Whether the profit in that process shows up this year or in future is unknown but also unmistakable: The Nats are turning bad to good account.
This maturation happens one item at a time. Electric Gio Gonzalez evolves into an elite Cy Young Award candidate. Bryce Harper’s maniacal teenage magic inspires his adult teammates. And, most important, the Nats dig down 37 men deep to overcome 12 players on the disabled list.
You’re probably lucky. You know there are 114 games left to play. Me? The Nats commandeered my Memorial Day weekend. I have a family and had, I thought, a long holiday ahead of me. But the first-place Nats, with baseball’s third-best record, are such a daily drama of injuries and wins, intimidating pitchers and makeshift lineups, that I got hooked.
Nothing fascinates me more than watching a fine team discover itself. Wildly different personalities blend into one team identity. You glimpse Harper breaking up laughing after his long home run on Sunday night. Who’s the sly buddy needling him? It’s Stephen Strasburg.
The mark of emerging teams, especially those developing an unselfish, smart and mutually dependent identity, is the procession of discovering essential but unlikely heroes. The Nats seem to generate two of ’em a game.
The light has gone on for reliever Craig Stammen. Lefty Sean Burnett doesn’t just close games, but does it grinning. Goon Squad boss Chad Tracy swatted a pinch-hit double, then disabled himself jogging it out. But the Nats always exhume somebody, at least so far. Catcher Carlos Maldonado, a 17-year minor league vet whom the team lists at 290 pounds, started on Monday. Until Jesus Flores feels friskier, you may see more of him, which is saying a lot.
Seldom-sighted Chien-Ming Wang won in relief on Friday and, voila, discovers himself back in the rotation. That lets lefty Ross Detwiler add even more depth to a bullpen that’s flourished without closer Drew Storen.
For the Nats, now 5-2 on a nine-game road trip against their three main National League East rivals, there’s often glitter in the dust of defeats. On Monday, the Nats got into Miami at 3 a.m. after sweeping the Braves, then took the field just 10 hours later. They lost 5-3 to the Marlins. On a day when even the best of teams might take a sleep-walk pummeling, the Nats had chances to win. And in the eighth inning, Henry Rodriguez pounded strikes to Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton. If SMH-Rod turns back into MPH-Rod, then the day was well spent.
Typical of this season, Steve Lombardozzi, the play-anywhere switch-hitting rookie, got three more hits (.323). He’s convinced Manager Davey Johnson he’s the Nats’ leadoff man even when slugger Michael Morse returns to left field in a few days. The kid is going to play a lot, everywhere.