Way back on May 28, the Nationals were 25-27, averaging 3.9 runs a game and allowing 3.9 runs a game. The Nationals were two games under .500 and playing like they were a .500 team. The narrative at that time was that they were one of the most disappointing teams in baseball and the hangover from Game 5 in the 2012 National League Division Series and a mediocre 2013 had continued into 2014. Concurrent injuries to star players was once again taking their toil, the Nationals’ window was already closing and they would never live up to their potential.
A strange thing happened after that. Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos came off the disabled list, soon followed by Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. From May 30 through Aug. 26, the Nationals went 50-29, averaging 4.5 runs a game and allowing 3.2 runs a game. A .633 winning percentage, which would be a 102-win pace over a 162-game season. In other words, the Nationals bludgeoned opponents and played like the team everyone thought they could be, and they were only fully healthy from June 30-July 22. The Nats were 12-5 in those 17 games, but shortly after Zimmerman went down with a severe hamstring strain, the Nationals traded for Asdrubal Cabrera and didn’t miss a beat.
Since the All-Star break through Aug. 26, the Nationals have gone 24-14, including a 10-game win streak. Since the Nats’ struggles in May, the narrative has changed. The Nationals are no longer a disappointing team that will never live up to its potential. Spurred on by five walk-offs and six one-run victories during their 10-game winning streak, the narrative has become that the Nationals are a gritty and determined team that never gives up. They are now seen as a clutch team that is never out of any game.
The truth is all these narratives are wrong. The Nats in May were running out a lineup with Nate McLouth, Greg Dobbs, Jose Lobaton and Danny Espinosa, and while half of those players have helped the Nats in bench roles, they were exposed playing every day. Having all four of them in the lineup at once along with the pitcher made the Nationals lineup too short and easy to navigate for opposing pitchers. Whether it was Ramos batting eighth with Zimmerman healthy or Asdrubal Cabrera after the trading deadline, the Nationals lineup has become very tough to deal with for opposing pitchers.
wRC+ (weighted runs created) measures simply how many runs a player creates compared to a league-average player with 100 being average. The Nationals have no regulars below 100. They have an entire lineup, one through eight, made up of above-average hitters. This is highly unusual, as the league average wRC+ for sixth, seventh and eighth hitters is 92, 92 and 83 respectively.
The Nationals for the season rank third in the NL in runs per game, second in runs allowed per game, and have the best record and run differential in the league. The Nationals’ run differential as of Aug. 26 is 105, which happens to be more than that of the next two best teams in the NL added together, with the Dodgers at 53 and the Brewers at 39. It stands as even more evidence that the Nationals aren’t a gritty team full of heart just barely scraping by and narrowly taking down superior opponents.
The Nationals are less Rocky Balboa and more Apollo Creed, less John Cena and more Brock Lesnar, and less the brave, young hero and more the heartless dragon. The Nationals are the dominant force, and that is what the narrative should be.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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 regular roster of writers.