As the owners of a six-and-a-half game lead in the National League East division, the Washington Nationals currently have the league’s best record and, amazingly, they can still play even better.

With a season-ending injury to center fielder Adam Eaton and a recent hamstring injury to star Bryce Harper, one would expect a quick swoon in the form of an extended losing streak from the Nats.

Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon, center, high fives Ryan Zimmerman, right, after Zimmerman hit a solo-home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 5, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Not so.

Ryan Zimmerman has continued his season-long hot streak as the team won five of its last six ballgames. Zimmerman’s three RBI on May 6 at Philadelphia pushed his season total to a league-high 34. The 411-foot home run in the same game was his 13th homer of the season, tying him with Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees for tops across baseball. He became the 19th player in major league history with a home run in 12 of his club’s first 30 games and the first since 2009. Zimmerman is batting .435 with a .475 on-base-percentage and .907 slugging percentage in 118 plate appearances. His 1.382 OPS (on-base plus slugging) is more than double the OPS he posted in 467 plate appearances last season when he was one of the least productive regulars in baseball.

His extraordinary efforts were rewarded as he was named National League Player of the Month in April. This was the first time Zimmerman has been awarded the honor. Washington has had seven players win the award in its history and Nationals have claimed four of the past seven awards. Harper won it for April 2016. Murphy received it for May and July 2016.

This is more than just a strong start; this is something legendary.  Team manager Dusty Baker told reporters after Saturday’s victory that this stretch of baseball by Zimmerman has reminded him of a certain slugger. “That’s what I was thinking in the dugout,” Baker said. “That’s (Barry) Bonds-like. He continues to stay on the ball. He’s been hot for an extremely long period of time.”

High praises, indeed.

Another revelation so far this season has been recent call-up Jacob Turner, who has given some much needed support to the bullpen since his call up from AAA-Syracuse.  The right-hander had an emergency start last week in Colorado, giving up only three runs in six innings but since that start, he has given up only one earned run in seven innings out of the pen.  With 11 strikeouts to only two walks in his four appearances coinciding with the lack of competent arms in the bullpen, it looks like Turner will be with the major league club for the foreseeable future.

May 8 begins the start of the Beltway Series with the equally-hot Baltimore Orioles.  This four-game set will tell a lot about both teams going into this stretch before the All-star break.

 

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO