After a week of inspired play, the Nats are suddenly looking like the team they were supposed to be. An almost-fully healthy lineup, just missing Bryce Harper, assuming Rendon only ends up missing two or three games, is running on all cylinders. They’re surging in the offensive categories, and while they aren’t at the very top of the list, they’re now in the top half of the NL. And as pointed out by the Red Porch Report, they’re moving in the right direction.
They certainly feel like a different team since Ryan Zimmerman has come back, they’ve scored 4 runs or more in 5 of their 6 games (not to mention in 3 of the 4 before then, but that destroys our Zim narrative). The pitching is also looking spectacular. Jordan Zimmermann‘s complete game shutout was a nice touch, but it was the 9th quality start in a row for Nats pitchers. The last game they didn’t turn in a quality start was two JZimm starts prior to Sunday’s.
All that has led to a run where they’ve won 7 of 9 games. Certainly not enough to win a division or a playoff spot, but it’s a good run nonetheless. And if it leads to a prolonged run, then you can really start talking about how good the Nats are. But we’ll know much better in two weeks time if they’re at that level.
They go to San Francisco on Tuesday, the best team in baseball by record and the best in the NL by run differential. SF is playing great baseball, and this time it’s not just their pitching. They are also third in the NL in runs scored. Maybe that’s good news for the Nats – if DC’s great pitching staff can shut down this offense, they might not like having to play tight games, even though the SF pitching has been great, too.
After that, they head to St Louis, to play the Cardinals. The Cards aren’t playing great this season, with a Nats-like record of 33-31. But they are pitching great, even if their hitting is a bit down this year. Either way, it’s two away series against two teams that should be in the thick of it in September. Winning 3 out of 7 is probably a decent outcome, but it would need to be followed up with a strong home stand.
Next week, the Nationals get to come home and play two games against a streaking Astros team. Houston’s only 28-36, but they’ve won 12 of their last 20 and no longer look like a doormat.
Following that, the dreaded Braves come to town. A 4 game set against their mortal enemies will end a 13 game stretch where you could conceivably see them only winning 5 or 6 and still easily make all the excuses in the world about where they were playing, who they were playing, and why it shouldn’t matter. But it would matter – if they only win 5 and lose 8 they’d be back down to .500, looking at 37-37 with a week to go in June. And it could certainly go worse than that.
On the other hand, if they could take, say, 7 of these games in a tough stretch, they’d be looking at 39-35 after what should be their hardest two weeks until after the All Star break.
And 4 games over might not seem like much, but they were only 4 games over 1 time in 2013 between May 17 and Sept 8. They didn’t reach 5 games over .500 at all in that span. Now that would be a great milestone for them to hit in June.