May 18, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
With the Nationals returning home having gone 5-2 on their West Coast road trip with just a half-game deficit in the NL East to make up, it seems like a good time to take stock of where they stand in the division heading into an off-day with the New York Yankees up next.
Some may say it’s too early after just 39 games to make overarching judgements. Somebody tell that to the Marlins, who fired manager Mike Redmond minutes after their loss to the Braves on Sunday.
Remember when people were freaking out about the Nats? What’s happening in Miami is what real panic looks like.
The Nationals have now won 15 of their last 19 games and sit five games over .500 at 22-17. They’ve won six consecutive series, four of them against NL East teams.
With 10 runs in Sunday’s series-closing win against the Padres, the Nationals’ offense exploded once again. Bryce Harper hit a three-run homer and so did Danny Espinosa. The Nats now rank second in Major League Baseball with 194 runs scored. Through 39 games, they are averaging 4.97 runs per contest.
For a comparison, none of the Nats’ division counterparts rank in the top 12 in baseball in runs scored. The Nationals are also fifth in team OPS (.742), while no one else in the NL East places higher than 17th.
This is all without Anthony Rendon, one of their most complete offensive players. It is also without Jayson Werth for total 12 games and Denard Span for the first three weeks of the season. Ian Desmond has also struggled mightily with just two homers and nine RBI so far this year after three consecutive Silver Slugger campaigns. Those were their top four hits leaders in 2014.
A large part of the Nationals’ ability to score runs despite those factors has been the play of Harper. The 22-year-old outfielder went 12-for-23 (.522) with three home runs and nine RBI on their road trip. He’s now batting an unreal .338 with 14 homers, 37 RBI and a 1.206 OPS. Nobody has carried an OPS that high across a full season since Barry Bonds in 2004.
We’re just nearing the quarter-mark of the 2015 schedule, but so far Harper has been playing at an MVP level. Many of us thought he would lead the league in homers someday and it’s exactly what he’s doing right now.
I wrote yesterday about how Max Scherzer is off to the best start of his MLB career and how important he has been so far for the Nationals. But Doug Fister aside, the rest of the Nats’ rotation has shown positive signs in recent games.
Gio Gonzalez has a 3.32 ERA in his last three outings. Jordan Zimmermann has thrown a quality start in six straight appearances with a 2.58 ERA during that stretch. Stephen Strasburg wasn’t great against the Padres, but his three earned runs in five innings was a turn in the right direction considering his 6.06 ERA to begin the day.
The Nationals’ pitching staff is still a work in progress. They hold a 3.85 team ERA, which ranks 13th in baseball. That’s not terrible, but far from the 3.00 mark the Mets currently have, which is second in MLB.
The Nats rank third in starters ERA in the division at 3.91 and 11th in baseball. The Mets are tops in the majors at 3.16 and the Braves are also barely ahead of the Nats. The Marlins are not far behind Washington.
The Mets could very well have the best pitching staff in baseball, a distinction many predicted for the Nationals. But their offense – ranked 22nd in runs scored – is not even close to what the Nationals have produced so far. And again, that’s without Rendon, who is arguably one of the best hitters in the NL.
New York currently holds a half-game lead over the Nats entering the week, but up next for them is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards have the NL’s best record and a remarkable 2.87 ERA as a team so far.
The Nats will play the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday with a day off before and after. Then they host the Phillies, who despite somehow winning five straight are still in last place.
The Mets have surprised many by leading the division through the first month-and-a-half of 2015. But with the way things are going, it doesn’t look like it will last very long.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
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)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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