Plenty of parallels exist between last year’s Nationals team and this year’s.
Injuries piled up early. Bench production has been average at best. And inconsistencies have left this team hovering around .500 for quite some time.
After Thursday’s win over the Phillies, the Nationals are 30-28; after 58 games a year ago, Washington was 29-29.
There’s one major difference this time around, however. The Nationals are just one game behind first-place Atlanta in the division. A year ago at this time, the Braves had jumped out to a 36-22 start and never looked back.
That gives this year’s squad hope as it manages to remain relevant in the division despite the injuries.
It appears the Nationals are beginning to wake up with most of their missing pieces back. Adam LaRoche dealt with a quad injury and has since returned, with the slugger batting .315 for the year. Now-outfielder Ryan Zimmerman has recorded at least one hit in his first three games since returning from a thumb injury.
“It’s nice to have it the way we wanted it initially, though we’re still missing a guy,” manager Matt Williams said.
Of course, that guy is Bryce Harper, who has been rehabbing his own thumb injury. Harper has a tentative return date of July 1.
His return would only further boost the Nationals’ offense, which scored seven or more runs in four of the team’s previous five games before Thursday’s 4-2 win.
With LaRoche and Zimmerman back, the Nationals have a deep, powerful lineup. And when Harper returns, he could wind up batting sixth, which could push catcher Wilson Ramos down to eighth, assuming Williams would want shortstop Ian Desmond to stay at seventh.
“You have a guy like Ian hitting seventh with 11 home runs,” Zimmerman said. “We have a talented team.”