Jun 23, 2014, 11:56 AM EDT
First place Milwaukee Brewers up next - It still feels strange, even as I write this, but on June 23 the Milwaukee Brewers hold the best record in the National League at 47-30. That’s only a half-game behind the Oakland Athletics, who at 47-29 are best in the game. This week the Nationals will get a good look at the surprising Brew Crew, current holders of the largest lead in any MLB division at 5 1/2 games.
The Brewers have also won four straight, the longest current streak in baseball. On Sunday they earned their 47th victory of the season, a feat that took them until Aug. 4 to accomplish last season. They have the fourth best offense in the majors in terms of runs scored (351 through 77 games) and the 10th best rotation (3.69 ERA).
Leading the way for Milwaukee’s offense have been Ryan Braun (10 HR, 39 RBI), catcher Jonathan Lucroy (.331 BA, 8 HR, 39 RBI) and a cast of all-around solid hitters. Six everyday players for the Brewers hold an OPS over .800.
For the pitching staff it has been Kyle Lohse (9-2, 3.20), Wily Peralta (8-5, 3.02) and Yovani Gallardo (5-4, 3.34). Peralta, however, is the only one of the trio who will face the Nats this week. Instead they will see Matt Garza (4-4, 4.02) and Marco Estrada (6-4, 5.22). That could work out in the Nats’ favor.
There is one key component to look out for, however, as the Brewers have arguably the game’s best closer right now. Francisco Rodriguez has enjoyed a resurgence at the age of 32 and leads the majors in saves with 25. He also boasts a 2.35 ERA. But, dating back to his days with the Mets, K-Rod has been a disaster against the Nationals with a 5.33 ERA in 30 appearances.
Ramos, Harper on rehab assignments - Wilson Ramos has already played two minor league rehab games as he returns from a right hamstring strain, while Bryce Harper begins his assignment Monday night with the Single-A Potomac Nationals. Both could be back soon, within the next week or so, and both figure to make a big difference in the Nationals lineup.
Once the Nats get both players back, they will have their full roster for the first time this season. It’s quite remarkable to think about, and something Matt Williams isn’t quite ready to acknowledge. Here is what he said on Sunday evening when asked what it will be like to have “everybody” back:
“I’m going to knock [on wood], and I’m going to respectfully decline to answer that question if it’s OK. I’ve been in baseball a long time and I understand that. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Harper looked very impressive this week during batting practice sessions at Nationals Park. He blasted home runs to every part of the stadium and even reached the third upper deck in right field. If that carries over to his games at Potomac, perhaps he loosens up on the ‘I need seven or eight rehab games’ talk. We’ll see.
So, they’re in first. Now what? - Earning a split against the Braves this weekend was huge for the Nationals, they maintain their 1 1/2 game lead and take with them a boost of confidence having beaten their rivals. They won’t see the Braves again until August, so the next month will be quite important in terms of the division race. Can the Nats build on their lead and create some distance? Unfortunately for the Nationals, the upcoming schedule may favor Atlanta.
Before the end of July, the Nats will play the Brewers twice, the Rockies and their lineup twice, the Orioles for four games, the Reds at Cincinnati and the Marlins at Miami. Meanwhile, during the same stretch, the Braves will only play one team with a winning record: the Dodgers in their final series of July. Since the end of April, though, the Braves are 21-28. Overall they have been struggling, so perhaps it won’t matter.
NL East Standings
Offensive game of the week: Anthony Rendon 6/17 vs. Braves – 2-for-4, 2 2B, R, 3 RBI, BB, SO
Pitching game of the week: Doug Fister 6/21 vs. Braves – 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, BB, 3 SO, 117 pitches, 78 strikes.
Quote of the week:
Williams on Harper’s BP session Thursday:
We almost ran out of baseballs. Honestly – we almost ran out of baseballs… whoever gets in there park first today and goes to the outfield will have lots of souvenirs.
Tweet (or Instagram) of the week:
MON – 8:10 p.m. at Milwaukee Brewers (Gonzalez)
TUE – 8:10 p.m. at Milwaukee Brewers (Zimmermann)
WED – 2:10 p.m. at Milwaukee Brewers (Strasburg)
THU – 8:05 at Chicago Cubs (Fister)
FRI – 4:05 at Chicago Cubs (Roark)
SAT – 1:05 at Chicago Cubs (Gonzalez)
7:15 at Chicago Cubs (Zimmermann)
SUN – OFF
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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