The Nationals have been waiting for Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon to start hitting like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon again. With each passing day, it looks like both stars are finding their way back to their old selves.
Harper and Rendon each played a key role in last night's 8-5 win in San Diego, but it was more than the mere production they contributed (Harper homered and drove in three runs, Rendon also homered).
It was the manner in which they produced that was particularly striking, and offered up more evidence each guy is back on track after lengthy wayward stretches.
Harper's third-inning homer was to left field, his 14th of the season but incredibly his first to the opposite field. This from a guy who hit 12 of his 42 home runs during last year's MVP campaign the other way.
"It was nice to see him hit one to the opposite field," manager Dusty Baker told reporters in his postgame news conference. "That's more important than pulling the ball nine miles on this side. That means you're staying on the ball, and that means you're letting your natural ability come through vs. forcing it. Sometimes we force things, and that makes things worse, and it compounds. So that was nice."
Harper seems to be forcing things less and less in the last couple of weeks. After a prolonged slump throughout May, he's now hitting .317 with a .408 on-base percentage and .439 slugging percentage over his last 11 games.
Rendon, meanwhile, has perhaps been guilty of trying to hit the ball the other way too much this season, stripping the third baseman of some of his power. How encouraging was it, then, when he scorched a ball to left-center in the sixth inning last night for his seventh homer of the season?
The manner in which Rendon attacked that pitch from Padres right-hander Erik Johnson and drove it to the pull-side gap conjured up images of his breakthrough 2014 season, when he finished fifth in voting for National League MVP thanks in large part to his ability to hit the ball hard to or over the fence on a consistent basis.
This might have been Rendon's best power swing in a while, but it didn't come out of nowhere. He has slowly gotten himself back on track over the last month, now sporting a .300 batting average and 17 extra-base hits in his last 32 games.
There's still an awfully long way to go. But if Harper and Rendon can keep these recent trends going, and if they can duplicate their offensive feats from last night on a regular basis moving forward, the Nationals are going to have themselves two of the league's most-feared hitters residing in a lineup that already includes the league's current leading hitter (Daniel Murphy) and best-hitting catcher (Wilson Ramos).