The Washington Nationals have provided such extremes this season. On Friday afternoon, they sat in an eerily quiet home clubhouse after one of their most lopsided losses of the season, a point of this disappointing year that one prominent player called “rock bottom.” Then on Sunday, against that same opponent that embarrassed them, the Nationals exploded for one of their best all-around games in weeks and most lopsided win of the season.
How is that possible?
The Nationals demolished the New York Mets, 14-1, on Sunday on a day in which everything seemed to go right in a season of so many struggles. The team banged out a season-high run total and 18 hits, including five for extra bases, in the most lopsided win in Nationals history. They belied their months-long struggles of hitting with runners in scoring position in the final day of an 11-game homestand. Wilson Ramos received a curtain call for his first-career grand slam. After going 97 games without a home run, Denard Span hit one in his second straight game with a shot to right field. Ian Desmond and Span each smacked four hits.
Taylor Jordan, the rookie inserted into the rotation as a stopgap for injuries, delivered the best outing of his young major league career for his first win in six tries. The sinkerballer allowed one run on five hits and struck out seven. In one weekend, three important pieces of the team — Bryce Harper, Dan Haren and Span — showed signs of getting back on track. And just as quickly as the Nationals lost six straight games after the all-star break, they have now won four of their past five.
“That’s the team I want to see,” Ramos said.
Two days earlier, the Nationals were at the most depressing juncture of the season after a poor Jordan Zimmermann start led to an 11-0 defeat that was their seventh loss in eight games. In three games since, Jordan, Haren and Ross Ohlendorf have delivered 20 dominant innings, allowing only three total runs in three wins. It was the first time the Nationals won three straight games without Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Zimmermann pitching since Ross Detwiler, John Lannan and Brad Peacock accomplished the feat in September 2011. “That’s huge,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Recently powered by Desmond and Jayson Werth, the offense also found improved production from Harper and Span. Harper has 12 hits in 37 at-bats (.324) in 10 games since the all-star break. Span has discovered an aggressive approach hitting lower in the lineup and has 14 hits in 42 at-bats (.333) in his last 11 games.
The Nationals (52-54) mashed Mets pitchers early on Sunday. They scored three in the second inning on an RBI single by Ramos and a two-run single by Harper off Mets starter Carlos Torres. An inning later, after Ryan Zimmerman doubled, Desmond drove him in with a single. After a Span single, Ramos came up to the plate with the bases loaded.
He clobbered a 90-mph fastball over the heart of the plate from Torres into the visitor’s bullpen in left field for an 8-0 lead. A fan base deprived of consistent offense erupted and drew Ramos out for a curtain call. Batting behind Ramos, Jordan knew little of the protocol and stepped into the batter’s box for his at-bat. Ramos acknowledged the crowd between pitches.
“That’s a great game for the team,” Ramos said. “I was waiting for that. All the bats wake up. So that’s an example of what we can do.”
Entering Sunday’s game, the Nationals had been outscored 50-28 in 10 games since the all-star break. Through four innings against the Mets (46-56) on Sunday, the Nationals scored 10 runs.
Werth, one of the hottest-hitting players in baseball this month, added two more hits, including a single in the fourth inning to drive in his 21st run of July, the most by any NL player. Span added another run-scoring hit in the fourth. Desmond added his second RBI of the game with a single in the sixth.
With two outs in the sixth, Span pounced on the second pitch he saw from reliever David Aardsma. The ball landed in the first row of the right field seats, and Span had his second homer in as many days. The center fielder said he had been working with new hitting coach Rick Schu and first base coach Tony Tarasco, with Schu helping him change the positioning of his hands.
“Just another day at the ballpark,” Span said, jokingly.
Marlon Byrd drove in the Mets’ run in the fourth inning when he drilled an RBI single up the middle against Jordan that deflected off the glove of diving second baseman Anthony Rendon. With about a month left before he is shut down in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Jordan provided a lift.
“Last year was one of those years where we were so consistent and we didn’t really have too many bad times,” Zimmerman said. “I think a lot of people got spoiled with that and expect it to be that way every year. As much as I want it to be that way every year it’s not going to be that way every year. Very rarely three or four teams a year do that. It’s tough to do. The way we started the second half is obviously not the way we wanted to but we fought back and gotta keep going.”