When your superstar and reigning MVP is batting only .233 for the season and a National League-worst .179 since the All Star break, those numbers would be a recipe for disaster. Instead the Washington Nationals have pushed forward, winning seven of their last 10 ballgames, including a dominant three-game sweep in Arizona to extend their NL East divisional lead to seven games over the Miami Marlins and 10 games over the New York Mets. Bryce Harper’s baffling season aside, the usual suspects have kept the team more than just afloat, they have buoyed the squad to the second best record in the sport.
Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper connects for a double against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The team swept the National League monthly awards for the month of July as Daniel Murphy won Player of the Month for the second time this season as he did previously in the month of May. Murphy’s MVP-level season continued in July as he was 27 for 78 (.346 batting average) in 22 games in July, hitting 11 doubles, a triple and six home runs, with four walks and eight Ks in 86 plate appearances. Stephen Strasburg took home Pitcher of the Month for the second time in his career. In five July outings , Strasburg was 4-1, suffering his first loss of the season in 19 starts to that point and posting a 2.08 ERA with 12 walks , 37 strikeouts as the opposition batted only .127 against him in 34-and-two-thirds innings pitched.
Another unexpected surprise recently has been the play of young phenom Trae Turner, who has been flat out electric since his latest call up from Triple-A. He has been so good that he may never ride another minor league bus again. This kid is here to stay. A San Diego Padres first-round pick in 2014, Turner played the bulk of his minor league innings at shortstop. Since arriving in D.C., however, he’s logged time at second base and center field and looked more than passable. Although it’s just a small sample size, his insertion into the everyday lineup has been the kind of jolt the team needed in these dog days of summer. Turner is hitting .321 with an .896 on-base slugging average in 20 games for the Nats, along with eight stolen bases (including a steal of home) without being gunned down. He’s one of the rare talents in the sport where even routine groundballs could end up as base hits because of his special speed. He puts the onus on the defense which has/will cause the defense to panic and produce an error or two. Learning to play center field basically on the fly, he has been pretty solid and has made Ben Revere almost an afterthought at this point. Amazingly, during the three-game sweep in Arizona, he crushed an estimated 450-foot home run to left center field, showing that he does have warning-track power along with the speed game he brings on a daily basis.
Washington Nationals shortstop Wilmer Difo (1) in the first inning during a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
During this hot streak, the offense has been outstanding, scoring at least four runs or more in eight of the last 10 games, which plays right into the hands of the starting rotation, which can continue to flourish even with the injured Joe Ross still out for the foreseeable future. Strasburg, Max Scherzer and a rejuvenated Gio Gonzales, who has pitched at least six innings in his last four starts, will have to continue being the dominant starters they have been throughout their careers.
A seven-game home stand that concludes with a visit by the first place Cleveland Indians and divisional cellar-dweller Atlanta Braves, could make a September pennant race a moot point for the Nationals if they continue to do what they have been doing recently.
Dion J. Johnson is Editor In Chief of news website Champagne in The Locker Room.