It could be simply a nice stretch of games against bad pitching. But if the Nationals’ suddenly hot bats keep this up the rest of the National League is in trouble.
Washington battered one-time ace Tim Lincecum and knocked him from Tuesday’s 9-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants long before thunderstorms caused an 85-minute rain delay at Nationals Park. Right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann did the rest with another solid six innings that would have gone longer if not for the weather. His confidence is surging along with his team’s.
“If they keep hitting the way they're hitting now I don't see why we can't just run away with this in the second half,” Zimmermann said. “And if we keep pitching the way we are it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
That’s a startling statement from one of the Nats’ most soft-spoken players. But it’s hard to argue with him. Bryce Harper mashed two doubles, Ryan Zimmerman had a single and a walk as he continues to fight out of a season-long slump. He also scored two runs. Michael Morse had a two-run single as he rounds into form after an injury-marred first two months. Ian Desmond, the All-Star shortstop, had two more hits with a double and – most important to manager Davey Johnson – second baseman Danny Espinosa had three hits from the left side of the plate, including a double that just missed clearing the fence in the second inning.
“When the middle of the lineup starts swinging the bat like it’s capable of doing, the rest of the guys are starting to gel and that really puts the icing on the cake,” Johnson said. “It takes the pressure off everybody in the lineup when everybody can trust each other and don’t have to do too much.”
Washington (46-32) is now back to 14 games over .500. It has the best winning percentage in the National League (.590). It has the best run differential (+54). The lead over the New York Mets (44-37) remained three-and-a-half games and third-place Atlanta (42-38) is five out. But the Nats again gained ground on Miami (38-42) and Philadelphia (36-46), which is falling apart and now a stunning 12 games behind.
Zimmermann has been the victim of limited run support all season by his teammates – hence the 5-6 record despite a sparkling 2.70 ERA. He struck out seven batters and walked none, which helps explain why he stranded leadoff runners in three of the first four innings. Each had reached second base. Only a two-run single by Gregor Blanco in the fifth dented Zimmermann’s armor and even then a Ryan Zimmerman error made one of those runs unearned.
“He’s a competitor, he’s obviously the bulldog of our staff,” Desmond said. “He’s going to go out there and give the best that he’s got rain or shine and we appreciate it. That’s why it kind of hurts when we don’t score runs for him.”
Lincecum (3-9) was torched again in what has become a nightmare season for the two-time Cy Young winner. He gave up seven earned runs on nine hits and walked two batters and his ERA is back to 6.08. Once one of the sport’s most electric arms, he struck out just two batters.