Is it possible that this weekend got the Nationals on track and can set them up for a final push for the postseason over the next two months?
Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I’m done talking about momentum until the Nats prove they can carry it over a period longer than three days. They’re on a three-game roll right now and have won four of five, but they haven’t put together more than a four-game winning streak since early May. We’ve seen too many mini hot streaks followed by flat performances and offensive ineptitude.
But given how well the Nats will need to play to have a shot at the playoffs, the last few days were certainly a good start.
Unfortunately for Davey Johnson’s bunch, the Braves haven’t allowed them to make up any ground during these last five days.
After their losing streak had been pushed to six games Wednesday night, the Nats trailed Atlanta by nine games in the division. They wake up this morning still trailing by nine games in the National League East, despite all that went right in D.C. over the weekend.
The Braves have countered the Nats’ mini hot streak by winning four in a row and five of their last six. That includes a weekend sweep of the NL Central-leading Cardinals and a walk-off win over the Rockies last night.
Still, if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic (and if you’re in that group, I would advise cautious optimism), we’ve started to see signs of a couple troubled areas turning a little bit over the Nats’ last handful of games.
Denard Span has exceled since being moved down to the No. 7 spot in the order, hitting .400/.400/.700 with two homers and seven RBIs in 30 at-bats. Compare that to his numbers when hitting leadoff (.253/.312/.342 with no homers and 23 RBIs in 363 at-bats), and there’s at least a little reason to believe Span might’ve found a home in the No. 7 spot where he can be more aggressive early in counts.
With Span moving down, Bryce Harper has taken over the leadoff spot and done nice work up there. While hitting leadoff, Harper has snapped out of a slump, putting up a .303/.361/.545 slash line with two homers and six RBIs in 33 at-bats.
It’s not just a couple of offensive areas that have improved in the last week or so. The back end of the Nationals’ rotation has been a pit for much of the season, with Dan Haren struggling and Ross Detwiler battling injuries.
The Nats had gone just 14-27 in games not started by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmermann entering Friday night’s game, but they got a huge boost from Ross Ohlendorf, Haren and Taylor Jordan in the last three games. Those pitchers collectively allowed just three earned runs over 20 innings and led the Nats to three wins.
Things could’ve gotten ugly had that trio not stepped up the way it did, but Ohlendorf, Haren and Jordan gave the Nats a major boost when they badly needed it.
“Dan, he struggled so far this season, but I think he’s starting to find his feel and get to where we thought he would be before the season started,” Span said. “Ross, he’s another veteran guy, started off in Triple-A but he’s been in this league for some years and he knows how to pitch. And Taylor, you got to tip your cap to him, he pitched six or seven strong innings for us and he’s given us chances to win, and that’s all you can ask for.”
The rotation turns over in Detroit, with Stephen Strasburg getting the ball tonight and Gio Gonzalez scheduled to go tomorrow afternoon in the finale of this brief two-game set.
The Tigers are bringing their best against the Nats over these two days. Nationals-killer Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 2.68 ERA) goes against Strasburg tonight and Justin Verlander (10-8, 3.99 ERA) will take the ball tomorrow.
Two dynamite pitching matchups await in the Motor City. I’m making the trip up there and will have you covered through tomorrow’s non-waiver trade deadline as the Nats try and keep this mini hot streak going.