The Nationals' 4-2 win over the Pirates gave them their first series sweep of the year, heading into a three-game series with the Indians where they could make up some more ground on the rest of the division. And while Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham were the keys to the win, hitting a pair of homers in the fourth inning, the Nationals also got key contributions from Roger Bernadina and Mike Morse that could be important in the future.
It was a good win for the Nationals overall; they played a mostly clean game, though manager Jim Riggleman made a throwaway comment that the team didn't play smart. They swept a bad team, and they have a chance to rack up some wins on another bad team this weekend.
Adam Dunn: He's completely locked in at the plate right now, hitting .330 with seven homers in his last 30 games. He hit his 13th homer of the year, and also singled and scored a run later in the game. In the two years he's been with the Nationals, I've rarely seen Dunn hit this well. There have been a few whispers about how he's swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone. But when he's just looking for walks, he's not contributing base hits like he's done lately. We can argue about whether it's better for Dunn to be hitting .330 with a .371 OBP in the last 30 games, or take more walks and get on base at his usual .400 clip. But I'll say this: Half of his 38 hits in that stretch have gone for extra bases, and he's slugging .626. That's better than a walk.
Michael Morse: Riggleman said there's nowhere to put Morse in the lineup every day, but if he keeps playing like this, he'll create opportunities for himself. Morse was 3-for-3 with a walk and a homer on Thursday, and is 9-for-18 since he came off the DL. He's a bench bat right now, but he could turn into more.
Tyler Clippard: Give the setup man credit for stepping in for an overworked Matt Capps and earning his first career save in four batters. Clippard has been outstanding lately, and with him, Capps and Drew Storen working the back ends of games, the Nationals have one of the best bullpens in the NL; Ryan Zimmerman called it the backbone of the team the other day.
Cristian Guzman: Batting in the leadoff spot again, he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts as his average dipped to .301. It's questionable when the Nationals will hit the break-even point with Guzman, where it's better to drop him lower in the lineup. His on-base percentage, tied almost solely to his batting average, has dipped to .326. He gets playing time in part because of Adam Kennedy's offensive struggles, but Guzman isn't hitting well enough to take time away from Ian Desmond right now, and it'll be interesting to see how long the Guzman-as-leadoff hitter experiment lasts.
Nats' sixth-inning rally: It's a small thing in the grand scheme, but the Nationals blew a chance to break the game open with one out in the sixth. Willie Harris hit a liner to short, and Morse got caught loitering a couple feet off second base. He was doubled off, and the Nationals' bases-loaded situation yielded no runs. Had the bullpen slipped, that would've been a big issue.
In Case You Missed It:
--On the aforementioned sixth-inning play, Riggleman pinch hit for Livan Hernandez with Alberto Gonzalez, waiting to see if he could draw out a left-hander from the Pirates' bullpen. When that didn't happen, Riggleman swapped Gonzalez for Harris. We haven't seen the pinch hitter-for-pinch hitter swap, one of Riggleman's favorite moves, for a few days, but it showed up on Thursday.
--Josh Willingham saw an astounding 28 pitches in his four at-bats -- an average of seven per at-bat for you math whizzes. He took 17 pitches, fouled off seven and in one of the four times he actually swung his bat, Willingham hit a full-count home run. He struck out looking twice, but that's about as efficient a 1-for-4 night as you can have - kind of like the equivalent of scoring 20 points despite going 6-for-16 from the floor in a basketball game.
--This has nothing to do with the actual game, but as I was walking back from the Nationals' clubhouse last night, strolling at my typically industrious pace, I passed a Pirates player walking to the team bus. He says, "You're not even going to say hi, Ben?" At first, I'm thinking, "Who would know my name?" And then I thought, "Oh, crap, I just inadvertently snubbed Joel Hanrahan!" The former Nationals closer, now pitching for Pittsburgh, grew a mustache, and looked like he'd lost some weight. I didn't even recognize him. I caught up to him as he was talking to Matt Capps, caught a little grief and said hello. So, Joel, if you happen to read this, good to see you, and sorry for big-timing you. It definitely wasn't on purpose.
1. Is it time to move Cristian Guzman back down in the lineup? Does Nyjer Morgan looked rehabilitated enough that you'd put him back up there? Or is there another solution at the top of the lineup? I liked Ian Desmond in the No. 2 hole, but if Guzman and Morgan are both in the lineup, he won't be there. What do you think?
2. How important was it to sweep the Pirates, especially considering the three losses to the Astros last week?
Leave your answers in the comments, as usual. Byron Kerr is in Cleveland with the team, so be sure to check back for his updates from Progressive Field throughout the weekend. But I'll chime in from time to time, too.