Last night’s win over the Cincinnati Reds was a lot of fun. It was the kind of night that reminds you why you watch Nationals baseball in the first place. It marked the second consecutive game that the team was able to win as a result of late-inning heroics. It was also the second consecutive game in which a Nats starter pitched an absolute gem, as Jordan Zimmermann followed up Gio Gonzalez’s masterpiece with one of his own. The rotation truly is as good as promised.
Perhaps most notable in the team’s win last night’s win was that when the club began to self implode, they didn’t. In the past fans of the franchise would mock the team’s advertising slogan “expect it,” every time a Nats infielder managed to make an inexplicably bonehead play. Or every time a highly paid slugger would ground into a crucial inning killing double play. Disheartened Washingtonians had begun to do just that, expect the worst. But as Bob Carpenter pointed out last night, this team learned late last summer during their end-of-the-year surge how to not only stay in, but how to win ball games. Even in the face of adversity.
When the Nats infield made two consecutive errors with two outs in the seventh inning last night, Jordan Zimmermann focused in and got the next batter out. When the team’s lineup was completely under a spell cast by Bronson Arroyo’s stuff, Xavier Nady made sure to hedge his bets and jump all over Bill Bray’s first pitch fastball in the eighth to immediately bring the team back in the game with a solo home run. When Roger Bernadina and Wilson Ramos made two inexplicably bad decisions on the basepaths in the bottom of the ninth, resulting in no runs, the team came back each inning and eventually scored in the 13th. As cliche as it sounds, the team has a winning mentality.
There is one thing that continues to worry me though. The team’s offense has gotten by thus far on very timely hitting from unlikely sources. Which is great. As a fan I love feeling that Ian Desmond, Xavier Nady, Chad Tracy, or anyone on the team can come through with the big hit in the big situation. But as an analyst, I know it’s very hard to count on this type of offense for a 162 game season. As it stands today, the only everyday players batting over .200 are Ian Desmond (.368), Jayson Werth (.303), and Adam LaRoche (.303). Even if all three of those players have come-back seasons, there is no way they can keep contributing at the pace they are currently. To put it in context, those three are on average hitting 106 points higher than they did last year.
With the news that Michael Morse will miss at least six weeks do to his lat strain, Nats fans have to be concerned about where that offense will be made up. Of course the rest of the team’s lineup will pick up the pace, and Werth and LaRoche will have to settle somewhere in between what they did last year and what they’re doing now, but who is this teams big bopper? Who is their RBI king? Someone will have to step up to fill that void, or the team will be faced with an overall record that will dissapoint most Nats fans.
I’m still optimistic. Our pitching staff is amazing and the defense has really stepped up this season. But we need a bat or two. We need Danny Espinosa to take the next step in his offensive game. We need Wilson Ramos to improve on 2011. We need Bryce Harper to roar into Nats park bat blazing.