August 10, 2009
Not to marginalize the significance of the outstanding work the bullpen has done since the All-Star break, or the offensive contribution of Josh Willingham, or the consistent excellence of John Lannan, because all of those have been contributing factors in the recent spate of competent baseball on display at Nationals Park.
But I think the catalyst for the 11-4 run is much the same as one of the primary sources of the team's malaise during June and July and can be defined in two words: Ryan Zimmerman.
In his last 16 games, since his average reached rock bottom July 23 at .280/.344/.461, Zimmerman has been the hottest hitter in baseball. In 73 plate appearances, the All-Star third baseman is hitting .459/.534/1.000. Yes, those numbers are correct. He's been on base 53.4 percent of his plate appearances over a two-week stretch.
That torrid pace is certainly unsustainable, but it has been a pleasure to watch. Zimmerman has shown to be a streaky hitter in his career, but this season he's really taken it to the extreme, and it seems the team follows his performance.
The first week of the season, when the Nats lost all seven games, Zimmerman went 7-for-33 (.212/.235/.515) but did hit two home runs.
For the next 29 games, he was hot, going .405/.463/.653 with seven homers and 22 RBI. The team followed suit, with a record of 11-14. It was a losing record, but within hailing distance of .500, and certainly would have been but for all the bullpen trouble during this time frame.
The following 56 games after that tells a different story. The Nats record was an abysmal 15-41, an historic pace of losing. Zimmerman, the team's No. 3 hitter and unquestioned team leader, hit a paltry .221/.293/.346 with six homers and 27 RBI.
Which brings us back to the last two weeks, where Zim—and the team—have been otherworldly hot.
It's a pretty simplistic statistical evaluation, but I'm perfectly happy to state that—for better or worse—as Ryan Zimmerman goes, so go the Washington Nationals.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!