David Huzzard: For Nationals, winning streak is inevitable

The Nationals are going to go on a run. Every team gets at least one. The Houston Astros this season have an eight-game winning streak. The 2009 Nationals twice had a winning streak of at least eight games. In baseball, every team gets hot at least once during the season. Every team gets to enjoy at least one long winning streak. The key for the Nationals is to stay around .500 until it comes, and it may be coming sooner than people think.

Talk to people about any baseball team and they will often bring up how the team is playing right now. As in, “As they’re playing right now, a long winning streak will be difficult.” The best thing about baseball is that for 161 days, there is always a tomorrow, and how a team is playing right now is predictive of nothing. The Nationals have played like a .500 team, but in a rather odd way. The team’s record in games started by Jordan Zimmermann (13-3) and Dan Haren (4-11) is a perfect illustration of this.

The Nationals have player performing at the top of the roster, but the bottom of the roster is dreadful. Although Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez are long gone, they still account for 30 of the 91 runs the bullpen has allowed. A third of the runs allowed by the Nats bullpen are from two guys, two guys who aren’t even on the team anymore.

On the starting pitching side, Haren has allowed 60 of the 207 of the runs - or 29 percent - that Nationals starters have allowed. And not to leave the offense out of this the bench hasn’t produced one hitter with an over-.700 OPS and only one, Jeff Kobernus, with an over-.600 OPS. Of the 12 Nationals with at least 80 plate appearances, six of them have an OPS of .750 or higher and five have an OPS under .600. Denard Span is the only one in the middle and his .656 OPS is nothing to brag about.

Most .500 teams are .500 because they are filled with mediocre talent. The Nationals are .500 because half their roster is playing as they should and the other half is performing terribly. Injuries are no excuse. They are going to happen. The issue is the play of the bench in the absence of the injured players has been so dreadful the Nationals cannot withstand the injury.

At .500, there is good news. The Nationals are going to go on a run, and it could be sooner than people think. The Nationals’ strong starting staff has prevented them from having a losing streak longer than four games. Not once this season has a losing streak made it all the way through the rotation. The Nationals are treading water and with Bryce Harper beginning a rehab assignment last night, and with nine of 19 leading up to the All-Star game at home and the road games against under-.500 clubs in the Mets, Phillies and Marlins, the Nationals could be about to go on that streak.

The top four of the rotation have been back for a minute. Ross Detwiler hasn’t looked good in his first two starts off the disabled list, but Stephen Strasburg has looked as good as ever allowing a grand total of two runs over 12 innings pitched. With the way Zimmermann has pitched this season and how Gio Gonzalez has come around, that gives the Nationals the top three they were expecting to have all season. Let Detwiler throw a good start in there and hope Taylor Jordan or Ross Ohlendorf can be serviceable in the final spot and a five-game winning streak is easy to imagine. Win five and hand the ball back to Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann, and suddenly a modest win streak becomes a long one.

It isn’t just the pitching that needs to perform for a long winning streak to happen. The Nationals have lost their fair share of games this season where the pitching has been excellent and the offense simply hasn’t scored, but since replacing Danny Espinosa at second with Anthony Rendon, the Nationals have scored 69 runs in 17 games, an average of 4.06 runs a game. Add Harper into this and it only gets better.

The Nationals are going to go on a run, and it could be soon, but the question lingers: Even if it happens in the next two weeks, is it already too late?

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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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