With their victory over the Houston Astros last night, the Washington Nationals became the first team in the National League to reach 10 wins on the season. That’s quite an accomplishment for a club that just a few years ago was literally the laughing stock of baseball. At 10-3 they now have the best winning percentage in the N.L., and are just half a game behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in baseball.
Finally, it’s a good time to be a baseball fan in Washington. Nats fans take a moment to let it sink in, at least for the moment, the one time floor mat that was Nationals Park has become the home of one of the best teams in the game. Wear your Curly W with pride on the way to school this morning, fly that flag in your front yard that you haven’t dusted off since 2005, and for the first time feel good when talking about baseball to your not-from-in-town coworkers.
Got it out of your system? Now let’s get real, and let’s talk baseball. As unbelievably fun as it has been to watch Washington win one-run game after another, winning consistently with the type of offense the Nats have been producing is just not sustainable. I hate to say that, and I really want it to not be the case, but it’s quite clear that just about every Washington player needs to pick it up in the offensive category. The team currently ranks 19th overall in the league in runs scored, second to last in home runs, and 25th in slugging percentage. They say that good teams are able to win one-run games, and that’s true, but the best teams consistently have two and three run wins.
The Nats are currently 5-2 in one-run games, which has made this April one of the most exciting opening months I’ve ever been a part of. Washington traditionally had been a team that would just fold when it got close. They’d make a comeback only to give up yet another big inning, they’d boot ground balls, they’d flat out find a way to lose. Now, they have the confidence that they can win, and that makes a huge difference. The pitching staff steps up in ways it never has before, and the lineup seems to find a way every single time to at least scrape one or two more runs on the board. But what happens when pop-ups to the Houston Astros outfield are caught, what happens when seeing eye singles get knocked down, or when Washington actually has to face a top-shelf offensive club?
The good news is Washington does have the tools to get it done now, and they have several major pieces coming back later this summer. Danny Espinosa is currently hitting .214, that number will have to come up. Ryan Zimmerman, despite mashing the ball all season, is only hitting .240 with no home runs on the year, that will even itself out soon. Nationals outfielders not named Jayson Werth are hitting below .200. Not even Roger Bernadina, Xavier Nady, and Rick Ankiel are THAT bad.
The point is that the Nationals need to figure out the bats sooner than later. The team’s pitching staff, no matter how good it is, will eventually start allowing more runs each game. Even if it ended up being the best rotation in history, this would be so. The club will also start playing better ball clubs than the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros. They will surely need better run support then.
I have faith in this team and I can’t wait to see how the season goes. But I want this good start to help jolt Washington into their best campaign since moving from Montreal, I don’t want it to serve as a guise for the many issues that lay beneath the surface.