Tonight in Anaheim, Davey Johnson will inherit a team that, despite Saturday’s blip, has seemingly forgotten how to lose. They have won 18 of 25 games since May 31 – the best record in baseball – despite scoring two runs or fewer in eight of those wins, including Sunday’s 2-1 win over the White Sox.
It sounds incredible that the Nationals could have gone 18-7 while scoring two or fewer runs in 12 of those 25 games, but the Nationals’ streak amountsn to one incredible figure heaped on top of another. In those 18 wins, the winning run has been scored in the ninth inning or later six times. And yet, overall, this has been a dominant stretch. The Nationals have outscored opponents 104-70 in the past 25 games – over a full season, using Pythagorean winning percentage, that run differential would put them on pace to win 111 games.
The Nationals have done it with minimal contributions from the two players expected to anchor their lineup. Jayson Werth has quietly dropped into a funk even worse than the one he experienced early in the season, hitting .167/.308/.308 with two homers over the past 25 games. He struck out eight times in 14 at-bats against the White Sox this weekend.
Ryan Zimmerman’s presence, his teammates uniformly agreed, changed the dynamic of their offense. While Zimmerman may be helping others, in the 12 games since he returned he’s hitting .167/.196/.278, and he’s 1 for his last 22 with two walks.
The Nationals have overcome their slumping big bats with pitching, defense and two of the hottest hitters in the National League. They have made 11 errors during the 25-game span, tied for third fewest in the majors. It’s hard to imagine any double play combination is playing better defense than Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond right now.
As a pitching staff, the Nationals have a 2.56 ERA since May 31, which is the very best in the majors. Nationals starters have a 2.61 ERA, and they have allowed two earned runs or less in 19 of 25 starts – that’s another one of those incredible figures. They’ve done it by not walking anyone and keeping the ball in the park – opponents have walked 41 times and hit 11 home runs in 155 1/3 innings off Nationals starting pitchers.
Among the starters, the most reliably dominant have been John Lannan and Jordan Zimmermann. They’ve both made five starts. Lannan has a 1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings, striking out 13 and walking 10 while allowing only 23 hits. Zimmermann has been even better – he has a 1.05 ERA in 34 1/3 innings, with 23 strikeouts six walks in 34 1/3 innings. The Nationals bullpen has a 2.48 ERA over that span, allowing the league a .202 batting average. Nationals relievers have struck out 62 in 76 1/3 innings.
Even if the Nationals’ offense has had trouble scoring runs in so many games, it has still scored 104 runs in the past 25 games, 10th in the majors. Michael Morse and Espinosa have carried it, both building strong all-star cases along the way. Morse has hit .313/.393/.616 with seven home runs, and Espinosa has hit .307/.360/.545 with six homers.
It is cliche, but the Nationals really do have a knack for finding ways to win. “We try to win some games and we play hard for nine innings,” Livan Hernandez said. “That’s it. This is what we do now.”
FROM THE POST
Dave Sheinin examines the almost cosmic forces that pulled Davey Johnson back to the dugout – and canceled an Alaskan fishing trip. A tremendously insightful read.
Davey Johnson will add excitement to a boring D.C. sports landscape, Mike Wise says.
With their 2-1 victory over the White Sox, the Nationals sent John McLaren out a winner.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 9, Rochester 2: Ross Detwiler allowed one earned run in five innings on four hits and two walks, striking out four. Matt Antonelli went 1 for 2 with a triple and three walks. Jesus Flores went 2 for 4 with a home run. .
Harrisburg 6, Altoona 0: Shairon Martis allowed no runs in 8 1/3 innings on three hits and no walks, striking out 10. Devin Ivany went 2 for 4 with a home run.
Kinton 5, Potomac 4: Justino Cuevas went 3 for 4 with a double. Cameron Selik allowed five runs, one earned, in five innings on four hits and two walks, striking out one.
Greensboro 8, Hagerstown 4: Bryce Harper did not play. David Freitas went 2 for 4 with a double. Steve Nicol went 3 for 4. Robbie Ray allowed five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings on five hits and two walks, striking out six.
Williamsport 7, Auburn 1: Russell Moldenhaur went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Colin Bates allowed two runs in five innings on five hits and two walks, striking out three.