Since the Nationals moved to Washington, D.C., they were always a terrible team. However, this year, that has changed.
Washington has played great baseball this year, and it even lead the NL East by a comfortable margin. While Jayson Werth is hurt and won't return until late July, guys have stepped up in his absence.
Michael Morse, who was hurt himself, is continuing to get hits (he has a .288 batting average). Bryce Harper, the teenage center fielder, has a .354 on-base percentage, and Ian Desmond is hitting .279 with 14 home runs.
Even though the Nationals rank in the lower half of the league in offense, they are starting to score more runs. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and second baseman Danny Espinosa were struggling, but both are picking up the pace. Adam LaRoche is hitting just .252, but his average and his home run total (currently at 15) are climbing.
Now that those three are hitting well, the Nationals offense is definitely dangerous. But their pitching staff has always been dangerous.
Stephen Strasburg is 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA, and he has struck out 122 guys in just 93 innings pitched this year. He has been very consistent this year, as you can see from his stats. Opponents have just a .217 batting average against him.
Gio Gonzalez, who the Nationals acquired in an offseason trade, has also been phenomenal. He is great at striking guys out, as he has 112 strikeouts in less than 96 innings. Opponents have a .195 batting average against him, and he his curveball is one of the best pitches in the league.
While the bottom three guys in the rotation aren't as great, they are all good. Edwin Jackson is known for being inconsistent, but he has pitched very well this year (he is 5-4 with a 3.73 ERA). Ross Detwiler is 4-3 with a 3.30 ERA, and Jordan Zimmerman has a 2.70 ERA.
The pitching staff is very good, and no starter has shown any signs of slowing down. It's safe to say the same about the bullpen.
Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus have dominated, as each one has an ERA under 2.00. Right now, the Nationals have a team ERA of 3.17, which leads the majors.
You may think the Nationals offense isn't good enough to lead them to a championship, or that the team doesn't have enough experience. But Washington is leading its division by 4.5 games with the best record in the NL (47-32), and it hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.
The front office worked very hard to build this team, and thanks to good offseason moves (bringing in Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez in back-to-back years) and terrific draft strategy (drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper), the team is in the position it wants to be in.
Since Zimmerman has now picked up the pace (he is hitting .386 since receiving a cortisone shot in his right shoulder), the offense has been great. The speedy Harper continues to get on base, and Zimmerman, Morse, Desmond and LaRoche drive him in. Against Giants' star Madison Bumgarner, who was coming off of a one-hit shutout, Washington scored seven runs in just five innings and hit three home runs.
The pitching is great and has always been great. The offense has picked up the pace and won't slow down. Now that every National is playing well, I think it's safe to say that the Nationals are the best team in baseball.
And they will be the best, or at least one of the best, for years to come.
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