Among Washington Nationals coaches and players, there is a familiar mantra about the team’s struggles at the plate: “Just wait until the weather warms, so will the offense.” If this past week is any indication, then that quote has come true—the Nationals’ bats have warmed up, just as the pitching staff inevitably cooled off a bit after a torrid start.
Washington Nationals’ Wilson Ramos hits a two-run homer during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Sunday, May 29, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 10-2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Nationals have scored eight runs or more in five of their last six ballgames, extending their lead in the National League East to 3.5 games over the middling New York Mets. It seems that everyone in the lineup is making the most of the opportunities. Daniel Murphy continues to lead the league in hitting and, quietly, Wilson Ramos is having an All-Star caliber season, raking at a career-high .339 batting average with nine homers and 34 RBIs so far. Ramos said earlier this year that he underwent Lasik eye surgery, and it seems to have worked wonders for the catcher.
At the top of the lineup, leadoff hitter Ben Revere seems to have finally gotten himself into positive rhythm, batting a robust .400 last week. Jayson Werth, now batting second, contributed at a .467 clip during the same period. When that pair is able to contribute and get on base, it makes it much easier for Bryce Harper and Murphy to do what they do best: wreak havoc on opposing pitchers.
Home plate umpire Gabe Morales, right, looks on as Washington Nationals Ben Revere slides past Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz to score a run during the third inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Somewhat surprisingly, one player who has brought out the power is the much-maligned Danny Espinosa. Most Nats fans have been clamoring for the team to consider benching the defensive-oriented Espinosa in favor of the young stud minor league prospect, Trea Turner. Espinosa has seemingly heard the whispers, and recently turned around a flat start to mash five homers along with a .300 average in his few last games.
Manager Dusty Baker has kept his team fresh and ready, giving his bench players spot starts to keep them ready for live pitching, and it has helped. Bench reserves such as Stephen Drew, Clint Robinson, Michael A. Taylor and Chris Heisley have all contributed to this recent surge.
“Don’t sit there and say, ‘This is the first time and probably the only time I’m going to start this week, so I need to do something,’ ” Robinson said. “Just take what they give you. Keep it simple. Play the game you’ve been playing your entire life. Don’t put too much stress on one or one game. This is a long season. The bench is going to be crucial, just like it is to every winning team.”
It would be remiss to not mention Stephen Strasburg’s hot start. Strasburg won his 10th game this season on June 10, and has yet to suffer a loss. He increased his franchise-record winning streak to 13 games with that victory; he hasn’t taken a loss since Sept. 13, and the Nationals have won 16 of his last 17 starts. The 13 consecutive victories ties Walter Johnson (1924) and Stan Coveleski (1925) for the third-longest winning streak in overall D.C. baseball history. Strasburg became the first National League pitcher to begin the season 10-0 since Astros reliever Juan Agosto did it in 1988. He’s the first NL starter to accomplish the feat since 1985, when San Diego’s Andy Hawkins got off to an 11-0 start.
With almost half of the season completed, the Nationals seem to have hit a nice stride with both sides of the ball contributing to winning. The key will now be to continue the solid play throughout the rest of the season.