MLB Network ran a story before the Tigers-Nationals series began on the matchup as a possible World Series preview. On paper, both teams have very strong starting pitching and power bats in their lineup.
The Nationals were able to win both games of the short two-game series, taking the finale Thursday, 5-4.
The Tigers’ Victor Martinez was only able to pinch-hit in each game because of the use of pitchers in the batting lineup under National League rules. Jayson Werth was out with a sore hamstring.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson agrees that both clubs have the potential to be strong contenders, but they do have their distinct differences in how they were built.
“(They are) totally different ball clubs,” Johnson said. “They got more of a veteran ball club. We still got some young guys learning. I thought both games were very well played, good defense on both sides, good pitching. But it is too early for me to think about that stuff.”
Winning pitcher Dan Haren (4-3) managed to wiggle his way through the Tigers’ lethal lineup, getting caught late by pinch-hitter Matt Tuiasosopo’s three-run shot. His focus was on finding a way to somehow slow down Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
“That lineup is ridiculous,” Haren said. “I was able to kind of handle the top end but (Omar) Infante has always been a really tough out for me. I made one kind of bad mistake to Tuiasosopo and the guy has got a lot of power.
“Our bullpen did an amazing job. (Rafael) Soriano earned that save tonight going through the middle of their lineup. It was a really big win for us. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going into the weekend.”
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, has watched this team get into some pretty good winning streaks the past 13 months, and one reason they maintained their composure during those times was they did not pat themselves on the back too much after a win over a quality opponent.
“That is a really good team over there,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t think anyone would be surprised if they are coming out of that league or if they are in there until the end. That is one of the better teams you are going to see.
“If you start getting caught up in things like that now, you got to play everyone the same. We got the better of them these two games but hopefully we will see them later on in the year.”
Zimmerman said the rough patches in April were noticed by the team, and they have worked to tighten up the mistakes, trying to be more patient at the plate.
“I think everyone in this room will tell you we didn’t play that great baseball at the beginning of this season,” Zimmerman said. “Defense we were sloppy, offensively we were very inconsistent. Even the pitchers weren’t that great at the beginning.
“You are going to go through things like that during the season. When it happens in the beginning it is a little more glaring than if it happens in July or August. It is nice to play better. We just have to keep doing what we are doing lately.”
The Nationals had a few things go their way Thursday, too. Little mistakes like not covering second base or dropping a foul ball out did not hurt them. Pitching and defense, and some timely hits, are adding up to a winning formula the Nationals have gotten used to. Now they must find a way to keep it up.