Assessing the Nationals after a long road trip

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Over 10 days ago, the Nationals left Washington for their second-longest but most grueling road trip in terms of travel. Before the 10-game road trip, the Nationals’ record was 30-28 and they sat one game behind the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, both tied for first place in the National League East.

After Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, which capped a deflating three-game sweep, the Nationals’ record was 35-33, again only two games over .500. With a 5-5 road trip, they gained no ground in the standings and sit, again, one game behind the Braves. The Marlins, however, are also tied with the Nationals for second place.

A 5-5 road trip is decent, but given the way they were playing against the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants and trending up, the sweep in St. Louis was disappointing. The Nationals were firing on all cylinders and then they met an old nemesis and struggled. The Nationals took charge of first place in the division after the June 11 win over the Giants and pushed their record to a season-high watermark of six games over .500. Then they lost four straight and fell back to second place.

“The sweep hurts,” Doug Fister said. “You always want to win a series. You never want to get swept. But looking at it overall, we had a good road trip. It’s good to go home and have an off-day and kinda regroup and let it settle down.”

The Nationals are lucky not to have lost any ground in the division standings because the Braves have been sluggish in recent weeks. During the Nationals’ 10-game road trip, the Braves also went 5-5, dropping a series to the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks, splitting a series with the slumping Colorado Rockies and taking a three-game set from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In fact, since the Braves were three games up on the Marlins and 3 1/2 games up on the Nationals on June 1, they are only 6-7. The Nationals are 8-6 in that span. So despite the up and down past few weeks, the Nationals have still managed to put themselves in a better position than before.

“Obviously, coming [to St. Louis], a really tough place to play, a really good team, we’d like to do better here but we put ourselves in a good position,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “West Coast, play four in San Francisco and .500 is good. We expect more of ourselves. But with the length of the road trip and the teams we’ve played, it could always be worse. We had a chance to make it a really good road trip and unfortunately got hung up a little bit here. Overall, not too bad.”

The Nationals, however, need to find more consistency. They have five stretches of at least three straight wins this season. In all but one time after each of those streaks, the Nationals have piled up multiple losses in a row. The Nationals need to find a way to have more even than that, and the past two weeks offered a glimpse of that potential with a stretch of 10 wins in 13 games.

The rest of June won’t be easy. The improving Houston Astros — with an influx of young talent in George Springer and Jon Singleton, and strong pitching by Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh — have won 14 of their past 21 games, and have a better record than Tampa Bay, Boston, San Diego and Arizona, among others.

Then the Braves, who have dominated the Nationals, come to Washington for a crucial four-game series. After that, the Nationals get three games against NL Central-leading Milwaukee. The last week of June, against the Cubs, and much of July are more favorable for the Nationals.

FROM THE POST

The Nationals end a 10-game road trip with with  5-2 loss in St. Louis, capping a sweep.

Ryan Zimmerman plays first game at first: “He’s a natural over there”

FROM THE WEEKEND’S JOURNAL

Denard Span scratched with back stiffness; Gio Gonzalez to start Wednesday

Nationals set a rehab plan for Wilson Ramos

Ryan Zimmerman making career debut at first base

Ryan Zimmerman could make first base debut Sunday

Bryce Harper to swing bat, play catch next week

Gio Gonzalez to return next week; Xavier Cedeno recalled

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 4, Norfolk 0: Josh Roenicke earned his second win with six scoreless innings. Zach Jackson and Daniel Stange combined for three scoreless innings. Zach Walters went 2 for 4 and is hitting .291. Tyler Moore added two hits and is hitting .318. Brandon Laird drove in two runs and is hitting .300.

Bowie 6, Harrisburg 2: The Senators’ seven-game winning streak was snapped with the loss. Harrisburg walked nine batters, including five by Brian Dupra over three innings. Quincy Latimore went 3 for 3 and an RBI. Jason Martinson went 2 for 4 with an RBI.

Potomac 8, Winston-Salem 6: Dakota Bacus allowed three runs over six innings. Bryan Harper fired a scoreless inning and lowered his ERA to 2.59. According to his brother Bryce on Twitter, Bryan was promoted to Harrisburg after the game. Tony Renda went 2 for 5 with two RBI. Mike McQuillan finished 3 for 5 with four RBI.

Hagerstown 8, Greenville 5: Despite the win and a 44-26 record, the Suns failed to win the South Atlantic League Northern Division title, which was claimed by Greensboro. Austin Voth allowed three runs over five innings and struck out five. Jake Johansen, activated from the DL, allowed two runs over 1 2/3 innings of relief. Spencer Kieboom and Drew Ward each had two hits and three RBI. Ward hit his sixth home run of the season.

Batavia 6, Auburn 3: Luis Reyes allowed two runs over five innings and Matthew Deroiser allowed four in 2 2/3 innings of relief. Outfield prospect Drew Vettleson, on rehab, was hit in the head in his first at-bat and left the game, according to The Citizen in Auburn. Diomedes Eusbio hit a three-run home run and went 2 for 4.

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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