Davey Martinez’s squad went into the series finale with the Miami Marlins on the 4th of July on a three-game win streak, with wins in seven of their last eight, 12 of 15 and 25 of 35 games overall, with their 25-10 record since May 24th the best in baseball over that stretch.
The streak started with Washington 19-31 on the season.
Following Wednesday’s win over the Marlins, the Nationals were 6.0 games back in the NL East and slightly ahead (.518 vs .517 winning percentage advantage over the Chicago Cubs) in the race for National League’s second Wild Card spot.
What’s behind the run?
GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in his weekly spot this Wednesday morning that a lot of it was just getting healthy and getting a lineup on the field that looked more like what they envisioned this winter.
“I just think that health has a lot to do with it,” Rizzo explained.
“I think that we’re playing better baseball,” he added. “If I had to put my finger on one thing that’s improved as far as performance on the field, our defense is a lot better now than it was a month, a month and a half ago, and that obviously goes hand-in-hand with starting pitching and relief pitching. The defense is better, the pitching is better, we’re getting healthy bodies back, our lineup is kind of back in full and we’re scoring a lot of runs and playing a lot of high-end, exciting baseball.”
Martinez talked, after the Nationals got 7 1⁄3 scoreless from Stephen Strasburg in the 3-1 win on Wednesday night, which followed seven strong from Patrick Corbin (6 H, 1 ER), and Max Scherzer’s eight-inning, 14-K performance in the finale with the Tigers in Detroit, about the outings they’re getting from his top three starters during this sustained stretch of success.
“They gives us 21-22-23 outs, they really do, and they’ve been phenomenal,” the second-year skipper said. “The reason why we’re doing what we’re doing right now is because of those three guys, and let’s not forget what [Aníbal] Sánchez has been doing since he came off the IL, he’s been really, really good, so we get good starting pitching ... we’re starting to hit home runs, we’re starting to hit the ball, and everything clicks and we just keep rolling.”
Speaking of home runs... with Brian Dozier’s two-run shot in the sixth inning on Wednesday, the Nationals had a streak of 17-straight games in which they’d hit a home run, and a solo home run by Kurt Suzuki on Thursday morning extended it to 18-straight, a Nationals’ team (2005-present) and franchise (Montreal/Washington) record.
Everything’s rolling and clicking, as Martinez said, and everyone’s feeling a lot better about how things are going in the nation’s capital.
“Much better,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “No question. We all live and die by wins and losses, it’s the nature of the business, and it’s no fun when you have a really good team and you’re playing poorly. Now we’ve had really bad teams and played really bad, but that’s expected. When you [have] expectations and you see a team that’s very, very talented and really good and playing extremely poorly, that is no fun, because you feel for the players because you know how good they are and you know how good they can be, and what are internal expectations are, and when you’re not meeting them, it’s not a fun time in Nats land.”
Of course all that the 25-10 streak did was get the Nationals back in the mix after a brutal start, and the big thing will be keeping it going throughout the rest of the 2019 campaign.
“The energy that you have to use to come from 12 games under .500 to a couple games over .500 is a lot,” Rizzo said.
“And oftentimes when you get over that hump, and you get to that peak of .500, but you’ve expended so much energy that it’s tough to sustain, so that’s the challenge for this ballclub now is to sustain the energy, sustain the fine play that they’ve been exhibiting right now and continue to take this through five games to the All-Star Break.
“We’re lucky we’ll have a four-day break right after that, and after the All-Star Break we hit the ground running, we go to Philly, we have four important games with Atlanta.”
They can’t look too far ahead, however, Rizzo said.
“We want to win a series. We’re looking at games. We’re looking at series. We’re looking at homestands. We’re looking at road trips.
“That’s kind of the escalation of how far I’m looking out into the future.
“I think that if we look at it in those small increments and just really focus in on tonight’s game, I think that will behoove us in the long haul.”
Thursday’s win gave the Nationals four straight, a 26-10 record since May 24th, and it left them 5.5 back in the NL East, and tied for the lead in the Wild Card race with the Phillies.