Dave Nichols: New era for Nationals baseball?

The Washington Nationals have won 13 of their last 15 games. That's pretty heady stuff. When play ended Sunday, the Nats owned a 40-38 record, a mere 3 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. This run that they're on right now can only be described with one word: ridiculous.

On this streak, the Nats have won close games and blowouts. They've pitched over their heads and picked up the bullpen on the few occasions they've faltered. The Nats blew three saves in Friday's game alone and still won. In fact, the only pitcher to lose in the past 15 games, Tom Gorzelanny, owns both losses, though Saturday's 3-0 loss to the White Sox could hardly be pinned on him.

The other incredible thing about this streak is that the Nats' two best players, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, are, well, stinking up the joint. Since his return from the disabled list after missing two months with abdominal surgery, Zimmerman is hitting .180/.212/.300 with one home run and six RBIs. But he's returning from injury, so we should cut him some slack, though he's just a career .248 hitter in June anyway.

Werth, hitting .232/.339/.404 this season, is entitled to no such slack. In the past 15 games, Werth has hit a paltry .182/.308/.327. But I digress; this was supposed to be a happy column about the Nats fortunes changing, perhaps for good. Still, it's remarkable the Nats have been able to continue this string of wins considering their two best players have hit like pitchers during the stretch.

But the Nats' fortunes are changing. Instead of going in a funk when their best hitters are struggling, others - most notably Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa - are picking up that slack. And now, in a burst of incredible good fortune, instead of carrying on all summer with a lame-duck manager, it's entirely possible that Jim Riggleman's sense of overwhleming pride did the Nationals a huge favor, though the media circus of the last few days has bordered on the nonsensical.

Riggleman's abrupt resignation has forced the Nationals to react in such a forceful, decisive manner that general manager Mike Rizzo made the only - and best - decision he could have made. Rizzo called upon his special advisor, Davey Johnson, to return back to the dugout to helm what looks like a team that not only is capable of playing some decent baseball this year, but with a short three-game series with the Angels and an 11-game homestand that culminates with the All-Star break, the Nationals could very well end up playing meaningful baseball in the second half of this season.

Johnson's resume sparkles. He's played on and managed World Series winners. He's skippered Olympic and World Baseball Classic teams. He was one of the first to utilize computer programs to optimize batting lineups. He could very well be the one missing ingredient this team needed to take the next step. There are still holes in the lineup, but the Nats have a winner in charge now.

Johnson has said on many occasions he felt his time in the dugout was over. He didn't end his semi-retirement to take over a second-division club as a favor to Rizzo. Maybe he thinks this opportunity was just too good to pass up. Is this the dawn of a new era for Nationals baseball? Sure feels like it is.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols' Nationals observations part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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