Jun 7, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
There’s nothing like a long, coast-to-coast flight followed by a late-night game on the other side of the country to throw a ballclub out of rhythm. So it wouldn’t have been all that surprising had the Nationals taken the field last night in San Diego and looked a bit sluggish in the opener of their 10-game road trip.
Two batters into the game at Petco Park, those fears were quashed. Denard Span’s leadoff walk followed by Anthony Rendon’s bomb of a 2-run homer set the tone right away. And behind yet another dominant pitching performance by Tanner Roark, the Nats cruised to a 6-0 victory over the Padres, picking up right where they left off Thursday afternoon in D.C.
That’s six wins in seven days now by the red-hot Nationals, who aren’t just squeaking by. They’re blowing everybody out, winning those six games by a combined score of 44-12.
The rotation has been nothing short of brilliant; over the last seven games, starters have posted a combined 1.29 ERA with 50 strikeouts and five walks.
The lineup has been productive and efficient; five different players have homered in the last week, with 12 different players recorded at least two RBI.
Don’t look now, but the Nationals are establishing themselves as one of baseball’s best teams. Don’t buy it? Well, they’ve now outscored opponents by 33 runs this season. The only teams in either league with better run differentials: the Athletics (+121), Giants (+62) and Blue Jays (+53).
Some specific observations from last night’s win in San Diego…
— How good was Roark? How about as good as any pitcher who has ever worn a Nationals uniform? No, seriously. He tossed eight scoreless innings, giving up three hits, striking out 11 and walking none. No pitcher in Nats history had ever done all that. The only other guys with 11-plus strikeouts, zero walks and zero runs allowed in a start were John Patterson in 2005 and Jordan Zimmermann in 2012. The only other major-league pitchers to do that this season were Jose Fernandez and Johnny Cueto. Pretty good company.
Roark has been impressive since the day he arrived from Syracuse last summer, but never before had he dominated like this by making hitters swing and miss. His 11 strikeouts shattered his previous career-high of eight (set against these same Padres on April 26). He was able to pitch up in the zone and still make San Diego’s batters miss. He was, quite simply, brilliant.
— It should be no surprise that Span and Rendon got things going offensively in the top of the first. They’ve been the keys to the Nationals’ offensive resurgence over the last week. During this seven-game stretch, the Nats’ No. 1 and No. 2 hitters have combined to reach base 14 times, producing eight extra-base hits and scoring 18 runs.
— The Nationals did get a scare when Rendon took a chopper off his right thumb in the bottom of the fourth, leading to the first of his two errors, then had to be pulled from the game two innings later. X-rays on the thumb and index finger, though, were negative, manager Matt Williams told reporters afterward, so Rendon appears to be fine. He may miss a game or two if the swelling doesn’t go down, but the Nats have to feel fortunate to finally get good news about one of their players injuring his thumb.
— Ryan Zimmerman was tested a couple of times in left field and passed those tests with relative ease. He tracked down a pair of flyballs hit into the corner, one of them requiring a running catch just before he slammed into the wall in foul territory. The situation may be a bit different, but Zim has always been as good as anybody getting to balls few others can, and there’s no reason to believe that with more experience he’ll boast top-level range in the outfield.
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