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Five-game upswing bodes well in bigger picture

Jun 5, 2014, 1:28 AM EDT

AP AP

It’s only five games. That qualifier needs to be made. Five days from now, the storyline could be completely reversed.

But over these last five games — four of them wins, including Wednesday night’s 8-4 victory over the Phillies — the Nationals haven’t merely looked like a team having a nice week. After two months trying desperately to keep their heads above water, they now look like a team poised to go on a prolonged hot streak. A team that is getting contributions from just about everybody who steps on the field. A team that is playing like the contender everyone thought it would be all along.

“I hope so,” center fielder Denard Span said. “It’s been a lot of fun for us, pitching the ball good and swinging the bat well. It’s been a lot of fun lately. Hopefully we keep it going.”

There are legitimate reasons to believe they can…

1. They’re finally getting healthy.
After losing five of their eight starting position players on Opening Day to various injuries over the season’s first two months, the Nationals have seen Span, Wilson Ramos, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman return from the DL. Only Bryce Harper remains sidelined, and he is due back in approximately four weeks.

“We talked about it last night, about having Ryan back in there, how that kind of stacks the lineup up,” manager Matt Williams said. “That’s good.”

2. They’re getting contributions up and down the lineup.
During their roughest stretches last month, the Nationals simply couldn’t produce the one or two key hits a night they needed to win close ballgames. It felt like they only had one or two guys capable of delivering those hits. Now, the combination of better health and several previously struggling hitters turning red-hot makes this a highly potent lineup, one that has scored 34 runs over its last five games. And that includes a shutout loss to Yu Darvish on Sunday.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than when it was just one guy swinging the bat well, and you can’t get anything going,” said Span, who in the last 2 1/2 weeks has raised his batting average from .236 to .284. “But it seems like, collectively as a team offensively, we’ve been finding ways to score a lot of runs. … I’ve probably said this a million times in my career, but hitting is contagious. That’s really the answer right there. When one or two guys swing the bat, it almost seems like the third guy who comes up says, ‘You know what? I’m going to look for that same pitch, or I’m going to look for a good pitch and try to put a good swing on the ball.’”

3. They’re getting dominant starting pitching
For two months, the Nationals’ star-studded rotation pitched well enough to give their teammates a chance to win, but not well enough to overcome a lack of run support. Well, they’ve stepped it up a notch in the last week. During this five-game stretch, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark have surrendered a combined five earned runs.

“I mean, that’s the goal: Just give the team an opportunity to win the ballgame every time,” Strasburg said. “I know over the course of the year, you’re going to have some stinkers in there. You just want to do everything within your power to keep it close.”

Games during this run haven’t been particularly close. The Nationals’ last four wins have come by a margin of 7, 8, 7 and 4 runs. For the season, they’ve now outscored opponents by 25 runs, the best run differential in the NL East and the second-best mark in the NL, behind only the Giants (+55).

For all those reasons, the Nationals appear to be a ballclub not simply on a nice, brief run. They appear to be a ballclub that has finally found its stride, one that isn’t about to let up.

Just don’t expect them to actually say it.

“If I’ve learned anything in my however-many years in this game, it’s that you can’t assume and you can’t take anything for granted,” Williams said. “So we have to work hard every day to continue to play well and continue to do the things we want to do. Over the last five days, it’s been good, so we want to continue that trend. Have to keep working hard.”

  1. David Proctor - Jun 5, 2014 at 2:57 AM

    The proclamations in this post make me very nervous. I hope this is the start of a big run, but I’m not ready to say it is. Too many times I’ve been burned. They have a really tough road trip coming up, where they play against the Padres (who have Cashner returning to pitch), 4 games against the Giants and the Cardinals. That could quickly put a damper on the whole thing. Or it could spread a whole new sense of optimism. Or most likely, somewhere in the middle.

    • veejh - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:37 AM

      Seems like we’re heating up…no better time than now. At least we won’t be going into the West coast swing on a downward trend. The real test is SF. If we win that series, or even split, we’re in good shape.

      • knoxvillenat - Jun 5, 2014 at 5:50 AM

        Right now I’d be very happy to split the series with the Giants. The Cardinals have their own issues this year so I am not ready to concede anything to them. Take 2 of 3 from the Padres or better, split with SF and go into St. Louis with the idea of taking that series as well. But first beat up on Philly one more time.

        GYFNG!

      • wearenationals - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:18 AM

        +1… That’s what I’m talking about!

    • scmargenau - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:06 AM

      Who hacked DPs account? Is this SWM?

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:21 AM

        This would be a wildly optimistic post for SWM, who would declare that if the Nats don’t win this afternoon the season is over, the universe is doomed, etc etc etc.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Or it could just be 10 games in 10 days, after a cross-country flight and a 3-hour time difference.

  2. manassasnatsfan - Jun 5, 2014 at 6:25 AM

    Win every series. Now we have a chance for a sweep. Let’s do it boys.

  3. Doc - Jun 5, 2014 at 6:42 AM

    We need Ramos and Desi to get locked in.

    In spite of a walk and a single, Ramos still bites at outside breaking balls too much.

    Desi was looking great a few games back, and is now flirting with Mendoza levels again. He needs to take a few pages from Rendon’s book and stop swinging from the heels at every opportunity. You know that you are in trouble when Danny The K is on the verge of passing you in batting average.

  4. dgourds - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but we beat a very weak #4 and 5 of Texas, a rookie #5 of the Phillies and a scuffling Burnett. The Phillies have been inept at the plate. If we beat Wainwright, Wacca, Cain, etc., Then we talk

    • ArVAFan - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:24 AM

      All W’s count equally (OK, maybe against the Braves they count double). I’ll take them where I can get them. As long as they stay on the “confident” side of the confident/over-confident line, it can’t hurt to have a lot of hits and scoring, even against weaker teams.

    • Eric - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:24 AM

      I would agree more if we eked out wins against these guys, but we’ve absolutely pummeled them…

    • bowdenball - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:50 AM

      We beat Wacha already this season (4/18). We also beat Jose Fernandez before he hit the DL. Matt Cain hasn’t been good since 2012, not sure why you bring him up.

      Your post reminds me of all the people who weren’t impressed when we started fast in April because a big part of that was taking 5 of 6 from the Marlins and sweeping the Mets. Funny, you don’t hear people discounting those games now that they’re the only thing keeping the Marlins from leading the NL East by a couple games and keeping the Mets under .500.

      • dgourds - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:47 AM

        So you are convinced from 4 wins out of 5 against lousy pitching that all is good with the Nats? All I’m saying is that the jury is out. Last year there were many of these false alarm turnaround proclamations. Maybe this is the beginning of a roll. I’m just not convinced yet. Go Nats!

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:59 AM

        Of course the jury is still out.

        The season isn’t over now, and it won’t be over after the Giants and Cards series either. We won’t know whether this is the start of something, the end of something, or nothing much at all until until we see what comes next. And even if the season turns out well for the Nats, there are going to be ups and downs along the way.

        So in the meantime – go Nats!

      • bowdenball - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        I’m saying your reasons for wet blanket-ing this recent run are not valid. The Nats HAVE beaten elite pitchers, including one that you said would convince you they were a decent team. Also, the pitchers they beat in the last 5 games aren’t really the dregs of the league as you seem to think: Tepesch had three solid outings before the Nats wrecked his stat line, and Colby Lewis and AJ Burnett have both been better-then-average starters for the last three seasons, per ERA+. More importantly, even if they were weak pitchers, the Nats hit them much harder then the rest of the league has on average.

        The jury is still out and will be out until September, of course. I am, however, encouraged. Run differential is a telling stat, and the Nats being second in the NL in it is a VERY good sign.

      • natsfan1a - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:57 AM

        Eh, people are going to wet-blanket if they want to, regardless of whether others disagree or attempt to discourage them from that line of thinking. Heck, there was also wet-blanketing early in 2012, when the line was that it was too good to be true and wouldn’t last. (Disclosure: I was in the “maybe it won’t last but I’m going to enjoy this ride while I can” camp, myself).

        I’m not saying that I’m elated, but neither am I depressed (don’t get too high or too low and all that). I’m just, I don’t know, along for the ride. Heck, I just might order half-price pizza for dinner. Wheee!

      • natsfan1a - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:02 AM

        Speaking of fan moods (or wet blankets, or whatever) and standings, last year at this point we were 28-29, in 2nd place, and 6.5 back, as opposed to 29-28, in 3rd place, and 1.5 back. (And in 2012 we were 34-23, in 1st place, and 1 up.)

  5. Candide - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    A team that is getting contributions from just about everybody who steps on the field.

    And that’s why this insane offensive outburst can’t last. Because eventually, even on the best teams, two or three guys in the lineup are going to go cold, and one or two pitchers will have a couple of bad games in a row.

    …a highly potent lineup, one that has scored 34 runs over its last five games…

    Which works out to 1100 runs over the entire season. Nobody’s going to do that.

    That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the heck out of the last week.

  6. alexva6 - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    3. They’re getting dominant starting pitching

    this plus better defense is still the key

    • sjm308 - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      Yes! First thing I pretty much look at (after the final score of course) is # of errors.
      The other day with 0 errors and 0 runs for the opposing team could not have been much better for this old guy!
      Will be there today looking to go 2-0 after a very difficult record with me in attendance. I was not going to give up my seats but had started to think up alternatives to break that streak.

      Go Nats!!

      • masterfishkeeper - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:06 AM

        We will all hope that Fister can offset your presence and lead the Nats to a win. Another afternoon start for Fister. Guess Lobaton will be behind the plate again.

      • Candide - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        Fister > sjm308 :-)

  7. Another_Sam - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    Count me among the consensus here. I’m not getting elated yet. Too many times this season I’ve hoped I sensed a momentum building. I want to see a string of wins. And some fearless shelling of quality pitchers. Repeatedly.

    Play ball.

    • NatsNut - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      Amen!

  8. dcwx61 - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    I fear the Giants and Michael Morse most of all…Fear the Beast. looking for a good roadtrip otherwise.
    Isn’t Headley hurt in SD ?

    • Candide - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      I hope The Beast hits two home runs every game we play the Giants.

      And we win each game 8-2.

      Can’t hate The Beast.

      • acethehammer - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:57 AM

        +1

      • dcwx61 - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:02 PM

        Love the beast

  9. Hiram Hover - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    Lighten up, people.

    Yes, it will be harder to beat better teams-duh.

    They’ve taken 4 of the last 5. Enjoy that, root for the home team this afternoon, and let’s leave worrying about next week until next week.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:58 AM

      +1

  10. natsguy - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    I agree with David. Baseball is a game of percentages and the percentages are a little skewed against right now. Like I said yesterday what will it take to win the division 88, 89, 90, 91, or 92 wins. If its 88 maybe. If its 92 that will be some heavy lifting. Lots of unknowns. Where will RZIM go if Harper really comes back at 100%. RZIM got tested last night and looked a little overmatched in LF because of sheer inexperience. Will it be the same at 1b. If 1B where do you put LaRoche. Do you put him back at 3b? If so will he be able to make the throws anymore. Big issues to solve during a pennant run.

    • bowdenball - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      I don’t understand this at all. We’re 1.5 games back of the Braves. If 92 will take “heavy lifting” from us that means it will take almost equally heavy lifting from them.

      Unless you think the Marlins are for real, there’s no reason to evaluate the Nats chances based on arbitrary estimates of what will win the division four months from now. What it will take is outplaying the Braves by two games over the next 100 or so. That’s it.

      • natsguy - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        Because 92 victories would require them to play .600 baseball the rest of the season. They have been play at 4 game below .500 for the last 48 game or 84% of the season to date. That’s why. They would have to play 21 games above .500 the rest of the way.

      • therealjohnc - Jun 6, 2014 at 2:38 PM

        But Bowdenball’s point is that at (now) 1 game back, 92 victories would essentially require the Braves to do the same thing. If the Braves were 20 games over .500 now all they’d have to do is play .500 baseball the rest of the way and the Nats would have to play ..600 ball to catch them. Didn’t happen.

        Whatever the final total, the Nats don’t have to win 88, 92, 95 or 100 games. All they have to do is finish ahead of everyone else in the NL East. THAT is more doable.

  11. scnatsfan - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    You put Harper in this lineup and you have Desmond or Ramos hitting 8.

    That is pretty solid.

    • Candide - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      And if RZimm can’t throw, who plays third when Harper comes back?

      And then where do you put RZimm? First? When ALR is having a great year? It’s a very strange logic that says you bench Adam and leave Espinosa in the lineup.

      If Zimm can’t throw, we have a real musical chairs problem – more hitters than places to put them in the field.

  12. jd - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    I don’t know how things will go the rest of the week let alone the rest of the year. What I do know is that most of my team is back from injury and I liked this team to win the division before the season started so yes I am feeling optimistic overall.

  13. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    The offensive surge notwithstanding, the key to the road trip is pitching. Both Petco and AT&T are quirky; a couple of days in SD can throw a team into a ten-game skid. The Nats’ pitchers will have to carry the team through that series. Giants are the best offense in baseball at the moment, and are going to be comfortable in their home park. I’m not very afraid of the Giants’ starters but don’t want to be in a slugging contest with their hitters. I’m happy Gonzalez will be back, preferring his experience — not a given, I know — to one of the youngsters. Then there is St. Louis — again lots of good hitters, and their pitching can easily turn their recent slump around. I think the Nats can have a winning record on this trip — very pleased w/ Z’mann’s last start, Strasburg’s last two, and Fister’s skill set will play well against those Giants/Cardinals power hitters.

  14. Joe Seamhead - Jun 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    I was at the game last night, though we left when the rain started and the delay was called.
    Ryan did not look comfortable out there, but, hey, it was only his fourth game of his pro career playing the outfield. And that was a tough play. Will he get good out there? Maybe, but I doubt it. He has that tendency to step in with the crack of the bat, a habit that is tough to break, but it’s a move that results in getting balls hit over your head. That said, it still makes sense to get Ryan Zimmerman back on the field, and his bat back in the lineup any which way that you have to.At this point the most that you can hope for is that he handles the routine plays and that he doesn’t hurt himself out there. A funny observation though: he always used to scratch up the infield dirt at 3rd base with his feet and pound his glove and look into it at the start of an inning. He does the same routine in left.

    I was thrilled for Espinosa the past couple of games. That first double was a key hit for the team last night.

    As happy as I am for Denard Span, I’ll guarantee you that he is kicking himself in the tookus for getting picked off for the second time this week.

    Overall, a very good game by Strasburg, but though someone said that ALR should have been charged with a throwing error on the play to first to SS, it didn’t look that way from my seat, but granted, I didn’t have the benefit of replay. I thought Strasburg had to make that catch. Strasburg getting a RBI hit, and later a BB and scoring a run was a welcome sight!

    Is this 4 out of five games of scoring a ton of runs just a mirage? Fool’s gold? An aberration? I think that they bottomed out in the bottom of the 8th inning on May 28th when they blew the game against the Marlins. They had a collective self-awareness explosion on the off day on the 29th. They woke up, and they turned the corner right then. The last one to really awaken should do so very soon, and when Wilson really gets going at the plate? Look out!

    GYFNG!!!

    (Sorry, I posted this at the end of the last thread by accident)

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      “As happy as I am for Denard Span, I’ll guarantee you that he is kicking himself in the tookus for getting picked off for the second time this week.”

      I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it was suggested in the game thread and on the air that he was getting his team back in the dugout with the game official and the rain coming. They wound up playing 9, of course, but there was a really good chance it would get called, at that point.

  15. Section 222 - Jun 5, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    Anyone who is elated and thinks that winning four of five from Phils and the Rangers means the Nats have turned it all around and are headed for the World Series is living in a dream world. But anyone who thinks this recent stretch of offense means nothing just prefers to live under a black cloud. Not to say that everyone isn’t entitled to their opinion of course. But you have to at least be encouraged and cautiously optimistic. Not to mention happy that in all four wins, Soriano didn’t finish the game.

    Last night showed that Zim is not “just fine” in the outfield. McLouth makes that catch, so does Harper. Heck, so does Frandsen or Hairston, and probably TyMo too. And all of them make a better throw from the wall. Luckily it only cost us two runs and we had a nice cushion to work with. Sure, it’s only the 4th game of his life in LF, but that’s the whole point. Learning any new position is tough, even LF. I’ll keep hoping for the best of course, especially that his next misplay doesn’t come at a crucial moment in a tie game.

    • veejh - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:07 PM

      After his miscue last night I was thinking to myself what Stras must be mulling over in his head. Not only had Zim erred when he was still at 3rd, but now it’s happening again in the outfield. Stras has grown, though, keeping his cool.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      To be fair, anybody anywhere who thinks their team is surely WS-bound on June 5 is living in a dream world.

      Ya gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream …

      • natsfan1a - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        Now that song will be playing in my head. But I like the song, so that’s okay. :-)

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 56 44 --
ATLANTA 55 48 2.5
MIAMI 49 53 8.0
NEW YORK 49 54 8.5
PHILADELPHIA 45 58 12.5
Through Friday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
THU: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule

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TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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