Washington Nationals Players Just Now Hitting Their Stride
The Washington Nationals’ longest winning streak this season was a five-game surge in early May, which they followed by losing four of their next five games.
The team simply seems to be stuck in neutral. Each time the club appears poised for a winning streak, its momentum abruptly comes to a halt. Big offensive outings have consistently been followed by poor performances at the plate.
Though the Nationals have dealt with their fair share of injuries, most recently to Bryce Harper (knee bursitis) and Danny Espinosa (wrist), the general feeling inside the clubhouse is there’s enough talent to produce more than it has.
Unfortunately, throughout the first two and a half months of the season, these types of inconsistencies have become commonplace for the Nats.
Luckily, a handful of Nationals regulars seem to be putting things together as of late and may create a domino effect for the rest of the team to follow suit and make a significant run.
The following column will take a look at those specific four players that are now just hitting their strides.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through June 19, 2013.
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In need of some serious timely hitting as of late, a healthy Ryan Zimmerman seems to be one of the few answering the call.
Zimmerman has produced significantly in the Washington Nationals' past two series against the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians—both on the road. In general, he has performed well from the end of May and into the month of June.
After a brief but not uncommon stint on the disabled list, Zimmerman has taken over the three spot in the Nationals' lineup vacated by the injured Bryce Harper and has filled the void nicely.
It's common knowledge among Nationals fans that Zimmerman must remain a productive and integral part of the Washington offense if the team is ever to start a run over the next couple months.
Zimmerman explained the team's need to keep working, via ESPN.com.
For us as a team right now, with the things that have gone on and the things that have happened, we just need to grind it out and stay where we're at and stay within striking distance. And then hopefully once we get going or maybe this is the start of that, where we can have a good 20-game span. Then all of a sudden we're right back in it.
With lofty preseason expectations hanging over their heads, the Nats will need continued production from their franchise player if the organization wants to be playing deep into October.
June Numbers: .250/.314/.453, 2 HR, 7 2B, 11 runs scored, 5 RBI, 29 TB
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Over four starts during the month of June, Gio Gonzalez has really settled into a groove for the Nationals.
The southpaw has only allowed six earned runs over 27 innings and seems to be hitting his stride at an important stretch of the season where the remainder of the Nationals' starting rotation is either struggling (Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler) or battling injuries (Steven Strasburg).
If Gonzalez can continue to be as consistent as he's been in June, the Nationals will undoubtedly have one of the best trios in the NL between him, Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
Gonzalez was dominant in his most recent start against the Philadelphia Phillies, striking out 11 over seven innings. Although he was pegged with a no decision in a tight game, his solid performance helped keep Washington close enough to force the game into extra-innings. Ian Desmond later put the Nationals ahead for good with an eleventh inning grand slam.
While he's winless over his last seven starts, he has allowed more than three runs in just one of them.
June Numbers: 2.00 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 27 IP, 33 SO, 11 K/9, 3 K/BB
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Perhaps the most important position player hitting his respective stride for the Nationals is recent call up, Anthony Rendon. The top prospect has filled in tremendously at the keystone for the injured—and let's face it, underwhelming—Danny Espinosa.
Rendon, in his second stint at the major league level this season, hit the ground running this time around. It's certainly no coincidence that Espinosa will now be staying put at Class AAA Syracuse, even when healthy.
Rendon has been one of the Nationals most productive hitters since his second call-up, hitting .410 with three walks in that span of 10 games, including a memorable ninth-inning (first career) home run to win a game in Cleveland.
In all, Rendon is hitting .354 with eight walks in 20 major league games. He may not play second as well as Epinosa, but he has held his own and is clearly progressing. He may just be the spark that the Nationals needed to snap out of their early season funk.
June Numbers: .354/.392/.542, HR, 5 RBI, 6 2B, 6 runs scored
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Ian Desmond has been absolutely stellar in June. He's raised his batting average significantly after a slow start to the season, as well as the rest of his peripheral numbers, re-establishing himself as an integral member of the Washington Nationals lineup.
The presence of Desmond in the middle of the Nationals lineup is even more important with Bryce Harper currently on the shelf with knee issues.
His play over the past two weeks has kept the Nats afloat as they're currently struggling to catch the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Desmond crushed an extra-innings grand slam against the Phillies Wednesday night for a much-needed, come-from-behind win.
If Desmond can manage to keep this pace and finish with numbers comparable to his breakout All-Star campaign in 2012, the Nationals will only benefit from that. Once they are back at full strength with Harper in the lineup, it seems very feasible for Nats fans to get excited for a run to be made in the heat of the summer months—especially considering Washington has 16 out of its next 17 games at home.
June Numbers: .344/.394/.574, 2 2B, 4 HR, 2 SB, 18 RBI, 8 runs scored
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