Thursday, April 21, 2011
Washington Nationals Nab Respect by Outworking Others
Having completed an old fashioned double-header over the weekend, the Washington Nationals get set to complete three games in a 24-hour span.
Sitting at 9-8 right now, a record good enough to sit on top of the N.L. Central, few notice because the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves dominate the N.L. East ink.
Yet the Nationals are playing a scrappy kind of baseball that is old school, where they aggressively outwork their opponents to scrape out wins.
Want to see a double steal? Going first to third? Hit and run play? Having guys you'd never expect much of on the basepaths stealing bags? The Nationals are doing that.
They are also the only team in the National League to have all of their starting pitchers go at least five innings every game thus far. Then a bullpen led by Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen comes on and is lights out.
They have been doing this without the best third baseman in baseball, their leader Ryan Zimmerman. He has been on injured reserve, but is expected to resume playing somewhere in the next 10 days.
The pitching, a nice surprise so far, has not had the services of staff ace Stephen Strasburg all year and it is likely they will not until 2012 because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Jordan Zimmermann, coming off his own Tommy John procedure, is showing great promise.
The youngsters are the big reason for the Nationals good start. Rookie catcher Wilson Ramos has quietly been pushing future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to the bench by batting .364 and showing off an excellent throwing arm.
But the big boost has come from rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa. Despite batting leadoff lately, he leads the team with 15 RBI's and has shown himself to have a very solid glove. Espinosa and second-year shortstop Ian Desmond are expected to lock up the middle of the Nationals defense for at least the next decade.
Espinosa leads all rookies in RBI's and is tied for the second most in the National League. He is also tied for the most triples in the National League. This all has been done despite the fact many of his teammates bats have not warmed up yet.
With two leading candidates for Rookie of the Year, solid starting pitching, and excellent work from the end of the bullpen, the Nationals are putting baseball on notice that they will not be an easy win this year.
With phenoms like Bryce Harper developing in the minors, the future looks real bright for the Nats. Zimmerman is the face of the franchise at just 26-years old, while flashing the best leather in the hot corner since the days of Brooks Robinson.
Five games in three days was not something Washington expected, but they have shown people that to no longer expect a doormat in the Nations Capitol anymore. They will take chances, but the Nationals will not stop working to get on top of their division after many years spent on the bottom.