The Washington Nationals (71-65) beat the Atlanta Braves (54-83) 8-4 Sunday afternoon, winning their fifth straight and seventh of nine overall. Bryce Harper hit a homer for the third consecutive game, while the Washington bullpen pitched 5 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball. Completing the four-game sweep over Atlanta, the Nats now sit only four games back of the NL East-leading New York Mets. Heading into a crucial three game series with their divisional foe, Washington may be hitting its stride just in the nick of time.
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When it was announced Denard Span was out for the season, it looked as though the Nats offense would crumble without a bonafide leadoff hitter at the top of the lineup. However, since Jayson Werth took over the role on Aug. 20, he’s gone 23 for 71 (.324) with four home runs. Behind him, the rest of the Nats regulars are finally producing.
Ryan Zimmerman is on fire, riding a 10-game hitting streak while hitting .476 with three homers and 10 RBIs in the month of September. Anthony Rendon has slowly regained his MVP-caliber performance from last season, raising his average to .266 on the year while reaching base safely in 14 of his last 15 games.
Not to be forgotten are consistent performers Harper and Yunel Escobar, who have been on the field as much as anyone on the team. Harper’s made a serious MVP case, while Escobar has certainly been one of the best hitting third basemen in the league. Ian Desmond has made a serious resurgence in the second half, salvaging his season as well as his chances of securing a long term deal in the offseason.
While starting pitching has been streaky as of late, the offense has carried this team back into the playoff conversation. Joe Ross is approaching his innings limit, Stephen Strasburg has been day-to-day with upper back discomfort, and Max Scherzer has not won a decision since July, but things may be looking up.
Gio Gonzalez took a no-hitter into the sixth inning Saturday night, while Tanner Roark allowed only one run in his last start. Scherzer is expected to regress back to the mean, which by his standards, should be much, much better. Jordan Zimmermann has earned the win in each of his last four starts, and looks more comfortable on the mound than he did during his rough stretch in June.
No one expected the Nats to be sitting six or seven games back of the Mets in the middle of August back in the preseason. In fact, many believed they would run away with the division from the beginning. However, given the string of injuries they’ve faced as well as inconsistent performance from key players, they are lucky to only be four games back now. Finally having heated up with only 26 games left, they are in for a seriously competitive stretch run.