Nationals 9, Giants 4
The July 4th holiday has come and gone and the Nationals find themselves in an enviable position. Just a night ago, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann – not one for explosive quotes – said his team could run away with the National League East if the offense continues to stay hot heading into the second half of the season. After another easy win on Wednesday over the Giants – a first-place team entering this three-game series at Nationals Park – Washington’s division lead expanded to 4 ½ games. Check out our game story here following the 9-4 victory. It has also scored 69 runs in its last eight games – an admittedly small sample size, but a positive step nonetheless for a team that has struggled to generate offense this season.
Remember back to 2005, the team’s first year in the District, and that July 3 of that season (50-31) was that club’s high-water mark – the furthest above .500 the Nats have ever been since leaving Montreal. Things fell apart beginning with a July 4th loss to the New York Mets and they eventually settled for an 81-81 record and a last-place finish.
The 2012 version isn’t showing any signs of a similar collapse even if its record (47-32) isn’t quite that good. Washington has crafted this fine first half even with closer Drew Storen, catcher Wilson Ramos, right fielder Jayson Werth and left fielder Michael Morse injured. Ramos is done for the year. But Morse is back and swinging a hot bat, Storen (bone chips, right elbow) is close and Werth (broken wrist) won’t be too far behind. Even top pinch hitter Chad Tracy, so good off the bench in April and May, made his return from adductor surgery on Wednesday with a rehab assignment at Single-A Potomac. Since taking a cortisone shot on June 24, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman continues to show the power that was missing thanks to lingering shoulder pain. He has nine extra-base hits over the last nine games.
“You look back at the beginning of the year and we all talked about it. The same people asked the questions and now they’re coming back, you kind of give them the ‘I told you’,” Morse said. “But there’s a lot of baseball left.”
He added: “What’s good about this team is that we really don’t know how good this team can be. I think that’s what makes us so great because the sky’s the limit. We still don’t have Drew. We still don’t have Jayson, Ramos behind the dish. There’s a lot of pieces. But what we’re with right now is working and that’s credit to [general manager] Mike Rizzo putting this team together.”
But they’re trying not to look too far ahead, either. Johnson said he likes to peek at five-game increments thanks to his math background. If you’re 15 games over .500 then the next goal is to reach 20. When told that his former manager in Baltimore, the legendary Earl Weaver, considered 20 games over .500 to be the sign his team could win a pennant, Johnson cracked “he might have learned that from me.”
“We’re healthy now – or we’re getting healthy,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve said it all along. It’s hard to shuffle the lineup around and have guys doing different things all year and be consistent. So now that we’re starting to get healthy people are starting to find out what their roles are. It’s a lot easier for them to get comfortable. Therefore we’ve been scoring a lot more runs.”
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