There were quite a few encouraging things that the Nationals saw in yesterday's 3-2 walk-off win.
Stephen Strasburg delivered a strong outing against a very tough Cardinals lineup, despite the fact he didn't use his slider and instead relied entirely on fastball/changeup/curve. The Nats scratched out 11 hits and drew seven walks, and did a good bit of that damage against St. Louis' bullpen. Jose Lobaton came alive with three hits. Rafael Soriano worked a clean, quick, dominant ninth inning.
Denard Span had a couple of impressive at-bats, including the game-winning sac fly, and didn't suffer any additional concussion effects after his teammates went to town on his batting helmet following the game-winner. Bryce Harper reached base twice in five at-bats and stole a base a day after being benched.
But of all the encouraging things yesterday, I'd put Danny Espinosa's strong afternoon right at the top.
Espinosa went 3-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and the game-winning run scored yesterday. He grinded out quality at-bats, took what the Cardinals gave him and was able to set the table for the guys behind him.
The Nats second baseman is now batting .313/.365/.521 this season. Not too shabby.
"I just think that he has got a good approach," manager Matt Williams said. "His BP approach is good, his preparation is good. It's special when he gets the head of the bat on it, and he just needs to continue to do that. He's playing really well. He's got the ability to do a lot of things out there - hit, certainly play quality defense, he's got the ability to steal a base, he runs the bases well. All of those things add up to a really good player. And that's what I see. I didn't get a chance to see last year, but that's what I see right now."
Espinosa's now hitting .324 left-handed, compared to a .223 career average from that side of the plate. He's bounced back from a tough 2013 and is contributing in a major way now that he's in the everyday lineup.
"I'm happy for him, because as we spoke about in spring, I've been that guy," Williams said of Espinosa coming back from a tough year. "So I know the dedication that it takes to work back and be the player he wants to be. And so far, he's been really good. His approach is good, his intensity is good, his attitude's fantastic, and he loves to play. So I'm happy for him."
For his part, Espinosa says he's not thinking about much at the plate. He feels comfortable, and is willing to mostly just leave it at that.
"If you stop overthinking things, people say dumb it down," he said. "Just see the ball and hit the ball. Yeah, that can help."
The Nats salvaged a split in their four-game series with the Cardinals and now welcome the Angels to town for a three-game set. We'll have a couple of major storylines this series, with Albert Pujols just two homers away from 500, and, of course, Harper and Mike Trout on the field at the same time.
I believe there will be other players in uniform, but the matchup of two of the game's top young players will draw lots of eyes.
"Well, first, I think it's great for the game," Williams said yesterday when asked about Harper and Trout matching up. "They're both dynamic players and they've both got high ceilings, as high as they possibly want to go. I think it's great to talk about and it's great to anticipate and all that. So I anticipate from their side that this guy's going to do everything he can to beat us and I know Bryce will be ready. He'll be ready to play tomorrow."