Dave Nichols: A dose of reality in an unreal start

The Nationals, now 14-4, own the best record in the National League, just a half-game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in all of baseball. Heady stuff. Of course, a .778 winning percentage is impossible to keep up, but the Nats have taken strong advantage of a weak early schedule to race out to a good start.

The pitching has, of course, been the big story. Dominant starters, shutdown relievers, two closers (for now). But the team - and the fans - got a shock this week with Ryan Zimmerman’s latest injury. With Michael Morse still out until around the All-Star break, the Nats’ offense can ill afford to lose its No. 3 hitter for an extended period of time.

Zimmerman hasn’t gotten off to all that great a start. He’s hitting just .224/.324/.345 with one home run in 68 plate appearances. But he means a lot to this team on - and off - the field. His stellar defense hasn’t been affected by his slow start with the bat, and he brings a general comfort level to the lineup and batting order. If he needs to miss time for his A/C joint strain to calm down, it leaves a big hole in the offense and defense.

His particular injury is a difficult one. Trust me, I know. Several years ago I suffered a Grade 3 separation of my acromioclavicular joint, tearing the ligaments that connected my collarbone (clavicle) to the shoulder blade (scapula). Remind me to show you my shoulder bump next time you see me. From all indications, my injury was much more severe than Zimmerman’s - it sounds like the third baseman is suffering from soreness in the joint caused by one of the diving plays he made last week in the Houston series, maybe exacerbated by the flop he made into home plate. A week or two of rest and anti-inflammatories should hopefully do the trick for him.

But seriously, sliding headfirst is always a bad idea.

Anyway, Zimmerman’s injury scare was a little dose of reality into the Nats’ mostly unreal start. I say unreal because the Nats currently have three starting pitchers with four starts each who have ERAs under 1.52, and a fourth with three starts and an ERA of 0.56. All five starters have WHIPs under 1.000. Four of the five have K/9 rates greater than 8.5.

They also are just 12th in the league in runs scored per game, 10th in average, eighth in on-base percentage (down from first at this time last week) and 13th in slugging. Yet they are 14-4 and in first place.

Like I said, unreal.

Dave Nichols covers the Nationals for District Sports Page. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as 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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