The Nationals swept the Phillies over the weekend. That always feels good. But the Nats are still eight games out of a wild card spot with just 45 games to play. It's not an impossibility, but the odds of making the postseason sure aren't great. What is great, though, is the way Jayson Werth has been playing this summer.
The veteran outfielder is in the midst of what could possibly be his finest season at the plate as a big leaguer. Due to the hamstring injury that caused him to miss a month's worth of games, he's only on pace for about 500 plate appearances this season, so his counting numbers overall won't necessarily look spectacular, but his slash line is stellar. Should he finish the season without a major slump, he could put up numbers that rival his best seasons in Philadelphia.
The Nationals beat the Phillies 6-0 Sunday behind Stephen Strasburg's first career complete-game shutout. Werth went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. That capped a weekend where Werth, 34, carried the Nats offensively, as he as pretty much since he returned from injury. In the three-game series against his former team, Werth went 7-for-12 with a home run, four RBIs and five runs scored. His slash line for the season following the series was a glowing .328/.401/.530.
He has stayed as hot in August as he was in July, when he was named National League Player of the Month, the first such honor for a member of the Nationals. In July, Werth hit .367/.450/.622 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 27 games. He hasn't slowed down in August. In fact, with six multi-hit games in his past nine contests, Werth is even hotter than his stellar July, hitting a robust .571 in that time frame.
He won't hit .571 the rest of the way, but he's been fun to watch while he has. In fact, in the 58 games he's played since returning from injury, Werth has hit .354/.438/.591. His 233 plate appearances is a pretty strong sample size for a veteran of his service time, and it's been an impressive run. He unequivocally qualifies as the Nats' offensive MVP thus far this season in my mind.
Werth gathered his 1,000th career hit Saturday night, a two-run home run that put the Nats up for good. After the game, the bearded, reticent elder statesmen was politely answering MASN sideline reporter Julie Alexandria's questions on the postgame show when Craig Stammen and Bryce Harper doused him with Gatorade in celebration of the accomplishment. He took it in stride, knowing the camera was live, but had these words for his prodigy afterward: "That'll cost him. ... I'll talk to Bryce about that one when we get inside."
It was a rare show of exuberance for a team that has unquestionably been one of the bigger disappointments of the 2013 season. But the Nats of late have had a handful of reasons to be joyful, including a few rookies earning their first big league wins and Strasburg's milestone Sunday. After they were swept by Atlanta at the beginning of the week, most pundits, including myself, dismissed the Nats' chances of postseason play. Maybe the team felt it, too, when they fell a whopping 15 1/2 games behind the Braves.
For whatever reason, they looked a looser bunch in the Phillies series. They played with energy, they played crisply in the field, they appeared to - perish the thought - have fun. I'm usually not one for the whole clubhouse chemistry routine, I'm more of a numbers guy. But I certainly believe that different personalities deal with pressure in different ways, and you can't argue with the results over the weekend. Regardless, now that the pressure's off, maybe the Nats can get on a bit of a roll and have some fun the rest of the way.
em>Dave Nichols is editor-in-chief of District Sports Page and co-hosts the "Nats Nightly" Internet radio show. 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.