With the sweep of Tuesday's doubleheader with the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals improved to 81-70, eleven games over for a team that sat at or around .500 for most of the 2013 campaign. The two wins over the Braves ended Atlanta's dominance in the nation's capital this season. Before last night, the NL East leaders were 6-0 in D.C. in 2013. The Nats' wins in the doubleheader were the eighth and ninth wins in the their last ten games, their 14th and 15th in their last 20, their 21st and 22nd in their last 30.
So what's changed? How have the Nationals, who were being talked about as one of the biggest disappointments of the season just a few weeks back inserted themselves in the Wild Card race? Davey Johnson was asked to explain the late-season run his team has gone on after the second win of the day Tuesday, a 4-0 victory in which out-of-nowhere starter Tanner Roark once again baffled opposing hitters and won for the seventh time in 11 games. The unexpected emergence of the former Texas Rangers' prospect is just one of several surprising developments in the Nationals' surge.
"Well, maybe guys were pressing little bit early, I don't know," Johnson told reporters last night. "We had some guys that were key players last year that were really struggling. A lot of the young players on the bench really struggled. The bullpen didn't do the things it was capable of and then [Ross Detwiler] was hurt. [Dan] Haren struggled. I mean, everybody kind of got better and [Anthony] Rendon came in and played pretty good and he's still learning up here. There were a lot of little problems. It's not just one thing."
Detwiler has made just 13 starts. He could return to pitch out of the pen in the next few weeks, but after a breakout campaign last year, his 2013 campaign has got to be considered a disappointment. Dan Haren was expected to provided a steady veteran presence at the back of the rotation. After a rough first half, he's shown flashes of being the pitcher the Nationals thought they were signing this winter in the second half. In his last two starts, including yesterday's Game 1 win over the Braves, as the Nationals try to keep winning and keep their postseason hopes alive, he's allowed just four hits and one run in 12 IP.
2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon came up when the Nationals finally made a tough decision on Danny Espinosa, who had a .158/.193/.272 with nine doubles and three home runs in 44 games and 167 PAs.
Since Rendon was called back up to the majors for his second stint on June 5th, the 23-year-old rookie infielder has a .260/.318/.407 line.
The Nationals' offense struggled to get runners on early, but as Johnson explained last night, it wasn't just the lack of runners and runs that hurt the team early in the season. "I mean, the offense was bad," the Nats' 70-year-old skipper said, "but the pitching was equally as bad if you compare the bullpen as well as some of the starters from what we had last year. But with Roark picking up the slack and [Ross] Ohlendorf. Some young guys out of the pen now are balancing out the bullpen, we're kind of back where we were. So, it's good."
Roark, acquired in a 2010 trade that sent Cristian Guzman to Texas, dominated Atlanta's batters last night in the Nats' 4-0 win, improving to (7-0) with a 1.08 ERA, a 2.16 FIP, nine walks (1.94 BB/9) and 32 Ks (6.91 K/9) in 12 games, three starts and 41 2/3 IP.
Tonight, Ohlendorf, a journeyman signed to a minor league deal this past January, takes the hill as the Nationals try to take three straight from the NL East's first place Braves. In 15 games, six starts and 54 1/3 IP this season, the 31-year-old right-hander is (4-0) with a 3.15 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, 14 walks (2.32 BB/9) and 39 Ks (6.46 K/9) on the year.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier this morning that the surprise emergence of the two starters has played an important role in the Nationals' run. "We've really competed," Rizzo said. "The effort has been there the whole season. The performance and the execution hasn't been. We've certainly improved on our execution, especially offensively, and I think that's been the most satisfying part of us playing well recently, but it's been a total team effort.
"We ran a rotation against the Braves," the general manager continued, "we're going to run guys like Tanner Roark and [Ross] Ohlendorf and guys that we weren't expecting at the beginning of the year to come out and have an impact on us and they've had a great impact on us. And I think it really shows the importance, if you will, of scouting and player development, because both of these guys were scouted by our professional staff, we were told to acquire them. Tanner Roark we got in the Guzman deal. Ohlendorf we signed as a minor league free agent. They both gave us depth in the rotation. When you look at the season as a whole, where would be without both these guys? I think, what are they 11 or 12-0 for us, aren't they?
Yes they are. 11-0, that is. Ohlendorf tries to make it 12-0 between the two starters tonight. The Nationals try to win their third straight over the Braves at 7:05 PM EDT in D.C.
• AUDIO: Nats Nightly with District Sports Page And FBB's Doghouse:
AUDIO: #Nats Nightly w/ @NationalsDSP @federalbaseball's Doghouse talking #Nationals' doubleheader sweep vs #Braves: http://t.co/Z073REsPqH— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) September 18, 2013
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