Sep 6, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals spent the better part of four months trying to figure out why they haven’t been as successful a ballclub as they (and everyone else) expected they’d be in 2013, and mostly emerged with no clear-cut answer. Was it the lack of clutch hits? An unproductive bench? An erratic bullpen? Bad defense? All of the above.
Well, over the last four weeks, the Nationals have managed to hit the reset button and play their best baseball of the year. Since getting swept by the Braves August 5-7 to fall 15 1/2 games back in the NL East, they’ve gone 17-8 and made a last-ditch charge to participate in a pennant race before this whole thing is over.
There’s still plenty of work to be done. The Nationals enter the weekend 7 games behind the Reds for the final Wild Card berth in the NL, with only 23 games to go. But if they can play their final 23 games the same way they played their last 25, they should at the very least make this thing interesting.
Why have they been so much better in the last month? The answer actually is quite simple: They’ve made a dramatic improvement at the plate.
Let’s compare the Nationals’ offensive stats from their first 114 games (through that sweep at the hands of the Braves) versus their stats from their last 25 games…
Before 8/9 Since 8/9
AVG .240 .292
OBP .299 .366
SLG .384 .440
OPS .683 .806
R/G 3.7 5.2
H/G 8.0 10.4
BB/G 2.7 3.9
SO/G 7.5 7.4
The difference is fairly staggering. The Nationals have improved by leaps and bounds in nearly every category. They’re getting more hits. They’re putting more men on base. They’re hitting for more power. And, most importantly, they’re scoring more runs.
And it’s not only one or two players keying this offensive surge. Improved production has come up and down the lineup.
Since August 9, Jayson Werth is hitting .333 with a .955 OPS. Denard Span is hitting .354 with a .402 on-base percentage. Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .307 and slugging .505. Bryce Harper has a .411 on-base percentage and .854 OPS. Ian Desmond is hitting .347 and slugging .531.
Perhaps the surprising aspect of this August-September surge has been on the pitching side. The Nationals’ staff has put up nearly identically numbers over the last 25 games as it did over the first 114 games…
Before 8/9 Since 8/9
ERA 3.73 3.70
OPP AVG .252 .246
OPP OBP .310 .304
OPP SLG .388 .389
OPP OPS .698 .693
R/G 4.0 4.2
H/G 8.6 8.6
BB/G 2.6 2.8
SO/G 7.6 7.9
Rarely do stats tell such a clear-cut story, but it’s hard to dispute them in this case. For four months, the Nationals had one of baseball’s least-productive lineups and struggled because of it. And for the last four weeks, they’ve had a far more-productive lineup and played far better because of it.
In all likelihood, it’s too little, too late. But it is perhaps comforting on some level to know this team really was talented enough to hit all along. It just took them until August to show it.
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