May 19, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Bryce Harper is receiving a boatload of attention right now, and deservedly so. Win back-to-back NL Player of the Week honors, get talked about a whole lot.
But Harper alone is not responsible for the Nationals’ resurgence over the last three weeks. Yes, he has contributed to their 15-4 record since April 28 more than anybody else, boasting a .412 batting average, an insane .529 on-base percentage and a 1.471 OPS. But the Nats haven’t averaged 6.6 runs per game during this stretch (moving them all the way into second place in MLB in runs scored for the season) via one (admittedly scorching-hot) bat.
No, a whole host of other members of the lineup have been tearing the cover off the ball as well. They just haven’t been recognized for it. Until now…
The Nationals’ record-setting, 13-12 victory over the Braves on April 28 was punctuated by Dan Uggla’s dramatic homer in the top of the ninth, but don’t discount the role Span played in that game. He went 5-for-6 with 11 total bases that night, coming a triple shy of the cycle. And since then, he’s been lights-out.
Entering that game, Span was hitting and slugging .207, still trying to find his way after two core muscle surgeries in three months. But since that game, he’s hitting a stout .391 while slugging .672. That leaves him with a .333 batting average and .906 OPS for the season, big-time numbers that are surpassed right now only by Harper on the Nationals’ roster.
We saw last year just how important Span was to the Nationals as a whole. And over the last three weeks, we’ve seen it again.
WILSON RAMOS (and Jose Lobaton)
Ramos has been remarkably consistent (and durable) so far this season. And he currently sports an 18-game hitting streak that is the majors’ longest in 2015, by a long shot.
Ramos is hitting .371 during this streak, driving in 11 runs along the way. Overall, he’s now hitting .314, and though his power stroke has been sparse (only one homer to date) it feels like only a matter of time before that clicks.
On top of all that, Ramos has been an iron man behind the plate, starting 30 of the Nationals’ 39 games. That puts him on pace to catch 125 games this season, long a goal for the oft-injured Buffalo.
Let’s not ignore the guy who occasionally replaces Ramos, though. Lobaton may not get much playing time, but he’s making the most of what he does get, hitting .353 with two homers since April 28.
Put the Nationals’ two catchers together, and they’re collectively hitting .297 with 25 RBI. Not bad at all.
YUNEL ESCOBAR AND DANNY ESPINOSA
We’ve talked about each of these guys several times, because their contributions have been surprising to different extents. Most importantly, though, the production of Escobar and Espinosa has made up for the loss of Anthony Rendon to knee and oblique injuries, a development that should’ve had a profound negative impact on the Nationals.
Instead, with Escobar hitting .366 since April 28 (.326 overall) and Espinosa hitting .317 since that date (.275 with an .853 OPS overall), the Nationals really haven’t noticed Rendon’s absence very often.
It feels like Zimmerman is still stuck in an early season rut, but quietly he has been climbing out of it for several weeks now. The overall numbers (.243 batting average, .297 on-base percentage) look weak, but he’s been quite Ryan Zimmerman-like for more than two weeks now.
Over his last 17 games, Zim is hitting .300 with an .800 OPS and 16 RBI. And his 29 RBI for the season actually rank fifth in the NL, ninth in the majors. He also has played in all 39 games to date, a vital stat for the man who has been ravaged by so many injuries in recent seasons.
A productive (and healthy) Ryan Zimmerman is vital to the Nationals’ success, because he’s the man hitting behind Harper. That means both 1) tons of opportunities to bat with runners on base, and 2) fewer opponents pitching around Harper because there’s another dangerous threat in the on-deck circle.
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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