The Nationals clinched their fourth division title in the past six seasons on Sunday night and now have three and a half weeks before their first 2017 playoff game commences. The goal is to get everyone healthy, especially Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. If that happens, this will be the strongest 25-man contingent that Nats have put on the field since their first splash into the postseason as a D.C. franchise in 2012.
Left fielder Werth is one of those important parts of the equation. He got doused with champagne and beer celebration from pretty much every other member of the club during Sunday’s post game party. These champagne showers symbolized an acknowledgement of how much his teammates respect Werth as a baseball player and team leader.
Werth believes president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff did a very nice job putting this club together in the winter and then finding the right answers mid-season to parts of the roster that needed help because of weakness or injury.
“If you look at our team, our bench, we made great acquisitions from getting Adam Lind in spring training to bringing over Howie Kendrick,” Werth noted. “You bring in Ryan Madson and (Sean) Doolittle and (Brandon) Kintzler, fill up one of the areas that was the weakest part of our team and we did that. This is the year I feel like the organization took all the proper steps to ensuring us we’re going to have all the weapons that we need in October. And I don’t know if I could say that for every other year.”
Another important part of the club’s success is its biggest strength: starting pitching. Right-hander Strephen Strasburg won his 14th game Sunday as the division clincher and has accumulated a 34-inning scoreless streak, a new franchise record. This will be only his second post-season of complete health which could be a major difference-maker as to how far this team will be able to reach in October.
“I think he’s just healthy,” Werth said of Strasburg. “He’s battled a lot of injuries and nick-nack things that he’s had to overcome and I think he’s in a good place and he’s strong. Sometimes it takes a lot to figure yourself out as seasons go on. This is the best he’s pitched since he’s been in the big leagues and I tell you it’s going to be great to have him at full strength. Obviously Max is great. Gio’s had one of his best season’s since he’s been here. The bullpen looks really tight.
“If we get me and Bryce back...like I said we got a lot of weapons. It would be good to be healthy in the off season.”
A major factor to the club’s success also stands at first base as the face of the franchise. In 2014-2015, Ryan Zimmerman played in a combined 156 games. These past two seasons, it is 245 games. His 130 games this season, with 19 games remaining, is the most he has played since 2013 (147 games).
“It’s just so nice to be on the field this year,” Zimmerman said as the celebration roared behind him. “I knew if I could stay on the field, get my at-bats and play my games, that I saw a confidence in myself that I could do what I knew I could do. It’s nice to be able to do it.
“It’s nice to kind of knock this out early and hopefully get those guys that are banged up healthy in time to play a little bit so we can be peaking at the right time.
“The game is different now. Guys don’t play 160 games and you need a lot of good players. We had some injuries this year and every time we had any injury a guy came up and filled in and we barely lost a beat. For all those young guys to be out there (Sunday) and be able to play this game, hopefully that’s kind of a sign of what’s to come.”
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez, also having a return to dominance this season with a 14-6 record and a 2.50 ERA in 28 starts, credits the starting pitchers and the young substitutes as contributing factors to another National League East title.
“(The injuries to starters) gave a lot of guys some star power, some shine, gave guys an opportunity to go out there and show their talents,” Gonzalez said. “Our starting rotation has been great. Tanner (Roark’s) not (received) enough credit for what he’s having in the second half. Max (Scherzer), Stras. Edwin (Jackson) was a big piece for us that helped us succeed. There should be a lot more credit to these guys that are not getting enough credit.”
But the focus now is health. The focus is putting the starting nine back on the field for October 6, which includes Werth and Harper.
“If you get in, you got a chance,” Werth concluded. “All bets are off once you get in. This is all you can hope for. You just hope to get in. As far as weapons go? We’ve never been this deep with this many weapons going into October.”