Washington Nationals Rapid Reaction: Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth prove how important they’ll be down the stretch


After Tuesday night’s big, 15-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies, many hoped the Washington Nationals had finally turned their season around.

On the heels of that offensive explosion, many believed the lineup would enter Wednesday’s game with a renewed sense of confidence and continue to hammer Colorado pitching en route to their first series win in two weeks. After seven innings on Wednesday, however, it became clear that that would not be the case.

For the first seven innings of last night’s game, the Nationals looked nothing like the team that gave fans a reason to be optimistic just one night earlier. After scoring 15 runs on Tuesday, the lineup couldn’t even muster one run against Rockies’ starter Jorge De La Rosa—he of the 4.50 ERA. The Nationals were missing chances to score left and right, failing to take advantage of six walks from De La Rosa and stranding an inexcusable 19 runners on base by the end of the game. The team was losing runners on the base paths, and the only run the Rockies scored stemmed from an error and a wild pitch.

Indeed, the Nationals looked a lot more like the team that couldn’t seem to do anything right over a six-game losing streak than the team that couldn’t seem to do anything wrong in Tuesday’s rout over the Rockies.

Fortunately for the Nationals, two key players—Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth—stepped up to turn things around before it was too late. Thanks to Strasburg and Werth, the dreaded ‘here we go again’ mentality was never able to settle in last night, and the Nationals turned what was shaping out to be a disheartening loss into a huge win that helped the team gain ground in the division.

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Strasburg was by far the most impressive player on the field in last night’s game. The rejuvenated right-hander was superb all night long, allowing an unearned run on just two hits while striking out five batters and walking none. With offense being a non-factor for the Nationals for most of the game, Strasburg knew he had to turn in a near-perfect outing to give his team a chance to win—and that’s exactly what he did.

Werth was almost just as important for the Nationals. Werth, who has received a lot of criticism for his lack of production at the plate in recent weeks, came through with what might’ve been his biggest hit of the season Wednesday night. With two on and two outs in the top of the eighth inning, the left fielder drilled a two-run triple to right, breaking a 1-1 tie to give the Nationals a decisive lead. Washington added another run in the ninth, but Werth’s knock was undoubtedly the turning point in last night’s game.

Last night’s victory proved many things for the Nationals. It proved that the team continues to struggle to score runs on a consistent basis. It also proved that the Nationals are, in fact, still capable of winning two games in a row—a feat which they hadn’t accomplished in over two weeks. But more importantly, it proved how the Nationals definitely need both Strasburg and Werth to be productive down the stretch if they want to have any shot at making the postseason.

Strasburg and Werth have had somewhat similar seasons in 2015; both players have spent significant time on the disabled list, and both have received more than their fair share of criticism from the media and the fanbase. In several instances, both have been deemed as the culprits behind the team’s season-long struggle to reach the monumental expectations it set for itself during Spring Training. But as last night’s win showed, when Strasburg and Werth are on their game, they can be the difference makers for the Nationals.

Of course, Strasburg has been demonstrating that for weeks now. In the three starts he’s made since returning from the disabled list, Strasburg is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA. He has struck out 25 batters over that span, and boasts a WHIP of 0.70. It’s worth mentioning that the right-hander was also dominating prior to landing on the disabled list and has seen his ERA drop from a season-high of 6.55 to a much more respectable 4.22 in just six starts (29 2/3 innings).

Wins have been hard to come by for the Nationals over the last couple of months, but the team has won five of the last six games in which Strasburg has pitched. If he can stay healthy for the remainder of the regular season, Strasburg should give the Nationals at least eight more starts. And if he’s anywhere near as dominant as he was in last night’s game, the Nationals have a decent shot at winning most—if not all—of the starts he has left this season.

While Strasburg can give the Nationals a chance to win the game every fifth day for the rest of the season, Werth can singlehandedly help the Nationals win the game every night.

The left fielder has struggled mightily at the plate since returning from the disabled list last month. Prior to last night’s multi-hit performance, Werth’s batting average on the season sat at a mediocre .190 and he appeared to be more of a liability than an asset for an offense of which he was once considered a leader.

But as he showed last night, Werth can change the course of a ball game with just one swing of the bat. The Nationals have gotten steady production from the likes of Bryce Harper, Yunel Escobar and Danny Espinosa all season long, and the lineup as been successful at times. But if Werth can produce as he did in last night’s game on a consistent basis for the remainder of the season, the Nationals’ lineup may finally overcome the gross inconsistency which has plagued it all season long.

Of course, it’s a very real possibility that Werth simply can’t hit the ball this year. Just because he was huge last night doesn’t mean he won’t go 0-for-10 over his next two games. But the more likely scenario is that Werth is finally getting his timing down and could be ready to perform as everyone expects him to in the middle of the order for the Nationals. And if that’s the case, the possibilities are endless for the offense and for the team as a whole.

So, can Strasburg and Werth turn the Nationals’ season around? Can the two players who have faced the most adversity of anyone on the team this year put on a late-season surge and lead the Nationals back to the playoffs? Well, it would certainly make for a great narrative, but it probably wouldn’t be enough.

Fortunately for the Nationals, they still have the roster that was considered the best in baseball going into the season. The Nationals still have Harper and Max Scherzer. They still have Escobar and Anthony Rendon. They still have a dominant back-end of the bullpen, and they still have the suddenly productive Ryan Zimmerman at first base.

Strasburg and Werth alone can’t turn the season around. But if they can stay hot down the stretch and if the rest of the team can play at the level we expect from it, the Nationals have a real shot at putting their struggles behind them and challenging the Mets for the division title in September.

Next: Jayson Werth’s 8th Inning Triple Helps Stephen Strasburg Get Win Over Rockies

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