The Nationals finally got their 50th win of the season last night, crossing that threshold after a five-game losing streak that had put them a season-low 17 games under .500. But with a 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, they got things back on track, for at least a night, and saw their former ace make one of his best starts of the year.
Now, the Nationals need to win just 10 games in the next six weeks to improve upon last year's record, and 13 more to avoid a third straight 100-loss season. A better goal would be getting 70 wins, or even avoiding 90 losses with a 73-89 record. The Nationals are currently on pace for a 70-92 record.
Here are the awards from last night:
John Lannan: The left-hander was at his best last night, throwing his two-seamer for strikes early and often, mixing in a sharp curveball and finally using his changeup somewhat effectively against lefties. As I discussed in the game story, Lannan can make a major difference in the Nationals' rotation if he's able to replicate the form he had in 2009 and 2010.
Ian Desmond: Is it clear yet that Desmond does his best work in the No. 2 hole? Probably not, because he's still only played 28 games there, and like Desmond has said, the main difference between hitting second and eighth is the fact he's going to see better pitches in front of Ryan Zimmerman or Adam Dunn than he would in front of a pitcher. But the numbers speak for themselves: He is hitting .324 this season in the No. 2 hole, and has six of his 12 steals from that spot. He was 3-for-4 last night, doubling, scoring a run, and narrowly missing a two-run homer on his double. He is hitting .349 in August.
Sean Burnett: There were a number of places to go with the third Golden Goose - Ryan Zimmerman, Wil Nieves and Alberto Gonzalez all could've gotten one - but Burnett, in earning the team's first two-inning save this season, proved his versatility as a reliever again. He struck out four batters in two perfect innings, got five swings and misses in the 29 pitches he threw and helped shut down a game that was closer that it probably should've been after the Nationals missed a couple chances to split it open. Burnett has proved himself as one of the Nationals' best relievers, capable of closing games as well as getting lefties out. There could be some trade interest in him this month - the Twins are looking for a left-hander after Jose Mijares went down - and a number of teams could look at Burnett if they don't get Toronto's Scott Downs. But the way Burnett is pitching, the price would be high.
Adam Dunn: One of the reasons the Nationals didn't run away with the game was because Dunn's at-bats in the first and third innings. Twice, he came up with two men on base - both of them in scoring position in the third inning - and didn't drive in a run either time. As many of you have pointed out all season, Dunn has plenty of difficulty hitting with men in scoring position. That nearly cost the Nationals on Friday.
Justin Maxwell: Maxwell was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, and is hitting .118 for the season. He'll get opportunities to play throughout the rest of the season, but he still isn't coming through with any production that would make the Nationals think he can stick long-term.
In Case You Missed It:
--Burnett has started throwing a sinker to left-handers, adding the pitch after talking to Adam Dunn and Adam Kennedy, a pair of left-handed hitters who told him the pitch is that much harder to hit coming from a left-hander. Lefties are hitting .284 against him, compared to a .165 average from righties. But the sinker might help Burnett be tougher on lefties.
--Nieves' home run in the second inning, which put the Nationals up 3-0, was his second of the year, setting a new career high for the catcher. Equally rare was the fact that he hit a homer to left center; Nieves is at his best when he's taking the ball to right field. "I was just trying to make him throw the ball up," Nieves said. "He's real good when he throws that sinker down and that changeup. He just left the ball a little bit up, and I put a good swing on it."
1. What did you make of Lannan's night? Are you at a point where you can trust him yet, or do you need to see more?
2. Burnett continues to excel in the bullpen - what would you do with him in the future? Can he take part of the setup man/closer work? He's not tough enough on lefties to be a lefty specialist in the strictest sense. Where would you put him?