NEW YORK — At this juncture of the baseball calendar in 2007, back at the launching point of his career, Jayson Werth faced the same grim odds the Washington Nationals know now. At the dawn of the Philadelphia Phillies’ mini-dynasty, Werth helped them erase a seven-game deficit in the season’s final 17 games and crash the playoffs. “I can see it,” Werth said. “I know it’s possible. I’ve done it.”
Having done it, Werth also understands how difficult it will be to finish the desperate surge of which he has become the driving force. On Tuesday night, Werth lifted the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field with a performance that fit into his blistering past two months like a puzzle piece. Werth went 3 for 4 with two doubles and his 23rd home run. As summer cedes to fall, Werth could win a batting title, land in the top five of an MVP vote or maybe even put a scare into the Cincinnati Reds. Did you think he would be a liability? It turns out he may be the best hitter in the National League.
As Werth has produced perhaps the finest stretch of his career at 34, the Nationals have kept their playoff chances on life support. The Nationals’ fourth straight victory pushed them to a season-high six games over .500 at 75-69. As the Reds lost to the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals trimmed their deficit in the race for the NL’s second wild-card spot to six games with 18 to play.
“It’s not over,” Werth said. “Nothing is over yet. But we’re in a bad spot, that’s for sure.”
On Tuesday night, Werth received help from a stable of teammates. Jordan Zimmermann claimed his league-leading 17th win with five uneven innings. Four Nationals relievers pitched scoreless innings, culminating with Rafael Soriano’s 40th save of the season. Wilson Ramos’s cannon arm wiped out two base stealers in the nip-and-tuck late innings. Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 21 games with a double down the first base line, Adam LaRoche smacked his 19th homer to left-center field and Scott Hairston put the game on ice with a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the ninth.
But it was Werth, with a continuation of his blistering second half, who led them. Werth entered Tuesday leading the NL in on-base-plus slugging percentage and slugging percentage and trailing Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson by five points in the batting race. Werth raised his batting average to .328, and since the all-star break he has hit .370 with an OPS near 1.100. There are many reasons the Nationals have won 21 of 30 games, and the first is their woolly, 34-year-old right fielder.
“A leader ripping the cover off the ball,” Zimmermann said. “Every time he gets up there, it seems like he’s going to hit a double or a home run.”
Werth and the Nationals have played their best once the season felt lost and pressure faded. They may not make the playoffs, and their expectations may go unfulfilled, but they have not unraveled.
“It’s been there,” Werth said. “There’s no doubt. We just waited around too long.”