May 16, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
On the morning of April 28, the Nationals appeared to be a mess, stuck in a 6-game losing streak, owning a 7-13 record and sitting a full 8 games behind the Mets in the NL East. Nobody truly believed this team wouldn’t be able to make up ground over time, but everybody seemed to recognize it wouldn’t happen overnight.
Turns out everybody was right. The Nationals didn’t make up all that ground overnight. They did it in 17 days.
Friday night’s 10-0 shellacking of the Padres, coupled with the Mets’ fifth straight loss, leaves the Nationals on the precipice of first place in the NL East again. They now sit a mere 1/2-game back, having made up 7 1/2 games in the standings in only 17 days.
That’s an incredibly short amount of time to make up that much ground. It’s the same number of days it took the Phillies to make up 7 games on the Mets down the stretch in 2007 and capture the division title, considered one of the biggest collapses in recent baseball history.
There is so much baseball left to be played, and who knows how that will all play out. But for now, just appreciate how quickly the Nationals righted their ship, bouncing back from a 7-13 start to win 13 of their next 17 and put themselves on the brink of leapfrogging the Mets.
Some more observations from last night’s game…
Bryce Harper remains red-hot
With a fourth-inning home run to right field, Harper continued his torrid streak at the plate. He now has eight homers and 18 RBI in his last nine games, eight homers in his last 32 at-bats, to go along with eight walks and a 2.000 OPS.
It’s a ridiculously hot stretch for the young slugger, but it’s starting to get to the point where it’s turning into more than just a mere hot stretch. It does make you wonder: At what point is this no longer a streak and instead just what Bryce Harper really is?
Let’s look farther back than these nine games, farther back even than this season, farther back even than last October. Let’s go all the way back to last September, once Harper appeared to be fully healed from his thumb surgery earlier in the season.
Harper has played 65 games since Sept. 1, 2014, during which time he has hit .306 with 16 homers, a .421 on-base percentage, .584 slugging percentage and 1.004 OPS. Aside from batting average, he ranks in the top five in baseball in all of those categories since that date.
Point is, Harper isn’t just hot right now. He’s been doing this, basically, for nearly half a season’s worth of games.
Jayson Werth appears to be OK after getting hit in the wrist
The sight of Werth going down in obvious pain after taking a pitch off his left wrist in the second inning was harrowing for plenty of people. That’s the same wrist Werth has injured several times in his carer, including that play in right field in May 2012 in which the wrist broke.
Werth remained in the game to run the bases, but he didn’t take the field for the bottom of the inning, and that surely raised some red flags. The good news, though: Matt Williams told reporters after the game that X-rays came back negative and Werth will be re-evaluated Saturday. He may need to miss a day or two, but it looks like he dodged a major injury this time.
A.J. Cole was much, much better in his second career appearance
The Nationals’ resurgence came after Cole was bashed around by the Braves for nine runs in only two innings his MLB debut on April 28. Cole was sent back to Class AAA Syracuse after that game, and you couldn’t help but wonder if the negative experience would weigh on him for some time.
Well, the right-hander returned Friday night, called up to take Doug Fister’s roster spot, and he came in out of the bullpen in relief of Jordan Zimmermann. And did a very nice job.
Cole tossed three scoreless innings, facing only 10 total batters, allowing just one to reach base. He threw 23 of his 37 pitches for strikes and wound up earning the save (which is automatic when a reliever tosses three innings to close out a win for his team).
It’s unclear how Cole will be used for now; because of a pair of off-days coming up, the Nationals only need four starters for the time being. Cole could remain and pitch out of the bullpen. More likely, he would seem to be a logical candidate for demotion when Casey Janssen comes off the DL, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.
Whatever the case, it was nice to see Cole return to a big-league mound and enjoy some real success after his disastrous debut last month.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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