For a team that has so many bullpen and injury issues this Washington Nationals really did have a great week of baseball from April 16-22.  The Nationals are in the midst of a six-game winning streak, winning nine of their last 11 games.  After just three weeks, the ball club has a three-game lead in the National League East division. The Nationals starting pitching is, again, outstanding and most importantly, there has been some sort of revival from the team’s two biggest names.

Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner, left, slides past New York Mets catcher Rene Rivera, right, to score during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 22, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Washington’s batting lineup as a whole has been outstanding, leading the league with a .273 batting average as a team. One prominent member of the lineup, Bryce Harper, is back playing at an MVP level and it looks like his dominant play may be sustainable.  Harper is currently atop two of the three major categories, including holding a batting average at .390. He has seven home runs so far with 20 RBIs, and is one of the best clutch players in the sport.  His walk-off two-run homer against Philadelphia closer Joaquin Benoit on April 16 miraculously became the start of the aforementioned six-game winning streak.  Harper is in such a zone currently that even former nemesis, New York Mets ace Matt Harvey, was no match for Harper in his start on April 21.  Harvey has basically owned Harper as the latter had earned just one hit in 26 at-bats against Harvey throughout his career. That changed in their matchup on April 21 when Harper delivered a home-run blast to centerfield in the opening inning and eventually won the game with a 11th inning double.

As Harper is annually one of the better players in the sport, his hot start is sort of expected.  The hot start from former All-Star Ryan Zimmerman, however, is one certainly no one saw coming.  Three consecutive subpar seasons has put Zimmerman in a place of uncertainty in the minds of Nats fans.  Specifically, a lot of people clamored for a change in the lineup if his play continued and maybe he saw the writing on the wall.  Zimmerman not only has a strong batting average of .373 but, more surprisingly, he is hitting with power again with 11 extra base hits (six doubles and five home runs).  To expect Zimmerman to hit at a plus-.300 clip for the full season is asking a lot at this point of his career, yet to have Zimmerman as a threat in the lineup gives the team yet another option for opposing pitchers to fret over.  Who do you pitch around in this lineup as currently constructed?

The bullpen issues have been the culprit of many losses and now, after only three weeks, closer Blake Treinen lost the gig he won in spring training.  Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover will take over the responsibilities for the foreseeable future. Treinen made his final appearance as closer on April 18 and it was disastrous, keeping in line with his consistently poor performance in the role. The right-hander allowed two hits, walked two and got just one out. One of the walks loaded the bases. Treinen’s earned-run average is currently at an unacceptable 7.11 in six-and-one-third innings across eight games this season. Obviously, this was not what manager Dusty Baker envisioned for the former set-up man.  Treinen excelled in that role last season and maybe he can get more confidence in himself in his former role and perhaps regain the job. But right now, it is not working and Baker deserves kudos for not waiting any longer and making moves for the entire team. This club still has prospects of winning instead of letting a struggling player cost the team more ballgames in what could unfold into another special season for the Nats.

 

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO