The flowers remain in full bloom, the weather as gorgeous as a quad full of coeds and the Nationals took three of four from a good Cincinnati team over the weekend to move their record to 7-3. There was a billboard near the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta for many years that read, “It’s Always Springtime at Bulldog Bonding.” Always springtime? I think I could learn to like that.
Ross Detwiler pitched well Sunday. His fastball was sitting at 94 mph and there was plenty of life to all his pitches. He was squeezed by circumstance, however, first by an errant throw by Ian Desmond and then by the whimsical strike zone of Laz Diaz. Diaz went from calling Ryan Ludwick’s “prime cut only” strikes in the first inning to “all of the above” strikes for Ryan Zimmerman in the bottom of the eighth.
Neither Detwiler’s luckless outing nor the 11th-inning implosion by Tyler Clippard can obscure the fact that the 2012 Nationals remain the best pitching staff in the National League. The team ERA of 1.99 remains far and away the best in both leagues.
Cincinnati has one of the more potent offensive lineups in the NL, yet they managed only four runs in the first three games. Any member of the Nationals starting rotation remains capable of pitching a gem, of totally shutting down opposing hitters. Sunday was just a day when it did not happen. The Reds were due.
The Nationals continue to sit atop the NL East because of that pitching excellence. But it also accrues from clutch hits by Desmond and Adam LaRoche. who were the core of the attack again Sunday. They are sparking what remains an inconsistent offense. Jayson Werth is hitting .333, but the rest of the team -- most notably Ryan Zimmerman -- has yet to engage. They are forcing the pitching staff to be nearly perfect, which will not work over the course of the long season with any greater success than it did Sunday.
Last season, a similar cast managed to score fewer than four runs a game: 3.88 to be exact. Thus far, they have scored 39 times in 10 games. Do the math. There is no bailout waiting in the wings either. Michael Morse is sidelined for the next six to eight weeks. Bryce Harper is hitting .220 at Triple-A Syracuse.
There were no late-inning heroics on Sunday, but there were still gutty performances from Craig Stammen, Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez. Zimmerman has found his A glove and one can hope his bat is not far behind.
The Houston Astros come to town Monday for four games. They are a young and rebuilding team that has played everyone hard so far this season. Stephen Strasburg will greet them in the first game.
Another friendly face will be back as well. The downside of this spring’s set-up has been Passover falling during the first homestand. Max’s Kosher kiosk has been closed throughout the homestand to observe the eight days of the holiday season. There has been no chicken Swarma, no falafel sandwiches, no Kosher dogs with onions with which to mark this spring celebration.
As difficult as a homestand without swarma has been, it seems small price to pay for the past week’s five-game win streak. So hit the replay switch. It’s always springtime in D.C., and the Nationals are always playing .700 ball.
Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released last June. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. 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.