The Washington Nationals returned home to face two disappointing teams from the West Coast—the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres—before starting a West Coast swing of their own on Memorial Day in San Francisco.

Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg (37) slides safely into home as San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges, left, cannot make the tag in time, on a fielder’s choice, during the third inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Saturday, May 27, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington won five of their six games this week, and it looks like those particular teams were exactly who the Nationals needed to face to get back in rhythm. Facing the Braves in Atlanta on May 21, Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 batters and kept up his recent domination of that team, leading Washington to a 3-2 win that halted the Nationals’ four-game losing streak. 

In the opener against the Mariners on May 23, Joe Ross made quite possibly the biggest start of his young career, considering he had been sent down to the minors twice this season for ineffectiveness. He allowed one run over a career high-tying eight innings in his return, and Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five runs as the Nationals routed Seattle 10-1. If the still-young Ross can show signs of being the pitcher he was when he surprised the baseball world in 2015, he will surely help the team later in the season when injuries and ineffectiveness crop up.  

The first two games against the Padres saw the twin aces of the staff, Max Scherzer and Strasburg, combine for the two best back-to-back starts the Nats have seen in ages.  

Scherzer allowed three hits over eight and two-thirds innings, and Bryce Harper and Michael A. Taylor hit two-run homers as the Nationals won, 5-1 on May 26. Scherzer struck out a season-high 13 batters, and threw 108 pitches, 81 for strikes—and was nonetheless overshadowed by Strasburg’s performance the very next afternoon. The right-hander dominated San Diego with a career-high 15 strikeouts on May 27, allowing three hits over seven innings as the Nats beat the Padres 3-0. Strasburg also singled and scored Washington’s first run on Bryce Harper’s RBI fielder’s choice grounder in the third inning. Michael Taylor’s second two-run homer in as many games added to the scoring for the Nationals. 

For all of the team’s issues, an 8.5-game lead in the division by Memorial Day is absolutely amazing.  The team is on pace to win 99 games and possibly win the NL East by more than 15 games. 

There may not be a truly heart-pounding series of baseball for the club until the playoffs, which is sort of unsettling. Maybe this upcoming West Coast swing will bring some more high-intensity baseball. Most people would rather see this team pushed to the limit somehow before the pressures of October baseball visit D.C. again.

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO