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Nats again build momentum with another series win

Aug 23, 2015, 6:53 PM EST

USA Today

The beginning of the Nationals’ weekend series against the lowly Milwaukee Brewers was about as unfortunate as they come. The Nats were blown out by a bad team on the first day of what is by all accounts a very important homestand.

That followed a tough loss to the Colorado Rockies, one that saw Max Scherzer lose to Yohan Flande for the second time in two weeks. They went from a near-sweep to losers of two straight games to teams that have been thinking about next year since April.

Two days later, however, and the Nats are once again winners of two straight. They beat the Brewers on Sunday by the score of 9-5. Now they have two consecutive series wins for the first time since June 23-28, and have notched at least six runs in two straight days for the first time since June 20-21.

Once again, the Nationals have what some would call momentum. Now the question becomes, what do they do with it?

The Nats have won two consecutive games, but winning their third in a row has lately proven an elusive feat. The last time they had a three-game winning streak was July 11-17 with the All-Star break sandwiched in between. They have won three straight just twice since July 1.

“It’s hard to do that at this level,” Ryan Zimmerman said of winning streaks. “I think we just need to try and continue to win series. That’s all you really can do. It’s hard to sweep and win a lot in a row up here. I think our goal is to win every series from here on out and if we do that, we’ll have a good shot.”

The Nats are off on Monday, but Tuesday will give them their first opportunity to answer that call. It will come against the San Diego Padres, who despite their shortcomings this season, are about as good as the Nats at this point in the year. Both are near the .500 mark and both are starting to show signs of life. San Diego won five straight entering Sunday.

Though the Padres do not appear destined for the playoffs, the road will technically get tougher. The Nats hope several things in particular continue as the week continues.

“The offensive approach is important,” Matt Williams explained. “The typical at-bats that we had today. Jayson [Werth], at the top of the lineup, saw a lot of pitches. Anthony [Rendon] worked counts. Zim walked a couple of times. So that just creates opportunity. Those type of offensive at-bats are important. Yeah, guys are gonna hit the ball out of the ballpark on occasion but that’s not the measure of our success. It come from those extended at-bats, those extended innings. That offensively I hope continues to happen.”

“I think homers will come when you’re trying to have good ABs and trying to drive the ball into the gaps and line drives, things like that. Homers are mistakes,” Bryce Harper said. “If we can just keep that going, keep having fun and enjoying the game and having good ABs, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Something that could help is the imminent return of center fielder Denard Span. Span is nursing back tightness and has been on the disabled list since July 7, but on Sunday he completed his sixth minor league rehab game and has now played on three straight days.

Getting Span back will not solve everything that has been ailing them in the second half of the season, a stretch that has seen them go 14-22. But he will certainly help.

The Nationals are 35-24 this season when Span plays and just 27-37 without him. Since he joined the Nats they are 208-151 (.579) when he plays and .36-52 (.409) when he doesn’t.

Again, it’s not as simple as those numbers suggest, nothing in baseball is. But the Nats still like their chances moving forward, especially given the improving health of Span, and Yunel Escobar – who has missed the last two games with a hyper-extended neck – for that matter.

“We haven’t had all of our top guys for two months out of the season, or however many times. We haven’t had our whole lineup,” Harper said. “When Denard comes back it’s going to be even better. It’s a lot of fun with the way we’re going right now. If we can just keep that going, keep having fun and enjoying the game and having good ABs, I think we’ll be just fine.”

  1. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 23, 2015 at 7:07 PM

    Span — if he hasn’t been as affected by time off as some others who need not be named — can be a big add-on. The days of Taylor and Escobar leading off have been very unhappy and Span must hit better than Werth in the lead-off spot or it will be a net loss. Williams cannot give Span unlimited opportunity to work himself out of a 1-28 re-start. The best part of the Nats’ last several wins has been not the HRs but aggression on the bases. And the HRs certainly help.

    • porplesmcgee - Aug 23, 2015 at 8:52 PM

      I think base stealing is the most underrated aspect of the game. It was one of the many reasons the Nats excelled last season but have struggled this season. Hopefully if Span comes back healthy, he can change this.

  2. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 23, 2015 at 7:10 PM

    While the Nats record w/ and w/out Span is noteworthy, this fact from WaPo this afternoon is evening more startling: Nats have won 51 times when Espinosa plays, only 11 games when he doesn’t.

    • coop202 - Aug 23, 2015 at 9:49 PM

      Out of how many games for each of those stats? I feel like espi has started 3/4 of the season…

  3. natsguy - Aug 23, 2015 at 7:12 PM

    The real problem the Nats face is the Mets keep winning. As long as that happens momentum doesn’t really matter. 5 games isn’t insurmountable but it is getting tougher to overcome. At some point they’ll have to sweep the Mets to overcome the deficit.

    • porplesmcgee - Aug 23, 2015 at 9:00 PM

      Unfortunately that won’t be happening any time soon. The Nats don’t play the Mets again until late september.

      • dhamm6500 - Aug 23, 2015 at 9:48 PM

        Unless you count the three game series at Nats Park Sept 7, 8 and 9th as “late”.

      • dhamm6500 - Aug 23, 2015 at 9:48 PM

        Unless you count the three game series at Nats Park Sept 7, 8 and 9th as “late”.

    • Muddy Ruel - Aug 24, 2015 at 8:46 AM

      A factor so far — Mets sweep Rockies, 7-0, and per MLB network, that’s the first time in their franchise history that they’ve swept a NL opponent for the season. And the Nats are 3-3 versus Rockies. So, the Mets, to their credit, are taking care of business. btw The season they and the Cubs are having is a MLB marketer’s dream. Of course, the Nats are helping the Mets cruise along …

    • Guapo - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:24 AM

      The momentum does matter.

      The Mets have proven to be a team that runs red hot, then ice cold. Mets will come back to earth soon, especially now that the team’s leadership has sent a message to the team that the division is wrapped up by resting the starters.

      Can’t control what they do until the head to head matchups. Next week’s series is the biggest non-playoff series in Nats franchise history. Win it an they have a chance. Sweep it and they have the upper hand. Lose it and start thinking about ’16.

  4. natsfan1a - Aug 23, 2015 at 7:35 PM

    Would be great to have Span back.

    Deez Mets are really annoying. grrr…

  5. jfmii - Aug 23, 2015 at 8:07 PM

    When Span comes back would love to see:
    Span
    Werth
    Rendon
    Harper
    Zimmerman
    Escobar
    Desmond
    Ramos

    • virginiascopist - Aug 23, 2015 at 8:15 PM

      Looks good to me. Could even swap Werth and Rendon.

      • veejh - Aug 23, 2015 at 8:33 PM

        Nah.

      • natsguy - Aug 23, 2015 at 8:47 PM

        I really hate to say it but they are a better team with Rendon at 3B and and Espinosa at 2B. Escobar has been great but Rendon is a much better 3rd baseman. It gets down to Escobar or Desmond at SS if you do that. Do you make the switch. Also if so why is Turner here so early. Is there a trade afoot regarding Desmond before the 31st.

      • therealjohnc - Aug 23, 2015 at 11:27 PM

        Trade Desmond? The guy who is hitting .308 with 8 HRs over the last month, with just two errors in 31 games? To play Escobar, who has 9HRs all season?

        Yeahno. That’s not going to happen. Nor should it.

      • jd - Aug 24, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        visrginiascopist,

        That’s exactly how I have it.

      • therealjohnc - Aug 24, 2015 at 12:23 PM

        Turner is here early because he makes the Nationals a better team – right now he’s better than alternatives like Tyler Moore, Matt den Dekker and Emmanuel Burriss. He’s not starting because he’s not better than the starters.

        Playing time isn’t really an issue – there are only 15 games left in the minor league season and TT has already played 116 minor league games this year. The Nats are taking a mild calculated risk with his service time to make their team better. It’s not an “all in” move (the Nats will have control over TT’s contract through 2020 regardless), but it’s definitely a “prioritize the present over the future” move.

    • alexva6 - Aug 24, 2015 at 6:27 AM

      at least at first I’d go with

      Werth
      Rendon
      Harper
      RZimm
      Desmond
      Espinosa
      Ramos
      Pitcher
      Span

  6. stoatva - Aug 23, 2015 at 9:14 PM

    denDekker hitting .364 over last ten Syracuse games, with 4 HR. Might not translate coming off the bench, of course. Rafael Martin unscored up his last ten outings with seven saves. Come on, September.

  7. Eugene in Oregon - Aug 23, 2015 at 10:02 PM

    I’m as hopeful and optimistic as anyone, but I would discourage the use of a word like ‘momentum’ (however you want to define it) after two wins that immediately followed two losses. Like most posters on this board — excepting a few who like to wallow in negativity — I’m anxious to see find signs that the Nats might go on a nice six-week run to (re)claim the NL East. But I think they need to demonstrate a bit more staying power than 4 of 6 over two of the bottom five teams in the NL.

    • Section 222 - Aug 23, 2015 at 11:47 PM

      You’re the voice of reason as usual Eugene. The last two games have been heartening. But just two days ago, the Nats got tattooed in one of the most dispiriting losses of the season. It’s going to take a little more good play to erase the taste of that one. And, let’s face it, the Mets swept their series. That makes a difference in the “momentum” calculation in my view.

    • unterp - Aug 24, 2015 at 6:30 AM

      the only problem with the Nats going on a run is the Mets are already on a run and there is no reason to pine that their run won’t turn into a sprint. Be that as it may, when the Nats play the Mets their last six games they must win 5 of six to have any chance to overtake them. Their next series in early September will be the telling note on this tale…

  8. ArVAFan - Aug 24, 2015 at 7:26 AM

    Something different for a non-game day:

    Later this week, I am supposed to have lunch with the VP of Clubhouse Operations and Team Travel. (Charity auction event, so it could get re-scheduled). What questions would you ask?

    Also just found out that my brother was at the World Series ring ceremony. How cool is that?

    • Joe Seamhead - Aug 24, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      Too cool for your brother!

      On the team travel thing, does this person’s duties include making the travel arrangements for call ups? Did Trea Turner really drive down from Syracuse when he got called up Friday? If true, was it because he wanted his car here with him? Should he even unpack it?

    • natsfan1a - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:16 AM

      Cool on both counts.

      Um, let’s see, understanding that there is perhaps no such thing as a “normal” day, what would be a typical day in the life of a clubhouse/travel guy?

      • natsfan1a - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:17 AM

        um, or gal, where applicable

  9. Another_Sam - Aug 24, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    The recent performance has been so wretched that two consecutive wins is reason enough for me to be upbeat. Play ball – tomorrow.

    Actually taking the field for the next game always cheers me.

  10. natsjackinfl - Aug 24, 2015 at 8:45 AM

    I’m always happy for a win or two but I am not ready to announce the division lead is within sight.

    No, 2 wins followed by 2 losses followed by 2 more wins and still only 1 game over .500 seems more like a rut than a start of momentum building.

    Let’s see how the club responds tomorrow nite because as we all know, 3 wins in a row, well, that’s called a streak.

    • jd - Aug 24, 2015 at 9:11 AM

      Hi natsjack,

      I have to tell you that while I will stay engaged and root for my team to the bitter end I can’t say that I am optimistic. The Mets have shown me a couple of things, 1) They can pound lousy pitching. 2) They beat bad teams as in sweep them.

      It’s a bit disheartening that the Mets were able to sweep the Rockies on the road without starting any of their big 3. I will watch the Mets game tonight in Philly but can you really be optimistic that the Phills will beat DeGrom?

      • natsjackinfl - Aug 24, 2015 at 9:30 AM

        Re the Mets jd. Everything you say about the Mets is true. ……today. That can and probably will, change.

        I stand by my previous milestone dates which is September 1st for my 1st check and my date of September 13th (after the Fish series in Miami ) for my 2nd. Anything more than 3 games on the evening of September 13th, and I will be worried.

  11. Muddy Ruel - Aug 24, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    Hate to wallow in the obvious but feel compelled to say that, re momentum, the upcoming series vs. the Padres will say a lot about it. It’s been one heck of a roller coaster ride this season. You feel a bit optimistic and then the wheels are off again. I could use a standing 8 count …

  12. Joe Seamhead - Aug 24, 2015 at 9:29 AM

    Matt Williams will be dealing with some real first world baseball problems this week when Span returns., and not only in the outfield. But starting with the outfield, Harper, Span and Werth will in all likelihood be the starters with Michael Taylor spelling Werth and Span, both in spot starts and late inning replacement. Taylor is not making this decision all that easy with either his defense, or his RBI production. Remember when before Span went on the DL there were calls to bench, or send Taylor back down to AAA, and to play Danny Espinosa in LF? But Werth is starting to show signs of life at the plate, which is encouraging. He may not match MAT for home run power, but he is still an overall more disciplined batter, and if he returns to a semblance of the 2014 Jayson Werth at the plate he is the better choice offensively. But, though I am a huge fan of what Werth brings to the table, he has looked below average in the OF for most of the past year and a half, and I am a believer that crappy play from the outfield makes your pitchers work a lot harder, often resulting in increased pitch counts.

    In the infield, there is another problem of too many riches and not enough positions to allow for playing time for guys that have basically earned their innings and AB’s. 4 or 5 weeks ago I would have benched, or at least platooned, Desmond, but Ian has also shown that he hasn’t completely forgotten how to play baseball. Rendon is your best defensive 3B, in spite of a mediocre game at third Friday night. And he seems to be waking up at the plate in a big way. Danny Espinosa is, in my mind, the best 2B on the team. So what to do with Yunel Escobar, a guy who has hit .300 and above all year, not to mention has been amicable to do what ever the team has asked of him?

    Should be interesting, but the team is getting healthy. Let’s hope there’s enough games left, and that the pitching staff has enough left in the tank to make for an old time pennant race!

    • jd - Aug 24, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      Joe,

      I think at this time you have to go back to the lineup envisioned at the beginning of the year and never materialized. I think Werth has to start regularly with perhaps 1 game a week off, same for Span. MAT should come in for defense every time we are ahead in the 8th inning.

      In the infield, again you play the guys you were hoping to play at the begining of the year only Esco apparently needs to play 3rd (that’s unfortunate). Espi can spell each infielder once a week and also come in for defense every time we are ahead in the 8th.

      My lineup is: Span,Rendon,Werth,Harper,Zim,Esco,Desi,Ramos.

    • langleyclub - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:03 AM

      The Nats best lineup is when Rendon plays 3rd and Espinosa plays 2nd. Escobar has a high average, but he has no speed, no power and does not walk much. One of the key reasons for the Nats struggles has been awful defense, and the Nats defense is strongest with Rendon at 3rd and Espinosa is at 2nd. Not even a close call.

      Werth has been terrible in the OF this year. MAT is light-years better defensively, has more power and more speed. Werth has better plate discipline, but overall, MAT gives you more than Werth. With that said, there is no chance Werth sits that much. Would like to see MAT play at least 1/3 of the games in LF the rest of the way (and when he doesn’t start, replace Werth after the 7th in ever game when the Nats have a lead).

      • jd - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:10 AM

        langley,

        I agree with everything you say but I also think there is very little chance they will bench Esco at this time. I do think when the time comes to evaluate for next year that it might be a great idea to sell high on Esco and go with an infield of Zim,Espi,Turner and Rendon.

  13. Joe Seamhead - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    With a week left before roster expansion, assuming Span returns tomorrow, does Turner go back to Syracuse to make room? I also saw little to be encouraged about with Fister’s last appearance.Not sure how you can give him any meaningful innings right now.

  14. Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 24, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    Im with JD that I am not as optimistic about post season play but will root and cheer etc for them to make the post season. Really think that 3-4 homestead against the Dbacks and Rox will play larger at the end…

    • langleyclub - Aug 24, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      The Nats went 3-3 against the Rockies in the last 3 weeks. The Mets went 7-0. That’s 3.5 games. Likely will make the difference. Blowing the 4-1 lead in the 8th, and losing the Scherzer/Flande matchup will be tough to overcome.

      The Mets just swept the Rockies in Colorado and pitched Colon, Niese and Verret. Frustrating.

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 24, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        I just told my CFO the same exact thing… My fingers are crossed it wont come back and bite us in the butt…

      • therealjohnc - Aug 24, 2015 at 12:57 PM

        Every team can pick and choose stuff like that on a 162 game schedule. The Mets are 0-7 against the Cubs and 0-6 against the Pirates; the Nats are 3-4 vs. the Cubs and 4-3 vs the Pirates. So against two potential playoff teams the Nats are 7-7, the Mets are 0-13, a 6.5 game swing. Looking at that, are the Mets fans kicking themselves because their team has left the door open for the Nats by not taking care of business?

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