When Jim Riggleman talks about how the Nationals haven’t played their best baseball yet, it’s difficult to even hold this game up, a 14-6 win over the Rockies at Coors Field, as an example of what he means. The Nationals blew out Colorado in soggy Coors Field in a game where they didn’t get their starting pitcher through the fifth inning, handed back almost all of a 6-0 lead and let the Rockies pull within one in the seventh inning. Yet they ultimately turned the game into a blowout, tearing apart the Colorado bullpen before the second rain delay of the night resulted in the game being called in the top of the ninth inning.
The Nationals have scored 26 runs in their last three games, finally resuscitating an offense that was the only thing they had going last year but had contributed precious little to their early start. If the lineup has turned it around, as I discussed in the game story, this becomes a team capable of riding out the inevitable string of bad pitching performances it will get in the not-too-distant future. And as we’ve said all along, if the team is within sniffing distance of the race when Stephen Strasburg, Chien-Ming Wang, et al., get here...well, it could be a very interesting summer.
On with the awards:
Ryan Zimmerman: For all of his heroics, the team’s franchise player had never driven in six runs in a game. That changed last night, when Zimmerman walloped two homers and went 3-for-5 win the blowout win. He also scored three runs, and has hit three homers in his last four games. It’s shocking to think about how the 25-year-old compared with Mets third baseman David Wright two years ago and how much that’s changed now. You won’t hear too many evaluators that wouldn’t say Zimmerman is one of the best two or three third basemen in the game - in fact, some would say he’s the best. He’s playing like it right now.
Ian Desmond: The shortstop continues to show a knack for the moment at the plate; his line-drive single in the eighth inning drove in the first of the Nationals’ seven runs, and he made a couple of stellar defensive plays at shortstop. Desmond went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBI. He presents some problems for pitchers at the bottom of the lineup, and if the Nationals are good enough to keep him there, it means they’re capable of scoring runs in bunches.
Adam Kennedy: The second baseman is locked in at the plate right now - he went 2-for-4, walked once and scored three runs on Thursday - and his surge is part of the reason the Nationals are hitting so well right now. Kennedy is a crafty baserunner and a patient hitter (he saw 28 pitches in five plate appearances last night) who’s going to create plenty of RBI opportunities for Zimmerman and Adam Dunn. In fact, he scored on both of Zimmerman’s home runs last night.
John Lannan: Yes, the left-hander hadn’t pitched in 10 days, and yes, the long layoff before the fifth inning caused his elbow to stiffen up and his pitches to lose some life. But we’re more concerned with what Lannan did in the first four innings; he issued three walks, including two with two outs. Credit Lannan for getting out of those jams, but he’s typically not a pitcher who beats himself all that much; he walked three batters per nine innings last year. This year, he’s at 5.3 walks per nine innings. That’s a concern for the Nationals.
Miguel Batista: Taking over for Lannan in the bottom of the fifth, Batista couldn’t stop the Rockies’ rally, allowing an RBI single to Ian Stewart on a 3-1 pitch. He gave up two runs in the seventh when Miguel Olivo homered off him, and Batista now has a 6.51 ERA. The Nationals like his versatility, but the core function of a mop-up reliever is to, well, mop up messes, not make them worse. Batista hasn’t done that so far, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Nationals keep him around or try to come up with another long reliever solution.
In Case You Missed It:
--Lannan had to dive while keeping his foot on first base to save a throw by Adam Dunn in the second inning. He allowed a walk and a single to the next two batters, so if he didn’t make the sprawling stop, it’s possible the inning could have yielded a run or two for the Rockies. It didn’t.
--In their four-run fifth inning, the Rockies got four straight two-out singles, three of them off Lannan and two of those with Lannan behind in the count. Want to deconstruct that rally and see how it happened? Pitchers getting behind in the count is a good place to start.
--Nyjer Morgan was caught stealing again, and has now been thrown out seven times this year. Three of those seven have come against Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo, who is one of the toughest catchers to run on in the game.
1. What do you make of Lannan’s night? He might have still been dealing with some lingering elbow issues, but he made a number of the same mistakes he’s made all year (walking too many batters and giving up big hits to left-handers). He’s shown an ability to turn it around and patch things up, but does this seem different to you?
2. On a scale of one to 10, how comfortable are you with the Nationals’ offense? The lineup is showing some serious pop right now -- it might be one masher short of formidable, but it’s doing plenty of damage at the top and extending pitchers at the bottom. Is this lineup capable of contending, or do you want to see one more piece added?
3. The Nationals are five games above .500, and if the playoffs started today, they’d be the wild card. Jim Riggleman talked about the start of the season being 35-40 games; we finished Game 35 last night. At what point does this stop being a good start and begin to be a sign of a good team? In other words, how many more wins do you need to see to be convinced the Nationals aren’t a fluke?
Leave your answers in the Talking Points, as usual, and we can kick those topics around, as well as anything else on your mind. I’ll have a couple more things today, but I’m going to take a couple days off from the live threads while I head to Minnesota for a friend’s wedding. I’ll have something for you off the game, though, and any news that pops up throughout the day.