Six in a row. All alone in fourth place. Pretty heady stuff, right?
The recent successes of Washington’s National League entry can be summed up in something manager Jim Riggleman said following his club’s come-from-behind win over the Cardinals in the first game of their recently completed sweep of the Redbirds.
“We just kept playing,” Riggleman said.
Seems pretty simple, right? But most of you probably recall times during the 2008-2009 100-plus-loss seasons where the game seemed over by the fourth inning. The players on those clubs didn’t “just keep playing.” Oh, some did, for certain, and they’re mostly still here. But too many of the others would zone out if the opponent had a decent lead early, and start thinking about the next day, or maybe the postgame spread, I don’t know. There wasn’t a lot of focus at times.
For this club to have hung around the .500 mark in the absence of its best player was remarkable in the eyes of a lot of baseball people I’ve spoken with. Mike Rizzo and Riggleman deserve much of the credit, and in the clubhouse, Jayson Werth. No, Werth didn’t come to town and turn into Superman, something some may have expected given the size of his contract. He did exactly what the Nationals wanted him to do: turn the clubhouse into a serious place of business. As Danny Espinosa told my MASN colleague Mel Antonen this week, “We don’t want to disappoint Jayson.” If Ryan Zimmerman is the face of the franchise, Werth has become chairman of the board.
The All-Star break approaches, and while the nationwide fan vote won’t likely send any Nats into the starting lineup, there’s a very real possibility they could have more than just the obligatory single representative. Jason Marquis? Drew Storen? Michael Morse? Maybe even Espinosa, a rookie, gets a long look.
They just have to keep playing.