Nats Follow Demoralizing First Half by Mounting Historic Finish
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Yesterday’s horror at the Washington Navy Yard was a tragedy like few this city has endured, fortunately. It also wisely pushed back the opener of the Nationals’ series with the visiting Atlanta Braves until today, giving the players and those who follow them a breather to sit back and consider what they have accomplished during the past four weeks.
In getting pounded by the Cubs in the series opener at Chicago on Aug. 19, Washington fell to 60-64. A year after winning the National League East title, the Nats would’ve had to win their final 38 games just to match last season’s major league-leading 98 victories.
Of course, no team in baseball history has come close to that kind of sustained undefeated run, but Washington has gone 19-6 over its last 25 games to move within five games of Cincinnati for the final NL playoff spot. Making up that differential with just 13 games to play seems nearly impossible, especially with seven of them against playoff-bound Atlanta and St. Louis, but if the Nats go 10-3 and the Reds go 4-7 over the remaining 13 days, they would be tied. That would require a one-game playoff to settle who moves on and who goes home.
To put their current 19-6 tear in perspective, the Nats were never this hot for this long during their glorious 2012 season. Playing at that pace over the course of a full season would give a team a record 123 victories. The only team to ever top that .760 winning percentage was the 1906 Cubs, who played 10 fewer games than today’s 162.
If the Nats can complete this amazing renaissance, they would make it a trifecta for Washington teams over the last 10 months, joining the Redskins who rocketed from 3-6 at their bye week to a 10-6 record and their first NFC East title in 13 years, and the Capitals, who were 11-15-1 with six weeks left in the lockout-shortened season before storming back to go 16-3-2 the rest of the way and finished atop the Southeast Division for the fifth time in six years.
And don’t forget the Wizards, who were 5-28 as point guard John Wall missed the first 33 games but were a respectable 24-25 after his return.
Even if the Nats don’t finish off their remarkable comeback, they’re just three victories shy of a winning season. Two straight winning baseball seasons hasn’t happened here since the Senators did so from 1930-33 (they had two games postponed in 1953 while finishing .500 after going 78-76 in 1952). Admittedly, we didn’t have a franchise from 1972-2004 thanks to the stupidity of the sport’s powers that be and the greed of that franchise 40 miles up the road, but we still endured 46 years without consecutive winners until now.
While the Nats have obviously been on fire as a team over the past four weeks, a few players need to be singled out for their input.
Center fielder Denard Span, whose offseason signing wasn’t looking too smart a month ago, has hit in 26 straight games, this year’s second-longest streak, while raising his average from .258 to .284.
Right hander Tanner Roark, a 26-year-old career minor leaguer, has been lights out since being promoted from Class AAA Syracuse on Aug. 6, posting a 6-0 record with a 26-8 strikeouts-walks ratio and a 1.30 earned run average.
One-time closer Drew Storen, so out of sorts in July that he was demoted to Syracuse with a 5.95 ERA, has allowed just two earned runs in 14-1/3 innings in 16 appearances since being recalled on Aug. 15.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose seventh full season in Washington seemed destined to be remembered for his ghastly 21 errors, has smacked nine home runs with 12 RBI in 14 games this month after hitting just 15 with 61 RBI in his previous 121 games.
Catcher Wilson Ramos, limited to 14 games during the first half of the season because of a hamstring that wouldn’t heal, had nine homers, 33 RBI and a .274 average in 54 games before September. This month, Ramos has clubbed six homers with 21 RBI and a .321 average.
Right fielder Jayson Werth, Washington’s oldest player at 34, has been ridiculous since mid-season. Hitting just .265 with seven homers and 19 RBI during his first 49 games (he spent a month on the disabled list with a tender hamstring), Werth has been tattooing the baseball. His stats over his last 68 games: .365, 16 homers and 54 RBI.
No matter what happens over the next 13 days, retiring manager Davey Johnson has to feel good about the quality of the roster he’ll hand to his replacement. First baseman Adam LaRoche, who’ll be 34 in November, might be done. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are also question marks. But after two straight winning seasons and a near-miss in 2011, the Nats certainly have a strong foundation that should make them a constant contender in the coming years.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin