Some time back, I authored a post about how the National League’s preseason division favorites were struggling. Well, there’s one that over the past couple of weeks has played some impressive baseball. That team is the Washington Nationals.
Since the calendar flipped over the June, the Nats sport a record of 8-2, best in the majors. The two losses: one at the hands of Yu Darvish (no embarrassment there) and the other was an 11-inning San Diego Padres walk-off win.
Of the eight wins, the last five have come during the Nationals current road trip. They took two of three in San Diego and have won the first three (of a four-game series) against the San Francisco Giants. The other three wins came via a three-game sweep of the now-hapless Philadelphia Phillies.
Washington now sits all alone atop the NL East after beginning the month 2.5 games behind then-division leading Atlanta. They’ve been able to accomplish with both their offense and through their pitching.
At first glance, a June slashline of .254/.326/.418 may not seem overly impressive. The National League averages for this season are .248/.312/.388. But then you look at the runs the Nationals have produced, 51. That’s 5.1 runs a game.
But the pitching has been stellar. In those same ten games, the staff ERA is 1.47 and the WHIP registers an amazing 0.873. Nats pitchers have surrendered a total of 17 runs in June. And the slashline against: .208/.236/.307. Toss in 82 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 91.2 innings of work.
The offense with 51 runs, while the pitching has held the opposition to only 17. That’s a +34 run differential…for 10 games. Read that again. How did they lose two in this stretch?
And don’t completely overlook the defense. During this ten-game run, opponents have registered on two unearned runs.
But something will happen that could change the team dynamic: the return of Bryce Harper. That should be a good thing. When Harper is right, he possesses one of baseball’s most dynamic bats.
Adam Kilgore, who covers the Nationals for the Washington Post, quotes Nationals skipper Matt Williams that when Harper returns, he also returns to his usual position of left field. Makes sense, but this would set forth a chain of defensive shifting that would nullify the good defense that Nationals have displayed.
Ryan Zimmerman, who has been manning left in Harper’s absence, will move to his customary third base. Anthony Rendon, who has been playing third, will shift back to second. And Danny Espinosa will find the bench. On paper, the offense might be better, but I don’t know of anyone that could categorically state the defense will be.
Especially at third. Rendon owns a DRS of 2. We’ve all seen the recent issues Zimmerman has experienced in the field. Mostly throwing.
Will this adversely affect the work Washington has done this month?