Halfway through the season, The Washington Nationals were leading the National League and the third best record in the Major League. Today, The Nationals are in a three-way tie for the best record in the Major League.
The Washington Nationals are in the middle of one of the best seasons in Washington baseball history. They are 20 games above .500 for the first time since the 1945 Senator’s season when that team finished 87-67. The Nats are holding the best record in the NL for almost a month now and they are setting up for great position in the pennant race.
Since the All Star break in the month of July, the Nats are 11-6, 5-1 on the present road trip. The only downside, which really isn’t a downside, is that the Nats lead over the Braves is only by 4 games. However, the plus is that the Mets, who are in 3rd place in the NL east, are 12.5 games back following a sweep at the hands of the Nats, making them less likely to be competitors in the newly sanctioned two-team wild card race. If the Nats did find a way to lose the lead on Atlanta before the end of the season, they will still be strong competitors for the two wild card spots.
Despite the successful year so far, the Nats are in the process of bringing back key players from the DL back into the 25-man roster. Prior to the break, the return of Outfielder Michael Morse had a great impact in the months of June and July. In 49 games and 200 at-bats, Morse has hit .300 with 9 homeruns and 28 RBIs batting cleanup and 5th. Morse, who suffered from a torn lat muscle, proved to be the big bat in the lineup last season and looks like he will be making the same impact for the rest of this season as well.
Another big come back from the DL is the return of last year’s closer, Drew Storen. The 24 year old underwent a minor surgery back in April to remove bone fragments from the elbow on his throwing arm; he was on the DL for a little more than 3 months. During his stint on the DL, the Nats auditioned several different arms at the closer position. To start of the season, Davey Johnson instituted a platoon system with former Phillies Closer, Brad Lidge, and Henry Rodriguez, the right-hander capable of hitting triple digits with every pitch. However, following a Lidge stint in the DL and Rodriguez’s inconsistency in the closing innings, salvation was found within former setup man, Tyler Clippard. Since Clip took up the job as the full time closer, Davey Johnson hasn’t had to look back since. Clip has been almost perfect, converting 19 of 22 opportunities. So good that with the return of Storen, Davey Johnson is electing to stay with Clip and start Storen off in the bullpen for whenever he is needed. Johnson is going with the old saying, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Clip will continue his closing duties, but if he ever starts to slow down, Storen seems to be well and ready to continue with what he left off with last year.
While waiting for key returns from the DL, there were also some that made departures to it. Back in May Catcher Wilson Ramos, who was kidnapped during the off-season in his country of Venezuela but was unharmed, tore his ACL and to have two surgeries to repair it. He was knocked out for the rest of the season. In his absence, team veteran Jesus Flores took over as the starting catcher however saw multiple injuries himself. Also behind the plate were veteran Carlos Maldonado and rookies Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano.
Later on in May, Jayson Werth was sent to the DL with a broken wrist he suffered while trying to make a diving catch in right against his old team, the Phillies. Jayson is in Syracuse now preparing to come back within the next week. Pending his arrival, the outfield situation may be in a series of switches as the Nats are in the process of finding a full time Center fielder that Harper and Werth will be experimented at opposed to trading for one by the July 31st deadline.
Another player sent to the DL was NL All Star Ian Desmond. At the time of his departure, Desi was the leader for Washington in the major batting categories. Desi was selected for his first All Star team, however did not play because of a strain he was feeling in his oblique. He decided to instead take the week as a break to prepare for the second half of the season. After the All Star week, Desi found out it was not a strain, but an oblique tear. While Desi’s DL stint isn’t supposed to be longer than a month, his hitting impact is a bat that cannot be replaced. The team is still doing well, 5-1 since the start of his stint. Until Desi gets back, Danny Espinosa will shift to short and hometown hero Stephen Lombardozzi will take second.
As for our Stephen Strasburg check-in, Stras is at 117 1/3 innings. Initially his shutdown inning marker was declared 160 innings. However, due to the recent success for the team and speculation by fans of what would happen come playoffs, Mike Rizzo has recently talked about a 180 innings shutdown. This however is not for sure either, the only thing for sure is that Rizzo has stated that he will be the one to make the decision and no one else.
In my opinion, the shutdown is a great idea. Rizzo is looking towards the future, and that’s exactly what we should be doing as an emerging team. This is our first successful season so far and we don’t want to make it seem like it’s our only chance. Jordan Zimmermann was also instituted with the same exact shutdown system following his Tommy John surgery last season, and today he is leading our rotation with 134 1/3 innings pitched, 14 innings more than any other pitcher. The Nat’s will still have a great playoff rotation in Gio Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Edwin Jackson, considering we don’t make a effort for another starting pitcher in Ryan Dempster or any other trade options. Today, Stras is leading the Major Leagues in K’s with 151.
With an injury-plagued team, the Nats are protecting the lead in the NL east marginally. With the return of Werth and Desmond, there is no reason that the Nats wouldn’t be able to stretch it out and clinch the division to make a run for the pennant. The Nats will face the Braves in two more series before the playoffs, once at home and once away.