We like to focus on the bad. All of our articles and tweets are about what the Nationals are doing wrong, how they are struggling and where they need to improve. I'm as guilty of doing this as anyone. But here's the bottom line that we're ignoring: The Nationals are actually good.
In the midst of all their injuries and offensive struggles, the Nationals snuck up on us and became good again. The month of May was a revelation. So far this month they've gone 18-6, which is the best in baseball. Their fantastic month skyrocketed them through the National League East standings. On April 30, they were 5 1/2 games back of first place; right now, they are just a half-game back. We were all shouting doom and gloom in the middle of April, but look at them now, right there at the top of the division.
So what have the Nats been doing well? For starters, they have a fantastic road record. They've been true road warriors and have been doing most of their damage on the road. They still have to work on their home record, but their road record for the year is 19-8. They've driven in 135 runs on the road as opposed to 104 at home in an almost even number of games. They've done everything just a little bit better on the road, and it's really boosted them.
The offense itself has started to click. The addition of Juan Soto after Howie Kendrick's unfortunate injury has provided an energetic spark that the offense desperately needed. On the year, the Nats have hit 71 home runs (first in the NL), stolen 40 bases (first in the NL), scored 239 runs (fifth in the NL), walked 208 times (first in the NL), have a collective OBP of .325 (tied for third in the NL), and have slugged .417 with an OPS of .742 (both fourth in the NL). Their collective .242 batting average can use some improvement, but they're getting it done on many other offensive fronts. Yes, we can see with the eyes that it's not perfect, and they definitely need to hit better with runners in scoring position and work longer counts, but all signs are pointing in a positive direction.
The biggest reason the Nats are where they are? The pitching staff, particularly the starters. I've raved about the starters time and time again, but the Nats would really be nowhere without them, and they're carrying the pitching staff. The Nationals are leading the National League in just about every conceivable pitching category. They are first in ERA (3.27), strikeouts (527), WHIP (1.12) and batting average against (.220). They're second to the Rockies in saves with 17, and they have given up the fewest walks and runs in the National League. And remarkably, all of these stats account for a sometimes shaky bullpen. That tells you how dominant the starters and the back end have been, and how strong the overall pitching core is.
The Nationals have made a statement and they look like they're back (or close to back) to the team we know. And the best part is that the cavalry is coming - and soon. Daniel Murphy, Brian Goodwin and Matt Grace have all made rehab appearances, and they, along with Ryan Madson are very close to returning from the disabled list. Just those few guys will be a monstrous lift to this team, which is going to get even better. And they have a chance to make some strides in the coming weeks, too. They'll finish their series against the Orioles, and after a tough stop to Atlanta, have some middle-of-the-pack competition coming into town in the form of the Rays and Giants. Those are teams that a good team should beat. After a quick Wilson Ramos lovefest, we need to show them who's boss.
The Nationals are good, folks. They struggled mightily coming out of the gate, but they seem to have righted the ship, and they look to sit atop the NL East again very soon.
Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.