Youth serves as Nats secure back-to-back division titles

The Nationals won their second consecutive division title Sunday with a 3-2 win over the Phillies and a 10-8 Braves win in 11 innings that eliminated the Marlins.

And it wasn’t lost on the players during their celebration that the Sunday clinching lineup included recent prospects, youngsters and guys who have never played in the majors until this season.

wilmer-difo-bat-white.jpgSunday’s lineup included regular Trea Turner, but also Adri├ín Sanchez, Wilmer Difo, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Pedro Severino and Rafael Bautista.

A lot of these players arrived this season to substitute for players who went down to injury and spent time on the disabled list.

“No one’s giving credit to all the young guys that have stepped up that have came in to take the place of Adam Eaton, taken the place of Bryce (Harper), of J-Dub (Jayson Werth),” third baseman Anthony Rendon said as the celebration continued in the Nats clubhouse. “All these guys that have stepped up, the Brian Goodwins, the Bautistas, the Michael Taylors, the entirety of the season. They’re not getting enough credit.”

Rendon himself did not play on opening day and did not debut until April 5.

“They’ve been tremendous for us,” Rendon said. “You got to give the majority of the credit to them. Just because it’s tough to come up here in this environment from the minor leagues and then trying to, not necessarily fit in, but just trying to jump in to the big-league level. A lot of guys struggled. I struggled at the beginning, but they came up here and had a good amount of success, and they’ve single-handedly won us ball games. That’s helped us get to where we are at right now.”

Right-hander Max Scherzer has gone 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA this season, and now prepares for a second straight trip to the National League Division Series. He has been impressed with how the club has kept high atop the standings even without their opening day lineup for several parts of the season.

“We dealt with several different injuries all throughout the year,” Scherzer noted, with his ski goggles resting atop his temple. “You talk about what Michael Taylor’s done for this ball club. You talk about what Difo’s done for this ball club. When we signed Edwin Jackson, he came over here. Just different guys that every time somebody got their number called, they answered it and they performed at a high level. And that’s the reason why we played so consistently throughout this year and we were able to build such a lead.

“It’s great. Now, we’re going to October. We know we’re going to October, we know we’re going to be a good team going into October, and that’s all that matters.”

One reason the Nationals have had to go with so many outfielders is injuries to that portion of the club: Eaton, Taylor, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.

Harper is not back yet, still working on recovering from a hyperextended left knee and strained calf. He appreciates what all the players who have been called up have done to sustain this club as it pursued another division title.

“It just shows how good our minor leagues can be, how good (Nats general manager Mike) Rizzo is with his job and what he does,” Harper said. “He’s one of the best in baseball. It’s a lot of fun to see those guys come up and do the things they’re doing, be part of it, and that’s why you see a lot of fresh faces doing this right now. They’re all excited to be here, so, just happy for everybody.”

But there really isn’t any player on the roster who can appreciate how far this organization has come in building its minor league system more than Werth. He arrived in 2011 and watched as the Nats built depth by drafting and signing well.

“I’m just proud of this organization,” Werth said. “You look out on the field today and we pretty much played the minor league team and Trea. And you look out there and you see big leaguers. When I got here that wasn’t the case. Now this organization has depth. It has a lot going for it.

“We’ve won four divisions in my time here. We could have won potentially more, but those things happen. We’ve been a winning club, one of the best regular season records since I’ve been here. I’m proud of that. I’ve got a lot to be proud of with this organization and this team. We’ve got a great group.”

Werth said his thoughts turned to his skipper as he celebrated another division win. Werth said he takes pride in playing for a man like manager Dusty Baker.

“Dusty deserves a World Series. He’s first class. He’s a baseball guy. He’s been around forever. The only thing left to put on his resume is a World Series, and I want to be a part of the group that does that for him.”

And Rendon wrapped up our talk when I asked him about changing the Nats playoff history of never having gotten past the first round.

“Yeah, just win more games then they win games and we’ll win one,” he said.

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