As the Washington Nationals take a well-deserved day off, let’s also take a moment to reflect on the beginning of another baseball season. We’re finally at the point in the year where real conclusions can start to be drawn with a little more certainty. The Nats have played a third of their games and currently lead the NL East with 33 wins.
Normally at this point in the season I don’t give much weight to the pace predictors – that is, people who judge a team’s ultimate success based on how many wins they are on pace for. But With this team on pace to win 99 games I’m thinking more about how they got here than what they will look like going forward.
In May the Nats faced the Cardinals, Royals, Cubs, and Mets for the majority of their games finishing the month with a 16-14 record. Finishing above .500 in a month like that is impressive enough without mentioning the four straight games they dropped to the Cubs. You won’t face a much tougher stretch of games than that anywhere in the majors. Their upcoming schedule includes straight series against the perennial bottom-feeder Reds, White Sox and Phillies so while they can’t take games off, they have an easier road to hoe just ahead.
Here’s the thing about a +.500 record in May: it was just as important how the Nats won as it was that they won.
I think it’s time for even the greatest contrarians to admit that this whole Daniel Murphy thing isn’t going away anytime soon, Stephen Strasburg has finally become what we all hoped the oddball pitcher could be, and when Max Scherzer isn’t striking out 11 hitters in a night we’re all asking what’s wrong. Jayson Werth has undergone a renaissance in the last month and Ryan Zimmerman has been a solid contributor. On top of all this I think we’ve all forgiven the great Jonathan Papelbon his previous transgressions. Most significantly to me however, is the fact that the Nats are getting it done without significant contributions from their stud Bryce Harper.
Harper has struggled (by his standards) through a tough month that began with the Cubs pitching around him at a historic rate and ended with him taking a pitch to the knee that could still land him a 15-day DL stint. Dusty Baker and the crew have had to manufacture wins on several occasions when Harper hasn’t had an official at-bat or grew frustrated and swung at offerings better left alone.
This may seem like bad news, but to me it is the greatest indicator that the team being on pace for 99 wins is not a fluke. We can all expect Harper to come back healthy and figure out a way to deal with being treated gingerly by opposing pitchers because that’s what superstars do – they adjust. If we can also expect sustained success from the rest of the club, this team will become even more unbeatable down the stretch.Tags: Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth, Jonathan Papelbon, Max Scherzer, Nationals, Nats, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals