On April 28, the Washington Nationals were a mess. An extra-inning loss at the hands of Arizona Diamondbacks dropped the club to 11-16 on the year, putting it five games under .500 for the first time in three years.
The division rival New York Mets were owners of the second-best record in the National League, six games ahead of Washington for the top spot in the NL East. In fact, the Nats sat behind three other teams in the division standings.
“We got to play better baseball overall,” Max Scherzer told The Washington Post earlier that week. “We all know it; you guys know it; the other teams know it … Everybody’s got to just do their job; you can’t do more you can’t do less. We just have to play better baseball.”
Since that 10th inning defeat, the Nats have done just that. A blistering 13-2 record has propelled them to six games over .500 and put them just a game and a half back of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
The teams they’ve played have been no joke either. Aside from the lowly San Diego Padres, every other club Washington has competed against over that stretch has a winning record.
That includes the Diamondbacks, who were just swept by the Nationals in their four-game slate despite owning the best record in the NL entering the series.
“They are really starting to click, and I love coming to the ballpark and watching them play.”
Starting pitching has been the biggest driver of the team’s success. Over the Nats’ last 16 games, their starters have posted a 1.88 ERA, 0.927 WHIP and 10.3 K/9. They haven’t allowed more than three earned runs over that stretch while averaging just under and six and a third innings per start.
Max Scherzer looks like his Cy Young-winning self, leading the majors in wins (7) and strikeouts (91), while topping the NL leaderboards in WHIP (0.818) and FIP (1.75).
Minor-league signee Jeremy Hellickson has also been a bright spot, as he has a 2.28 ERA on the year and is quickly making Nats fans forget all about A.J. Cole.
The bullpen has been inconsistent, but Sean Doolittle has locked down the ninth inning to the tune of nine saves and a 1.45 ERA. Some have even gone as far as calling him the best reliever in baseball thanks to his ability to induce weak contact and strike hitters out at elite rates.
Washington still has a deficit to climb in the NL East, several inconsistent relievers and a lineup riddled with injuries, but the team is trending the right direction. If Doolittle and the rotation can keep the team afloat while the likes of Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman work their way back to the field, the Nationals may only be scraping the surface of their potential for this season.