The Washington Nationals have started this season the way most people thought the team would have started last season when their expectations were so much higher. Although this season’s wins have come against the lower-level teams in the National League East, they still have to play and win the games. A seven-game winning streak is a seven-game winning streak, no matter how you earn it. And early season success seems to have brought in much-needed fun and enthusiasm that this team surely has lacked in the past.
Miami Marlins J.T. Realmuto, right, slides into second base as Washington Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa turns a double play during the fifth inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
From Jayson Werth’s game-winning single in the National’s victory over the Miami Marlins on April 10, to the five-run opening frame in a win over the Philadelphia Phillies on April 15, this team is finding ways to win. And, it’s been downright entertaining to watch. A league-topping 9-1 start – which is also a team record – has Nats Nation feeling pretty good.
If anyone thought there was a slight chance that reigning MVP Bryce Harper would have a slow start to the season, those voices are now whispers as Harper has brought the power with five home runs and 11 RBI’s so far. He has shown true leadership with his play and has even embraced the new aggressive base-running style that new team manager Dusty Baker has implemented. Harper has recorded three stolen bases already.
The rest of the batting lineup seems to be rounding into form, making key hits in big situations.
Daniel Murphy is batting over .400 along with Wilson Ramos, who coincidentally had Lasik surgery this offseason.
In a matchup against the Braves on April 12, starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez made his season debut after being shelved for two weeks. He pitched six shutout innings and Harper delivered the go-ahead, two-run double in the eighth inning for the 2-1 victory. In other action against the Braves on April 13, Tanner Roark stepped up in the absence of starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who was ill, and delivered seven shutout innings, while Stephen Drew and Jayson Werth homered in the 3-0 win.
Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper watches his grand slam during the third inning of an baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Thursday, April 14, 2016, in Washington. This was Harpers’ 100th home run of his career. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
In the series finale against the Braves on April 14, Harper hit his first career grand slam. His 100th career home run smashed a panel on an electronic signboard in the third inning in the 6-2 win. He became the eighth youngest player in history to reach that mark. In addition to his five home runs, Harper also has 14 RBI so far on the season.
Strasburg returned from his illness in the April 14 game and pitched well, allowing two runs over nearly eight full innings. But even more impressive was ace pitcher Max Scherzer, who allowed just one run and five hits, while striking out seven batters through seven innings in an 8-1 win over the Phillies on April 16.
This Nationals team has a new aura—a new swagger. Manager Dusty Baker seems to be pushing all the right buttons behind the scenes, as victories triggers confidence. Once the schedule toughens up, these early victories will mean much, much more.