The Nationals have made headlines and statements with the way they have played this season because of the amount of talent the organization has accrued the past few seasons.
It is unchartered territory for the Nationals. The franchise used to be challenging for a top draft pick. Now, they are challenging for the NL East crown.
One reason? Or should I say three reasons? I.D., Gio and Stras, of course.
The three Nationals honored with invitations to next week’s All-Star game represent the various strategies general manager Mike Rizzo and the Lerners have implemented to get to the next level: the home grown talent, the major trade and the elite No. 1.
There is shortstop Ian Desmond was signed by the Expos in 2004, an original home grown talent. Then, there is left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, already an All-Star with the Oakland A’s, was acquired in the team’s biggest off-season trade. And, of course, there is right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall selection in 2009.
Last year, Desmond has talked about the Nationals plan to build from within. This year, he has noticed how the organization has worked hard to acquire veterans along the way that can be those good “glue” guys alongside young talent.
“The organization has been great,” Desmond said. “Ever since the Lerner family came in there has been a steady increase in the talent level that we have had and the desire to win.
“I think (general manager) Mike Rizzo goes without credit, sometimes. He put together a great team this year. Some really good character guys, some veterans that have really pushed all of three of us to where we are, at this point in the year.”
Strasburg said it is not just the three All-Stars that got the Nationals to contention in the N.L. East, but the complete 25-man roster that contributed to where they are now.
“We wouldn’t be in first place if it wasn’t for other guys in the clubhouse,” Strasburg said.
“Just from a pitching perspective, how many times did Adam LaRoche come up big this year? Obviously, with (Bryce) Harper coming up (gave) us a lot of new life and Craig Stammen did an awesome job this year.
“(Tyler) Clippard, (Ross) Detwiler moving all around the rotation and the other starters it has been huge. I think it is great we got all this attention for three guys making the All-Star team, but we are not the only guys having great years.”
Two-time All-Star Gonzalez believes the team’s true “All-Star” performance in the first half is because the clubhouse works together and picks each other up. He spoke about how Desmond becomes that second pitching coach on the field and sees things in each starter’s approach that even they don’t realize in the midst of a battle.
But Gonzalez said he also gets checked in on during his off days, and the starter’s help each other to not waste an hour.
“Strasburg is always the one in the weight room doing something (to get) stronger and trying to get better,” Gonzalez said. “He grabs me and he tells me ‘Let’s go out and run’. Most people can just sit back and say ‘Alright, well take care of yourself’. We are fighting every day to get better and better.”
Desmond said that hunger to get better by being unselfish and motivating each teammate, each day, is one of the reasons this team has a shot at it all by the end of the day.
When speaking of Strasburg and Gonzalez, Desmond said “The way that they feed off of each other, they expect so much of themselves.
“I don’t want to be the weak link. We are all trying to play at our max level. That is the direction this organization is going. We have set new standards here, I think.”