the Mets!