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Getting on board: Washington Nationals’ lineup feeds off Kyle Schwarber’s success

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Kyle Schwarber is just riding the wave. The Nationals are just riding Schwarber’s wave. Or something...

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals
Juan Soto hit his first home run in front of the Nationals Park crowd since 2019 in the Washington Nationals’ 4-3 win Tuesday over Tampa Bay. Soto and the rest of the Nats’ lineup are feeding off the success of Kyle Schwarber, who now has 15 home runs in the past 18 games.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Home runs are solving a lot of problems for the Washington Nationals lately.

Anyone who thought the first two months of the season indicated a power outage at Nationals Park must now feel assured that not only has full power been restored, it seems a battery backup has kicked-in as well.

The Nats have been among the National League’s top hitting teams all season, putting men on base consistently, but failing to drive them in. Even almost two weeks into June when the team was still struggling to get back to .500, there was more difficulty driving in runners than putting them on base.

But since June 12, with Kyle Schwarber atop the batting order, the Nationals are driving in all those previously stranded baserunners with a barrage of power, 28 homers as a team in the past 18 games.

Schwarber’s leadoff power prowess, with 15 homers in June, and 12 in 10 games, is well documented. His mammoth homer to put the Nats on the board in the first inning of Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over Tampa Bay was his 25th of the season, tied for the National League lead and three behind major league leader Shohei Ohtani’s 28.

“Obviously, the leadoff hitter kind of doing his thing, but I’d just say the overall mood going into the game, during the game, kind of that feeling like we’re going to score at some point,” said Tuesday’s winning pitcher, Joe Ross, who improved to 5-7.

Schwarber can remember the hitting session that turned things around.

“[I] hit a little skid I think at some point, I was like 0 for whatever, and Davey put me in the leadoff spot, and we were in Tampa, and I was able to go out on the field and work with [Hitting coach Kevin Long],” Schwarber explained after Tuesday’s game.

“[I] felt like it was just a good session out there being able to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, and ever since then, it’s kind of just since that day, it’s been clicking.”

But Schwarber and the rest of the team aren’t hitting the ball much more often during this hot streak. They’re hitting the ball harder, farther, and at the right times.

“I felt like the at-bats were fantastic today,” Schwarber said of his teammates. “We didn’t score after, what, the second inning? But there were some loud outs being made.”

Schwarber has just three more overall hits so far in June (27) than in all of May (24), and his on-base percentage is up slightly (.368-.357). But because all 15 of his extra-base hits this month have gone out of the park, compared to seven in May, he’s driven in 10 more runs and sparked the team to a 14-4 record to surge back above .500 at 39-38.

It’s not uncommon for veteran sluggers to heat up with the weather, and now the rest of the team seems to be joining the act.

The Nationals’ 28 homers during Schwarber’s hot streak are as many as they had in all of May.

All four Nats’ runs in Tuesday night’s win came via the longball, with Juan Soto’s two-run, first-inning shot his first in front of a Nationals Park crowd since 2019.

Then, the next inning, Victor Robles added the crucial fourth run with his first homer of the 2021 season.

“That was awesome,“ said Martinez. “I think Soto’s ball went out about 118-119 MPH, so that ball was crushed. And it was on a line. It was good to see him get to the pull side, get the ball up, and hit the ball that hard.

“And then Robles, he waited a long time for that one. Also he hit the ball hard, so it was a good dugout celebration for the boys when he hit it.”

Robles felt relieved after the game.

“You know it’s a weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “And now I know the next one is just going to come naturally, [so] keep working in the strike zone, and let things come as they will.”

In Monday’s 8-4 win over the Mets, Trea Turner jumped on board with a blast immediately after Schwarber’s leadoff shot in the first, then Gerardo Parra added his first of the year in the second, and Ryan Zimmerman capped the scoring with his ninth.

Schwarber is happy to see everyone contribute.

‘You have a lot of respect for guys who go out there on a consistent basis and do it,” he said.

“And there are people that you look up to in the game that they do it on such a consistent basis. You look at a guy like Trea Turner, Juan Soto, out there every day, consistently. And they put up consistently good at bats, and those are guys to look up to, for sure.”

It’s not like the Nats are hitting more home runs than ever — they had 44 homers in June 2019 to this June’s 37. It’s that many of the baserunners the Nats were stranding just a month ago are now greeting the club’s slugging stars at the plate after home runs that are not just plentiful. but timely.

The Nationals were 11-17 in May, scoring 111 runs on a .251 team average. This month, they’re 18-9, scoring 116 runs on a .248 team average.

Same team — similar batting average — more home runs — better timing — better results.

Martinez said he’s noticed this year’s recovery is similar to that of 2019, when the team rallied from 19-31 to win the World Series, but pointed out significant differences.

“We started out with the whole COVID situation, and we missed a lot of guys, they came back, I didn’t think it was going to take them that long to get right. But it took a long time, and now all of a sudden, you’re really starting — I started seeing signs that if the pitching could hold up for us, this could be interesting,” Martinez said.

“We’ll start swinging the bats, and as you see now, everything is clicking and they’re rolling, and they’re having fun and they’re pushing each other, so it’s been nothing but positive, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Whether Schwarber’s own pace of deep shots in the leadoff spot is sustainable on its own, other Nats are now also on career or near-career home-run paces.

That includes Turner (13 through 77 games, with career highs of 19 in 2018 and 2019), and Yan Gomes (seven through 77 games with a career high of 21 in 2014).

But it’s clear throughout the team that the energy and excitement Schwarber started nearly three weeks ago is spreading through the clubhouse.

“Right now it just feels like there’s going to be a big inning every inning,” said Ross. “Loud outs are being made, balls are just being missed, so you just kind of get that feeling that something good is going to happen soon, and every other inning it seems like somebody is hitting a homer now.”