Despite being swept by the Rangers, the Washington Nationals are cruising to the tune of a 9.5 game lead in the NL Easy(t). Not only are the Nats running away with the East, they own the second best record in the NL at 38-24, and are well on their way to consecutive playoff runs.
More incredible than the record is how the Nats have fared on the road. So far, Washington has completed road trips of 10 and 9 games respectively. They were 16-3 during those games. That is an incredible stretch of baseball no matter whom you play.
Said Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts:
“Well managed team, well coached team. They’ve got a nice blend of veterans, young players, they can beat you with speed, power, and they can pitch…”
So what do we make of these 2017 Washington Nationals? Are they the real deal or a product of a weak division? What, if anything, will hold this team back?
Here are a few areas to keep an eye on in the summer months:
For years, Washington, both the team and city, has been labeled soft and it is really hard to argue. Just take a look at what Tim Hudson said in 2014 about the Nationals: “Come playoff time, talent can take you a long ways, but what do you have between your legs? That’s going to take you real far.” Hudson’s Giants went on to beat the Nationals and win their third World Series in five years.
Translation: No one in the Major Leagues is scared of Washington.
However, in the past month, Bryce Harper has brawled for being beaned for no reason and Koda Glover had some kind words for Yasiel Puig after striking him out to end a 4-2 Nats victory.
Why does this matter? Because a city stuck in neutral needs to find some nasty. According to Rick Snider, “It’s time to create some fear of Washington”.
Just think about two years ago. The Royals were not well liked and routinely found themselves at the center of controversy. The Red Sox? The Yankees? All these teams have a mean streak. They want to win and have won in October.
Have the Nats, or any DC team for that matter, shown that desire? Your closer needs to be demonstrative and have an attitude in the ninth inning. It annoys opposing fans, but players want to play with teammates that care. Perhaps Washington has found their mean streak. Perhaps Koda Glover is the answer… if he can stay healthy.
Which Bryce Harper Will Finish the Season?
It’s happening again. No one is talking about it because Bryce’s numbers are still strong, but #34 is slumping in a major way. Don’t believe me? Baseball is a numbers game so let’s take a look.
In the first 35 games this season, Harper was hitting a cool .388 with an OPS of 1.271. MVP numbers and vintage 2015 Bryce (can a 24-year-old have a vintage season?).
Since then, Bryce is struggling in the same fashion as last season. In his past 10 games Harper is hitting .216 with 3 extra base hits. That is not good and it goes further than that. Dating back to May 17th, he has ‘barreled’ the ball in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances. For those asking, barreled is the new age term for square up a baseball.
To the naked eye it seems to be the same problem that bothered Harper a year ago. He does not stay square and falls off the outside pitch. Well, luckily the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg has seen the same thing.
On June 7th, Greenberg noted the outside fastball has given Harper the most trouble:
“he is swinging at those pitches twice as often over his last 15 games… fouling off 17 of the 29 fastballs he offered at out of the zone since May 17, one fewer than he did leading up to that date despite playing in more than twice as many games.”
So when should Nats fans begin to worry? The answer is not quite yet, but you should start getting nervous. Washington has potential to be a great team. However, they will only be great with a great Bryce Harper.
If #34 continues to struggle and disappears like last year than this team will not win a World Series. It is that simple.
Last year when I started writing a column about the Nationals I needed a name. Zimm’s Corner only felt right. Ryan Zimmerman is from my home in the 757, he was Washington’s first ever pick, and he played both Third and First Base for the home team. Knowing that…
How would Ryan Zimmerman not be brought up here? The dude is simply raking right now. Best part? People thought he slumped in May! For the month, he still hit .319 with an OPS of .906.
In other words, experts thought Zimm was slumping because he hit at an All-Star Level and not a Hall of Fame level. Ridiculous.
In one of the better stories so far, #11’s numbers have put him in the early season MVP discussion and have him in the running for a Triple Crown. To date, the first baseman leads the league in hitting (.365), second in Home Runs (17), and top 10 in RBIs with 49. Those are crazy stats for someone who had not hit more than 16 HRs in a season since 2013.
There is a ton of speculation as to why Zimmerman has emerged from a three-year slump, but he simply credits his health. For the first time since the 2013 campaign, Zimm enjoyed a healthy off-season to prepare for the grueling 162 game season.
Yet, despite being mostly healthy, pundits keep pointing to Zimmerman’s launch angle. What does Washington’s straight faced leader have to say about that?
“I’m doing it on purpose…All offseason, I worked on hitting the ball one-eighth of an inch lower and it’s totally paying off. I used lasers and computers, and every time I didn’t hit it one-eighth of an inch lower, my bat blew up so that I had to get a new one”.
Whatever you are doing Ryan… do not stop. The Ryanaissance is real.
So just who are these Washington Nationals? Only October will truly tell us. Bullpen problems persist, Harper is slumping, and injuries are starting to take a toll, but Washington is poised for another run in October at the 1/3 mark.