WASHINGTON, September 14, 2013 — Don’t look now, but the Nationals are making a serious run for a playoff spot with about two weeks to go in the 2013 season. The Nats have cut their lead to five games with a 6-1 win over the Phillies last night. Ryan Zimmerman continued his home run tear by hitting his 24th bomb of the year to go along with 3 RBIs from catcher Wilson Ramos, and two infield hits resulting in RBIs from Ian Desmond.
Everything seems to be going right for Washington after four months of futility with the bats that could not score enough runs to back their stellar pitching, as well as shaky defense that lost them their fair share of ballgames. You would be hard pressed to find a National who has not been hitting better during this recent hot stretch.
Denard Span has been on fire for the past month. Span is in the midst of a 24-game hitting streak during which he has raised his batting average 20 points, leaving fans to wonder how far he will go. Span is only three games away from tying the longest hitting streak of the year by Michael Cuddyer, and six games away from tying the Nationals’ all-time mark at 30 games, currently held by Ryan Zimmerman.
Speaking of Zimmerman, the Nats’ third baseman went into September in the midst of possibly one of his worst seasons in the Major Leagues both defensively and at the plate. There was even talk of him moving over to first base after the season was over. However, in his last 11 games, Zimmerman has raised his home run total from 15 to 24 and is slugging over .800 during the month of September. Zimmerman has played stellar defense and seems fully recovered from off-season shoulder surgery.
One player who has majorly contributed to the offense since his return is catcher Wilson Ramos, who has hit 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in 66 games. Ramos lost almost half a season due to a hamstring injury, and yet is one homer shy of tying his career high of 15 home runs that he hit in 2011, his rookie year and only full season to date. One can only imagine what he might have done with a full 120 or 130 games behind the plate.
Although a knee injury prevented Bryce Harper from having the MVP season that many fans might have predicted for him this year, he has still been incredibly productive for a 20-year old posting a .375 OBP and slugging .500. Even when Harper is not batting, he can still be a game changer. Despite the time he has missed, he is currently tied for second in outfield assists with 12.
One of the more consistent players all season has been Ian Desmond. He has almost duplicated his wonderful 2012 season. He currently ranks eighth in the National League in extra base hits with 58, ranking ahead of players such as Joey Votto and Pedro Alvarez. Desmond also leads all NL shortstops in extra base hits. Desmond is one steal away from his second straight 20-20 season, making a compelling case for a second straight Silver Slugger award. His defense has also been solid, capping another all-around great year for the Washington shortstop, who many believe was snubbed for the All Star game this year. As was recently stated on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, if the Nats had been contending all year, Ian Desmond would be a household name.
Jayson Werth is the biggest reason that the Nats have remained in contention for as long as they have. At the age of 34, Werth is playing the best baseball of his life, hitting .324/.398/.542, leading the National League in OPS with a .940 clip, and putting the team on his back for almost three months. He is even in contention for the NL batting title. If Werth can continue producing at the plate and the Nationals can complete a miraculous comeback for a playoff spot, Werth will be in the conversation for the MVP award.
The Nats have also received production from some unexpected places. Journeyman Ross Ohlendorf and unheralded rookie Tanner Roark have both started and relieved to go a combined 10-0 for Washington with Roark posting a 1.30 ERA, which is good for a 293 ERA+ in his first eleven games. While one must be skeptical if they can continue their recent success, they have provided the Nationals with exactly what they needed when their star pitchers were not on the mound.
Another boost has been the resurgence of starting pitcher Dan Haren, who was arguably the worst full time starter during the first half of the season. Since his stint on the DL, Haren has been one of Washington’s most consistent starters, and his continued success will be key for the Nats down the stretch.
While still needing some help from the Cincinnati Reds, who won earlier today, the Nationals are playing their best baseball at a time in which nothing less will do. History has shown us that teams who finish the regular season hot can make a deep run in the playoffs, but there is no need to get ahead of yourself. The math may not look great for Washington, but they play the games for a reason. For the Nats, that is a very good thing.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.