After beating the Dodgers 1-0 on Sunday, the Nationals are 10-9 and finished a homestand against the Brewers, Rockies and Dodgers - who have a combined four playoff appearances in the last two years - with a 6-4 record. It was an important milestone for this team, because of who they beat and also because of how they did it.
The Nationals managed to put together a winning homestand despite falling behind by 10 runs in two of the games and putting their No. 2 starter on the disabled list halfway through it. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went down with another hamstring injury (the right one this time), and the Nationals played through the weekend with a series of minor injuries that left manager Jim Riggleman trying to stay away from two of his five bench players if he could help it.
But they still came through, as this team has done more often than not this season. The Nationals are 6-2 in games decided by two runs or less, and 3-1 in one-run games.
"We've got a professional group of ballplayers," Riggleman said. "They stay motivated. I think it tells our guys how good we can be,"
On with the awards:
Scott Olsen: This was a no-brainer for the first Golden Goose, particularly when you consider how bad Olsen was in his last start. He went just two innings last week against the Rockies, but pitched seven shutout innings on Sunday against the Dodgers. Olsen's slider, his main out pitch, wasn't working in his last outing; on Sunday, he said it was the best he's thrown the pitch all year. That was the biggest difference, and if he can keep his breaking ball sharp, he's got a chance to be an effective starter this year.
Nyjer Morgan: It was an eventful series for the leadoff hitter, whose baserunning mistake and bobbled ball in center field helped cost the Nationals a win in their 13-inning loss to the Dodgers on Saturday. But he was 7-for-15 in the series, including a 2-for-4 day on Sunday. Morgan's on-base percentage is .383; and if he can keep it somewhere in that realm, the Nationals will be tough to stop offensively.
The Nationals' bullpen: Remember last year, when the Nationals were turning late-inning leads into losses with stunning efficiency? Of course you do. And one of the biggest differences between that team and this one is the bullpen. Tyler Clippard worked a perfect eighth inning and Matt Capps - who had a terrible year with the Pirates last season and struggled all spring - is 8-for-8 in saves. The Nationals need to get Brian Bruney going -"We've got to turn (late-inning situations) over to other people, too," Riggleman said - but they've built an effective setup-closer combination out of Clippard and Capps. Or, as reader SteveRep44 called it in my Sunday live chat, "Clip and Save."
The Nationals' offense: That's really the only one of these I can find from Sunday, and it's not a reflection of the way the Nationals are hitting so much as it is Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, who was sharp for six innings before turning the game over to Ramon Troncoso, who was equally strong against the Nationals' lineup. They had just four hits all day and only drew three walks, scoring their only run on Adam Dunn's RBI groundout.
In Case You Missed It:
--Justin Maxwell's diving ninth-inning catch, with Jamey Carroll on second base, saved a run. But just as important - though not as well-publicized - was what Cristian Guzman did on the play before. With Carroll (who was pinch-running for James Loney) on second, Guzman got a grounder hit right to him at second. Before throwing to first, he turned toward shortstop Ian Desmond and pump-faked a throw, holding Carroll at second. Had he not done that, Carroll probably would have gone to third and scored on the ensuing Ronnie Belliard liner.
--Morgan got caught stealing again on Sunday, the fourth time he's been thrown out already this year. He said he's still trying to work on the timing of his feet-first slides, which the Nationals wanted him to incorporate after breaking his hand sliding headfirst last year. Morgan's never been the most efficient base-stealer, but the Nationals aren't going to rein him in on the basepaths, so they'll have to live with some of this until he gets the timing and approach of his new slide perfected.
--Ryan Zimmerman pinch-hit in the seventh inning of Sunday's game, lining out to end the inning. But it was an important appearance for Zimmerman, because it means the Nationals probably aren't planning to put him on the DL with his hamstring injury. By playing him, they lost the ability to back-date his DL time to April 22, the first day he missed.
1. How often do you expect Olsen to pitch this well? How often can you realistically expect him to pitch within a couple notches of his outing on Sunday? Give me some percentages - as in, he'll pitch this well 30 percent of the time and be somewhat close to this 50 percent of the time.
2. Here's a quote from Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake on Olsen: "When he throws his little changeup, it's like 85 miles an hour. It's not like a typical left-handed changeup, or a typical changeup. It's almost like a BP fastball that kind of dies a little bit. I don't know. We let him off the hook." Sour grapes, or a helpful hint for Olsen? Blake was 2-for-3, and though there was probably some disdain behind his words, he makes a point; Olsen needs to create a greater difference between his fastball and changeup. What's your take?
3. How crushed would you have been with, say, a 2-1 loss on Sunday after the 13-inning loss Saturday? Are you at a point yet where the wins and losses start to matter more? And what does it say about this team to bounce back after Saturday when last year's team probably would have repeated it?
Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions, and whatever else is on your mind, in the comments section. I'll have more later today.