The 75-69 Washington Nationals won their fourth straight game last night. They've won seven of their last ten. They've won 21 of their last 30. They're six games over .500 for the first time this season, 6.0 games out of the race for the second Wild Card spot and five games back in the loss column after the Cincinnati Reds lost their second straight game to fall to 82-64 on the year. The Nats are as close to firing on all cylinders as they've been in 2013. But they're still not quite as good as they could be as Nationals' manager Davey Johnson told reporters after last night's 6-3 win over the New York Mets in Citi Field.
"We still have a few little guys that we need to get squared away," Johnson explained, "We still some issues that we need to get better this last month and this is kind of a -- I don't want to say audition, but battling for spots next year and guys that can do the job. So, all these games are important and you never take anything for granted."
While the Nationals are making a late-season surge, the 70-year-old skipper was realistic about what needs to happen in order for the team to return to the postseason for the second straight year.
"We have to basically win out," Johnson said. "If we win out, I like our chances. The pitching has got to be better. The bullpen has at time been a little shaky. But I like where we're at. I think we're five games in the loss column. I don't like to look at the scoreboard. But I look at the almighty loss column. That's the biggest key when you're going down the stretch."
The keys to the Nationals' surge to this point? According to the Nationals' manager, it's been two obviously hot hitters who have led the late-season run. "[Jayson Werth] and [Denard] Span, they've really been getting on base and motivating the club and maybe taking pressure off a lot of the guys in the lineup. So, it's been great. It's been fun."
In the 30-game stretch that's made things interesting, which started with a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies after the Nationals were swept at home by the Atlanta Braves in the first week of August, Werth, after last night's 3 for 4 game vs the Mets, has a .357/.427/.626 line with 10 doubles and seven home runs over 131 plate appearances.
"I think it's been a month or maybe longer that every at bat is a quality at bat," Johnson said, "I mean, he's not hitting anything cheap."
On the year, the 34-year-old outfielder now has a .328/.401/.548 line, 20 doubles and 23 HRs in 112 games and 461 PAs. "I really like where he's at," his manager said, "and he's kind of carrying us here. He's doing a heck of a job."
Since he returned from the DL for a broken left wrist late last season, Werth's been the player the Nationals were looking for when they gave him a 7-year/$126M deal in December 2010. The general manager who signed him Werth to that deal has been impressed with what he's seen from the Nats' right fielder, as he told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Bill Rohland this morning.
"I've seen it in the past," Rizzo said, "Not this up close and personal. We watched him and evaluated him very carefully when he was in the Philly system and when he was playing for the Phillies and he was a guy who always played well against us. But he's extremely locked in. He feels extremely good about himself and we're grateful that he's playing so well."
Denard Span was one of two big acquisitions this past winter. Since the Nationals' 21-9 run started on August 9th, the 29-year-old outfielder has a .359/.397/.487 line with five doubles, two triples and two home runs in 129 plate appearances. And, of course, he has a 21-game hit streak going.
Asked if he felt that Span's turnaround had provided validation for the decision to acquire him from Minnesota in the deal that sent RHP prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins, Rizzo said he knew what kind of player the Nationals got from the start and he's glad Span's showing everyone what he's capable of doing now.
"I'm glad that the fans and the fanbase get to see what kind of player he is and has been since the day he signed," the Nats' GM explained. "I never felt that I had to be validated in the evaluation. We knew what we had. There was an adjustment to a new league and a new city and leaving the only franchise he's ever been in. But, this guy's character and approach to the game is second to none. He's a terrific teammate. He's a great player. And even when he was struggling offensively throughout the first half of the season, it never affected his defense one bit."
With Span now producing offensively and continuing to provide stellar defense, Rizzo said the adjustment period for the Nats' center fielder might be over. "[He's] turned a corner and is getting back to himself at the plate and [he's] a guy that is very dangerous and a table-setter that is allowing us to put a run on like we're putting."
It might be too little too late, of course, but the Nationals are at least making it interesting and their manager said last night that the effort has been there all along. "It's not that we weren't trying," Johnson said. "The effort has always been here. We just had a few little cracks in the dam and we weren't able to patch them as quick as I would have liked."
More from Federal Baseball:
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- Game 144 WPA: And the band played on. And on. And on... Nats 6, Mets 3
- Nationals 6-3 Over Mets For Fourth Straight Win Overall: Jayson Werth Keeps Hitting
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