Rachel Levitin: Nats handling Zimmerman's absence well

The Nationals are riding an eight-game winning streak with last night's 8-1 victory over the Diamondbacks in D.C. And while I wasn't going to bring it up until closer to the end of the season, I find it interesting to take a look at what's happened due to Ryan Zimmerman being sidelined for most of 2014.

After breaking his thumb early in the season, Zimmerman missed 44 games. This allowed Anthony Rendon to move from starting at second base to his native third base, creating opportunities for Danny Espinosa. In the time since Zimmerman's first stint on the disabled list, Rendon has proven his worth not only on defense, but as a reliable clutch hitter, and Espinosa has stepped up to fill in where necessary.

Once manager Matt Williams got settled in with a lineup that seemed to jell, Rendon etched his way into the No. 2 spot behind leadoff man Denard Span. And if you've watched any sampling of Nats games this season, you know that those two get on base... a lot. Plus, Espinosa continues to prove that in the bind, the Nats have someone they can count on in the field and in the batter's box. Being able to platoon him with new arrival Asdrubal Cabrera is an added cushion for a team seeking a playoff berth.

So really, if you look at it, things could be worse for Washington. Zimmerman's been down for the count since July with a substantial right hamstring strain, making it two trips to the disabled list for the 29-year-old this year. Upon his return though, Zimmerman (with his Zimmerman mitt close at all times along the basepath) reminded fans and teammates alike what having him in the lineup meant to the team. The good news is that, even without Zimmerman in the daily lineup, the Nats have managed to find a way to win.

It's down to the stretch now that we're at the end of August. Every game counts as the calendar inches closer to September. Will Zimmerman be back prior to the end of the season? It's not looking like it, but it could happen. Zimmerman and the Nats remain cautious with his hamstring injury and don't want to rush the timetable if they don't have to. That's understandable. It'd be better to have Zimmerman's clutch bat in October if they can still manage to win games up until then.

The Nats are six games ahead of Atlanta in the National League East with Miami 8 1/2 back. Can Washington hang on tight to the division without Zimmerman in the daily lineup? So far, so good. But honestly, it'd be nice if they could hang on long enough to get him back in the game.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC. Follow her on Twitter: @RHLevitin. She will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation's capital 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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