Nationals’ best chance to improve could be now

The Nationals‘ best chance to improve and begin to turn their season around could perhaps be now. Beginning last Thursday, the Nationals have a long stretch of home games — 14 of 24 games before the all-star break will be at Nationals Park, where they have found more success than on the road. At home, the Nationals are 20-15, while they’re 17-23 on the road.

And even though they have tread water for nearly three months, the National League East has been, in a word, mediocre, too. It’s the only division in baseball to have only one team over .500. Since April 19, the Atlanta Braves have the best record in the division with a 31-31 mark. The Phillies, in that span, are 30-31. The Nationals are 28-31. In other words, the top three teams in the division have played near-.500 baseball for the past two months. Not exactly pretty.

Given that, the Nationals’ six-game division deficit behind the Braves seems more manageable after all. After starting the season 13-2, the Braves have played average baseball and their flaws exposed. For all the angst over the Nationals’ woefully meager offense, the Braves have been better but still streaky. They’ve been shut out 11 times — three of those coming this month — while that has happened to the Nationals eight times. Couple that with the potential return of Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos to the lineup in the next week or so, and the Nationals have reason to be optimistic.

In the Nationals upcoming stretch before the break, they will face two strong opponents — the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks, beginning Tuesday night, and the resurgent San Diego Padres. But they will also play 10 games against the lowly Miami Marlins, struggling Milwaukee Brewers and floundering New York Mets, which could likely also include facing ace Matt Harvey. (There’s a four-game series against the Phillies sandwiched in there and, at least for now, they appear to be in limbo about the direction of their season and whether they’ll sell off their parts again.)

The Nationals have started this stretch already 2-2 against the Colorado Rockies, a potential wild-card contender, so that’s not incredibly encouraging. But if they were to go even 12-8 over the next 20 games in this stretch, for example, and the Braves continued to tread water, the Nationals could trail the Braves by four games at the all-star break. To pull even with the Braves by then, the Nationals would have to go 16-4, the hot three-week stretch they has eluded them until now. Beginning Tuesday night, the Nationals will begin to reveal which direction they’re headed.

FROM THE POST

Adam Kilgore examines the Nationals’ bewildering rash of injuries, the degree to which the team’s medical staff is culpable is unclear.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Bryce Harper to start rehab Tuesday in Potomac

Tyler Moore looks to get back into a rhythm with Syracuse

Rafael Soriano on the Nationals’ inconsistencies

Danny Espinosa playing shortstop at Syracuse

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse was off.

Harrisburg 7, Akron 1: Taylor Jordan started but was held to five innings and 65 pitches. He allowed only one run on eight hits, walked one and struck out one, and his ERA sits at 0.83. Matt Grace and Neil Holland each tossed two scoreless innings in relief. Jerad Head and Steven Souza, Jr. each launched their ninth homers.

Myrtle Beach 3, Potomac 2: A.J. Cole gave up three runs, two earned, on five hits and struck out five over six innings. Richie Mirowski lowered his ERA to 1.80 after a scoreless inning. Cole Leonida homered and Kevin Keyes drove in a run.

Hagerstown 12, West Virginia 5: Dixon Anderson allowed three runs on five hits and walked six over five innings; he has a 2.88 ERA. Wes Schill went 2 for 5 with a grand slam. Tony Renda went 4 for 6 and Pedro Severino drove in three runs.

Auburn 2, Mahoning Valley 1: Robert Orlan tossed five scoreless innings. Isaac Ballou and James Yezzo each smacked two hits, and Jordan Poole and Jean Carlos Valdez each drove in a run.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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Adam Kilgore · June 24, 2013

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