The Washington Nationals have been called many things through the course of this rollercoaster season. Disappointments, by the St. Louis Cardinals broadcast team today. Mediocre, by ESPN’s Michael Wilbon at the end of April. But after their ninth win in 11 games, and second straight in the park of the best team in baseball, the Nats have objectively earned the mantle of the hottest team in baseball.
Doug Fister turned in the 11th consecutive quality start the Nats, hurling seven scoreless, as the Nats (34-29) scraped together two runs and held on for dear life to defeat the San Francisco Giants (42-23), 2-1, and clinch at least a split of the four-game series.
Fister (W, 5-1) was great as always, continuing his trend of dominance ever since a poor first start in a Nats uniform. He tossed seven scoreless, allowing eight hits and one walk while striking out three. The walk was uncharacteristic for him, just his third of the year, and ended a historic streak. Nats starters had gone six straight starts without issuing a walk and struck out 47 batters in that span, becoming the first to accomplish the feat in a century. Nevertheless, Fister corralled a Giants offense that ranked tenth in baseball in runs per game.
Though Fister’s final line was sterling, those eight hits amounted to quite a few baserunners, and he had to squirm out of trouble a few times. In the fourth, he put two runners on with no outs, but induced three straight flyouts to end the inning without a run coming across. In the sixth, Jayson Werth gunned down Pablo Sandoval at the plate to end the inning and again preserve Fister’s clean sheet.
Despite copious success against lefties this year, the Washington bats were held largely in check by Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, though Fister ensured that what little they got was enough. After a pair of singles in the fifth, Denard Span scored Ian Desmond with a sacrifice fly to notch the game’s first run. Anthony Rendon, who was 2-for-4 in his return to the lineup after missing three games with a bruised hand, singled to extend the frame, and Werth singled home another run, though Rendon was tagged out at third.
Atypically, the bullpen’s innings were adventurous, but they got the job done nonetheless. Tyler Clippard put two runners on with one out, but calmly made it through the inning. Rafael Soriano gave up a leadoff triple, but retired the next three batters despite falling behind in the count more than once and earned his 13th save of the year.
Unfortunately, bad news struck late in the game. After a double in the top of the ninth, Wilson Ramos left the game with hamstring tightness. Manager Matt Williams relayed that Ramos felt the injury was not bad, but Ramos will be reevaluated tomorrow.
With tonight’s win, the Nationals are starting to show that they can win any type of game. They looked equally comfortable in Monday’s blowout and Tuesday’s close shave, a luxury reserved for teams with a great offense, great rotation, and stellar bullpen, a lofty territory that the Nats are nearing.
A team cannot be fairly evaluated on two great games, not even on two great weeks like the Nats have had. Applying the label of contender feels premature, even though the Nats remain in a tie for the NL East lead. Contenders do more than rip off hot stretches. But if the Nats can continue a standard of play anywhere near their current level, they’ll be well on their way to contention.