Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals: With Help on the Way, the Nats Are Learning How to Win

PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 05:  Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals high fives teammates after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on June 5, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Nationals defeated the Diamondbacks 9-4 in eleven innings. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Steven RuizContributor IIJune 6, 2011

Say what you want about the offense, but the Washington Nationals are a resilient bunch.

Every time it looks as if the Nats are ready to go into a tail spin, they fight back, which bodes well for the future of the team as contender.

Take Sunday's against the Arizona Diamondbacks, for example. After a wild game, chalk full of hit batters, ejections, and verbal jabs, the Nationals led by three runs going into the bottom of the ninth. Closer Drew Storen could not hold down the lead, as the D-Backs were able to get the game into extras.

After a bases-loaded walk of Rick Ankiel that pushed the go-ahead run across, Mike Morse, coming off a three strikeout performance the previous day, stepped to the placed to face Arizona pitcher Joe Paterson.

Instead of forcing things, Morse settled down and waited for something to drive: "I sat there and I told myself, ‘Slow the game down, and get a good pitch to hit," he told the Washington Post after the game.

Morse blasted a 2-1 fastball to center for his second grand slam of the season, giving the Nats a 9-4 win that halted a two game losing streak.

It is the second time in the last 10 days that Morse has come through after a blown lead, and one of many times that the Nationals have righted a seemingly sinking ship. While it may not lead to a playoff berth in 2011, this is the kind of toughness and resilience that all of the good teams have.

And the Nats have had a lot to overcome in 2011. They have been without Stephen Strasburg, their best pitcher. They have had to play all but eight games without Ryan Zimmerman, their best positional player. Adam LaRoche is on the DL after playing with a torn labrum the entire season. The most talented player in the entire organization, Bryce Harper, is still a year away from the big leagues.

You could argue that the Nationals are without four of their best five players, yet they're only seven games back in the wild card race.

Imagine how close they would be if they fared better in one-run games, where they have won only six of 18. In so many of those games, it seemed, the Nats were one more impact player away from getting over the hump—maybe that record is turned around if you add in a Zimmerman and a healthy LaRoche.

But injuries are part of the game, and the Nationals have failed to make the fundamental plays in those tight affairs.

And that is what this year is all about: It's about learning how to win.

But there is a learning curve, and we have seen that throughout the season. Those frustrating moments when Danny Espinosa or Ian Desmond make a bone-headed play are tough to stomach, but just know that it's part of the process and the team will be better for it in the long run.

And while those plays may cost the Nats a win, that's not important—it's the next play, how they bounce back, that is.

So far, you have to like what you see.

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