Last night, the Washington Nationals had an impressive 10 game win streak finally halted by the San Francisco Giants. What looked like another game destined for a dramatic finish became a lifeless rout, as the Giants lineup chased Doug Fister and feasted on lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Ross Detwiler. San Francisco landed at Dulles Airport at 4am after a long and bizarre day at Wrigley Field, in which they finished a suspended game after winning a protest with MLB, and then played their regularly scheduled game with the Cubs later that night. On very little sleep, they coasted to a 10-3 win in Southeast DC.
So the Nats 10 game streak has ended. Their lead in the NL East stands at six games over Atlanta. It feels like a good time to take stock of the Nats, look back at the streak, and look ahead to September and beyond. Here are a few thoughts on the Nationals.
Asdrubal Cabrera has been a huge pick up: Back at the beginning of August, FSB was lukewarm on the Cabrera trade. With a slash line of .338/.391/.728 since joining the club, Cabrera has been a valuable bat on the back end of the lineup. Even more surprising, his range at 2B has been extremely impressive, with several Web Gem type plays. Having played the bulk of his games at SS this year, the full time move to 2B should have been a smooth transtion for Cabrera. However, there were many concerns out of Cleveland that his range in the field almost non existent. So far, so good with the glove.
Our fear was he was a guy who was regressing in his career (the numbers backed that up), but the move to DC has seemed to rejuvenate him. The popular thought is that Cabrera is a rental, that won’t be resigned after this season by GM Mike Rizzo. At this pace, the Nats may need to take a look at bringing him back. They may free up some cap space if Adam LaRoche doesn’t return.
The 10 game winning streak was done without Ryan Zimmerman: As we discussed when Zimmerman went down, this team really values his bat and their record with and without him reflects that fact. Guys like Anthony Rendon (team MVP?) and LaRoche caught fire and came through time after time. Jayson Werth and Denard Span also got on base a ton, and bench guys (finally) contributed some big at bats, especially Kevin Frandsen. Zimmerman may be back at some point September, but if this team is thinking about an October run, it’s fair to assume he won’t be a big contributor given his injury history.
The Nationals benefited from playing at home: The bullpen has been awful lately, but having the bottom of the 9th to fall back on helped the Nats a few times. That’s not to take lightly the wins they pulled out; they got in a late inning groove. If they had the winning run at the plate, you felt they were going to get him home somehow. Still, a couple games going the other way, and you’d have even more fans worried about the bullpen. Winning really does cure all. There were several blown saves by Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard, and a couple other that were way too close for comfort during the winning streak. Against the best teams, those close ones will become meltdowns. Soriano isn’t a swing and miss guy, relying more on location and his defense to back him up. When he’s off, shows over, he’s a mess. Even if the Nats make the playoffs and have the benefit of home field advantage, you can’t continuously give up runs in the 8th and 9th innings and expect to win a World Series.
Does the streak change your perception of this team?: For us, not really. That’s not dismissing the win streak by any stretch. We’ve felt for the better part of three months this team was winning the East. The Braves still own the Nats, until further notice. The most recent series was a testament to that fact, as Atlanta came into the series on an eight game losing streak and proceeded to take two of three. The Braves issue is they struggle with a lot of other teams, including a .500 record against the Mets and Marlins combined this season. The starting pitching has stayed very dominant, and the late game heroics are good experiences to fall back on in September, and hopefully October (nothing is cliched yet!). Gio Gonzalez had a nice start vs the Diamondbacks, but he won’t be pitching against Arizona in a playoff game. Will the Nats see enough out of him in September to trust him in a potential playoff game? Or could he go the way of Barry Zito in 2010, another curve ball throwing lefty who got left off the post season roster due to ineffectiveness?
One streak has ended, now it’s time for the Nationals to start another one and beat some of the teams they could possibly face in October.