As the curtain closed on April, with the team’s struggles continuing to linger further and further into the year, the Washington Nationals found themselves in an early eight-run hole against the Atlanta Braves, a team which, coming into the season, was expected to battle with Philadelphia for the basement of the NL East. Things looked grim. The World Series favorites were already on the ropes, and things seemed to be getting worse by the second.
We all know how that turned out: The Nats rallied for a 13-12 victory, kicking off a hot streak that landed them at the top of the division.
In the aftermath of that game, I hypothesized that maybe that game could be a catalyst for the offense. Maybe a comeback of that magnitude was exactly what the Nationals needed to break out of the offensive doldrums and set things right. That turned out to be precisely the case. Including that game, the Nationals went 21-6 over their next 27 games. To this point, that’s been their hottest stretch of the season.
More from Nationals News
- Latest DraftKings Sportsbook Promo Code in Maryland: Bet $5, Win $200 Guaranteed
- Nationals Claim Jeter Downs Off Waivers
- Washington Nationals Tuesday Q&A
- A Washington Nationals Christmas Wishlist
- Robots in Baseball? The Possibility of an Automated Ball/Strike System in the MLB
Coming into this series, the Nationals haven’t quite been mired in the same sort of slump. They’ve won 2-out-of-3 games in three of their past four series, but with the Mets matching them game-for-game, the Nationals have basically been spinning their wheels, unable to make a dent in the Mets’ division lead. If the Nationals want to make a run at New York, they’re going to need something like that 21-6 run.
Once again, enter the Braves, and once again, enter the catalyst.
The Nats came into Thursday night’s game having just barely squeaked out a single win in St. Louis thanks to a combination of Ryan Zimmerman‘s refusal to lose and his incredibly hot bat. Thursday would not be a repeat of that performance. Not. Even. Close.
No, Thursday’s game featured the sort of offense that Nationals fans thought would be making much more frequent appearances this season, an offense that would have been more present had it not been for so many injuries. This was the 2015 Nationals offense as advertised at the season’s outset, a machine built to “Keep the Line Moving” until the last out of the last inning, crushing opponents beneath an avalanche of runs, sucking the fight out of them at-bat by at-bat.
Nationals 15. Braves 1.
By the end of the third inning, the game’s outcome hardly felt in doubt. Robinson, Ramos, Zimmerman, and Escobar and more had brought in ten runs. Everyone in the lineup (including pitcher Jordan Zimmermann) had reached base, and Bryce Harper had already drawn three walks.
(Note: Hey, Bryce, I appreciate the hustle on that Zimmerman double, but last night you came out of the game with [reported] muscle tightness. How about NOT trying to do a Usain Bolt impersonation when there’s already a TEN RUN LEAD? Please, the Nats don’t need you tearing your hamstring to shreds in a blowout.)
Things were so well in hand that by the seventh inning, Matt Williams was able to pull his starters, allowing his young guys to get playing time and, most notably, allowing Trea Turner to collect his first big league hit. This time there was no fear that the much-maligned bullpen would cough up the lead. For tonight, everything seemed to click for the Nationals.
Maybe, this one night will serve as a jumping off point for the rest of the season. It happened once before at the end of April. Why couldn’t the Nationals do it a second time? Maybe the Braves, for so long the roadblock that the Nationals just couldn’t seem to get around, were just what the Nats need to cure what’s ailed them.
Obviously, this is all wild speculation, and the games aren’t exactly similar. April’s game was a miracle comeback; this one was a no-doubter that was over by the third. Not exactly carbon copies of each other.
Also, the Braves are abysmally bad, and currently searching for rock bottom. Including Thursday’s loss to the Nationals, they’ve lost nine straight games and been outscored by 62 runs over that period. That’s a deficit of nearly seven runs per game. Maybe the Nationals just ran into them at the right time.
There’s also the possibility that this game was a flash in the pan. It’s happened before this year, when the Nationals put together one or two great offensive performances, just enough to make fans hope, only to come out the following night and look flat again. One game doesn’t make a turnaround, and this game could easily be erased from memory if the Nats lay an egg tonight.
Nationals fans have to hope that isn’t the case. If they’re going to keep any dream of the playoffs alive, they must hope that lightning has struck twice in the same season and that Washington’s 15-1 win on Thursday possessed the same spark that lay hidden in that improbable 13-12 comeback back in April. It seems far-fetched, like the longest of long shots, like the desperate plea of a desperate team.
But hey, crazier things have happened. Right?