As one of the Nats pointed out, the home plate ump, Marvin Hudson, was the same ump who made a terrible call in the Atlanta series sweep that put the Nats on the bad foot and got Johnson his only ejection. Now they get a good break with Hudson behind the plate. That may sound odd, but it’s what ballplayers have always watched. No, that NL East lead isn’t “safe.” It’s never safe in baseball. But with the Nats magic number down to five, this is about as close as it gets.
Now the Nats head on the road for six games with their rotation set exactly as Johnson wants it: Three lefties against the Phils (Ross Detwiler, John Lannan and 20-game winner Gio Gonzalez), then three righties against the Cardinals in St. Louis. If the season goes to the last three home games in Washington against the Phils, “We’ll have the three lefties ready for them again,” Johnson said. You can’t plan it cleaner than that.
The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore joins Post Sports Live to identify the main areas of concern for the Nationals as they head into the postseason for the first time in team history.
Insight on the Nationals and all the latest news from Post reporters Adam Kilgore and James Wagner.
Zimmermann’s start was the latest puzzle piece to fall in place for the Nats. In August, Zimmermann was often too strong, lost his fastball mechanics and threw his slider so hard that it was sometimes a much less effective 90-mph cutter.
“Jordan’s back now,” Johnson said after seeing Zimmermann’s past four starts produce a 2.19 ERA. Gonzalez’s past five starts show a 0.79 ERA, Detwiler’s past four have been 1.88 and Edwin Jackson allowed the Brewers just one run in eight innings in this series. The rotation, worrisome at the end of August, has shaped up in timely fashion. “I like where we’re at,” Johnson said.
The back of the bullpen is also being sorted out. Clippard pitched the eighth in this mop-up game and Drew Storen the ninth. That doesn’t mean they’re back to their 2011 roles, but it’s probably trending that way and presumably should.
“Clip’s still throwing really fine. He’s had a little rough spell. Gets down on himself,” Johnson said before later adding, “It’s a pretty good problem to have. I hate changing roles. Somebody gets the lesser role and thinks I don’t like ’em or believe in ’em and that’s not true. Clip’s done a great job all year and Storen’s throwing the hell out of the ball right now. Everything doesn’t have to have a name on it.”
But some things need names. Harper calls the hazard in the Nats Park outfield this time of year “The Sun Monster.” When Werth’s potential inning-ending flyball headed to Gomez in the fourth inning, the Nats were starting to show signs of a tense team. Cleanup man Adam LaRoche, usually the club’s coolest veteran, had twice swung at 3-0 pitches with two men on base and popped them both straight up for rally-killing outs.
When Werth’s ball landed, uncaught, the Nats led 4-1. Minutes later, it was 7-1. The Nats could hit the road sure that luck was on their side, or at least not against them. As Harper’s brother Bryan tweeted seconds after Gomez’s miss: “SunMonster. NATITUDE!”
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/