When it comes to this juncture of the 2014 season, the Nationals sure have good timing.
Just days before they embark on a 10-game road trip mostly on the West Coast, they’ve put together their best stretch of baseball so far this year. Five wins in six games, all five as convincing as victories come. Not only have they beaten the likes of the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies – the latter in a three-game sweep – they demolished them.
Even with their 2-0 loss to Yu Darvish and the Rangers on Sunday, the Nationals have outscored their opponents 38-12 over the last week. They are finally healthy, finally scoring runs, and finally seeing their starting rotation live up to the expectations that earned World Series predictions in spring training.
Everything has appeared to come together right when they fly out to face three tough teams. First is San Diego, who split a four-game series at Nationals Park back in late April. Second is San Francisco, current owners of the best record in baseball with a stingy rotation and deep lineup. And third is St. Louis who is 9-2 against the Nats dating back to Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.
The Nationals sense a big test looming, which holds them back from all the ‘turning a corner’ talk.
“We have a really hard road trip coming up against some really good teams,” manager Matt Williams said. “So without going too far, we’re happy with where we’re at right now and with the way it’s gone, but we have to continue to push. Guys know that, they’ll do that. They’ll be prepared. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Team veterans Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche went so far as to directly say it: the Nationals will find out a lot about themselves over the next 10 days.
“It is the second week of June, you can’t put a whole lot into it,” Werth said. “But San Fran is probably playing the best ball of anybody. St. Louis is always tough, so it will give us a little test to see where we’re at.”
“This is a good way to finish this up,” LaRoche added. “But we’ve got a long road trip here against some good ballclubs, so it will be a good test.”
The Nationals recorded eight hits and five walks in their 4-2 win over the Phillies. The only member of their starting lineup who didn’t reach base was pitcher Doug Fister.
The Nationals also saw eight starters reach base in Wednesday night’s win, and seven in Tuesday’s victory. Up and down their lineup, guys are heating up. Across their last six games, the Nationals have hit .303 collectively as a team.
Getting Ryan Zimmerman back on Monday after a seven-week absence has surely helped. With hits in each of his three games since returning from a right thumb fracture, Zimmerman is now hitting .364 on the year through 13 appearances.
“It helps when we get Zim back in our lineup,” Werth said. “He adds a lot of balance. When you get somebody like that in your lineup, all of a sudden you’re looking around. Our lineup has depth and many different weapons and ways that we can beat a team. He’s a dynamic player so I think he helps a lot.”
Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper are the only two players currently missing from the Nationals’ 2014 Opening Day roster. Gonzalez is set to make a rehab start Friday as part of his recovery from left shoulder inflammation. After that, he should be able to return sometime during the Nats’ four-game series in San Francisco.
The Nationals are nearing full-strength and seeing it pay off on the field. The next 10 days certainly won’t make or break their season, but it could be an important barometer for what this team will be moving forward.
“This was big,” LaRoche said. “We have to start somewhere. We can build off this.”