Offense has stepped up in July despite injuries
The Nationals have relied upon their brilliant starting rotation to carry them throughout 2012. Those pitchers have kept up their performance despite one injury after another to a lineup that needs everyone to contribute. Now, the batters are finally returning the favor.
Entering the weekend, Washington had scored more runs in July than any other team in the majors. That moved the Nats smack into the middle (15th) among all 30 big league offenses this season, a significant jump for a team that was floundering early and didn't appear to have improved upon 2011's subpar showing.
A reinvigorated offense is a game-changer for a team that leaned so heavily on its rotation and its bullpen. Slugger Michael Morse (strained lat muscle) is hitting his stride after missing the first two months, and first baseman Adam LaRoche has clearly put last year's shoulder surgery behind him. Switch-hitting second baseman Danny Espinosa caught fire this month, especially from his weaker left side of the plate. But it all started with a June 24 cortisone shot that allowed third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to fight through right shoulder pain. All of the sudden, there is a heart of the order opponents need to worry about.
"That was where we've been hurting the whole first half, really -- the middle of the lineup was not doing the things it's capable of doing," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "And that's one of the reasons I said [last week] I felt really good about our offense."
There are still issues. Catcher Jesus Flores hasn't been able to match teammate Wilson Ramos (torn ACL) at the plate. Ian Desmond, in the midst of a breakthrough season as an NL All-Star shortstop, is out with a small oblique tear. His OPS (.825) trails only LaRoche among the Nats' regulars. But outfielder Jayson Werth appears ready to return next week from his broken left wrist. One player goes down and another returns. It's been that way all season.
"Hopefully [Desmond] will be ready to go and this oblique will really calm down, and he'll be ready for the rest of the season," Espinosa said. "But there kind of is that sense that we almost had our whole team back."
Desmond rested the injury over the All-Star break but suffered a recurrence last weekend and could miss a month. But with his teammates already hitting another gear, including eight more runs scored in Milwaukee on Thursday night, there is a confidence that Washington will not miss a beat -- and be stronger for it when he returns.
"It's not me. I think everyone's healthy," Zimmerman said. "[Morse] was coming back and basically was in spring training up here, and now he's starting to settle in like he always has. Danny's come back. We knew he wasn't going to be like that all year long. Obviously, I've come back and started being the player that I should be. The more you get healthy and the more consistency you have in your lineup, the more runs you're going to score."