With their 3-1 win over the Cubs on Tuesday night, the Nationals moved a game above .500 for the fifth time this year. They'll try and get two games over .500 for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, when Luis Atilano faces Ryan Dempster. But first, we're going to take a detailed look back at the win and analyze some of the keys to the win.
Livan Hernandez: We covered the Hernandez-Tyler Clippard-Matt Capps combination pretty extensively in the game story, so I won't spend a great deal of time on it here. But Hernandez was outstanding again, and in the first month of the season, he's not only been the staff ace, he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's pitched into the seventh inning in all four of his starts, winning three times and allowing two runs or less in all of them. He went seven innings on Tuesday, allowing one run on six hits and keeping the Cubs off-balance all night with his repertoire of off-speed pitches. Who knows how long Hernandez can keep this up - but so far, he's been a huge addition for the Nationals.
Ian Desmond: The shortstop is starting to look more at home in the lineup; he went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI in the No. 2 hole on Tuesday. In addition, Desmond continued to make the kind of rangy plays at shorstop that show why the Nationals took a chance on him in spring training. He's also walked six times and stolen three bases this year - two of them on Tuesday.
Alberto Gonzalez: It's easy to overlook the utility infielder, but he's a big part of the reason why, in Ryan Zimmerman's absence, the Nationals have continued to play solid baseball. Gonzalez was 1-for-3 on Tuesday, also making a tremendous diving catch to rob Derrek Lee of a hit in the first inning. He played his way onto the roster in spring training, and though he's not the starter the Nationals tried to make him in 2008 and parts of 2009, he's a solid backup who can make some important contributions.
Cristian Guzman: Even at second base, Guzman's arm has been a cause for concern the last couple days. It was again on Tuesday, when he made a throwing error in the second inning, helping the Cubs score their only run, and failing to turn a double play on Lee in the third inning. He did have an RBI triple, but is starting to cool off at the plate, as well; he's 1-for-8 the last two days, and his average has dropped to .286.
Nats' run producers: Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Nationals' 11-10 record is that they've done it without huge contributions from the heart of their order. Zimmerman has been limited by two hamstring injuries, and Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham haven't been hot at the same time. Willingham's production is dropping as Dunn's starts to increase, and on Tuesday, the Nationals' fourth and fifth hitters were a combined 0-for-7.
In Case You Missed It:
--On Guzman's throwing error, he had a chance to turn a double play, but couldn't clear himself of a sliding Mike Fontenot when throwing to first. Guzman's frame was open, causing him to throw wide of Adam Dunn at first. It's the kind of play that showed how new Guzman is to second base; the throw requires the kind of shoulder turn a shorstop doesn't have to make nearly as often when converting a double play.
--The Nationals got caught stealing twice; once in the seventh inning and once in the ninth. And both times, they had a runner on base with less than two outs after Justin Maxwell and Josh Willingham drew walks. But Maxwell and pinch-runner Willy Taveras each ran into outs that would have loomed a lot larger had the Cubs come back on closer Matt Capps.
--Capps threw 15 of his 19 pitches for strikes. For the season, he's thrown 141 of 206 pitches for strikes, a 68 percent rate. And he's more than four times as likely to get a batter to an 0-2 count as he is to get the batter to a 3-0 count. Wondering why he's 9-for-9? That's your answer. He's walked six batters, but more often than not, he's forcing hitters to expand their strike zone.
1. Hernandez has been outstanding, and we've seen him start seasons with similar success before. How long do you expect it to last? He seems locked in right now, and he's got a great working relationship with Pudge Rodriguez. Is this something the Nationals can ride for the entire season? If not, for how long?
2. I'll co-opt this space for a Strasburg question: He threw five no-hit innings at Double-A Harrisburg on Tuesday night. Is it time to move him up to Syracuse? Or do you not see a big enough difference in the talent level between Double-A and Triple-A that it makes sense to keep him in a comfortable setting?
3. We've talked about Guzman's struggles in the field quite a bit, and his arm strength is part of the reason he was moved to second base. He's outhit Adam Kennedy, though, and has provided a spark for an offense missing Ryan Zimmerman, at least until the last couple games. When Zimmerman gets back, how would you divide up the playing time between the three middle infielders (Guzman, Kennedy and Desmond)?
Leave your answers to the Talking Points questions in the comments. Live thread is back at 2:20 today for the Nats-Cubs finale.