April showers really did usher in a blooming and booming May for the Washington Nationals who are hotter than the pimp wit da’ limp at a dice game. They’re heating up and hot on the trail of the “new orange and blue crew” Mets.
Washington entered its April 28th game against the Atlanta Braves with a shaky 7-13 record. Matt Williams’ squad was not living up to its preseason billing as World Championship contenders.
Fortunately for Nats fans, baseball is a marathon and not a sprint. It is hard to predict your future based on the first two months of MLB’ s ever-evolving, always changing, 162-game grindfest.
Teams with new parts are trying to develop chemistry and prepare for the stretch run. Circumstance, momentum and timing is everything. They work simultaneously and eventually drive a team’s fate into the light. One major moment can either send a team on a lengthy spiral or spark the competitive juices that were running dry.
Everything changed for the downtrodden Nats when journeyman slugger Dan Uggla (Didn’t even know he was still in the league) crushed a dramatic three-run homer to deep left off Jason Grilli in the top of the 9th, boosting Washington to a morale-lifting 13-12 win.
It was the shocking jolt and game-changing moment D.C. needed to kick into gear and finally get the promising 2015 baseball season popping.
Since Uggla's homer, the Nats have won 11 of 13 games and have chopped the Mets early NL East lead to a touchable 2.5 games.
"There were some growing pains there early on, " said Mike Rizzo, Nationals GM & President Of Baseball Operations, on MLB Network today. We left spring training with several key injuries...and guys had to get used to their new positions... and are just getting comfortable in those roles. The defense will continue to improve as the season wears on." "There were some growing pains there early on...we left spring training with several key inuries...and guys had to get used to their new positions... and are just getting comfortable in those roles. The defense will continue to improve as the season wears on."
Uggla's power surge was as improbable as the pitching-rich Nats’ slow start. After adding former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to an already potent staff featuring Stephen Strasburg, former 21-game winner Gio Gonzales and Jordan Zimmerman of no-hit fame, Washington was a popular preseason pick to represent the NL in the World Series.
At least that was the game plan. The team came out the shoot on a flat tire and something had to give. The consensus opinion was that the Nats were too loaded with gorilla arms to keep slipping.
All it took was a blast from the past.
Today, Uggla is a 35-year-old bench player and pinch hitter. He’s appeared in just 19 games and has 54 at-bats. At one time he was an all-star second baseman for the Florida Marlins and Braves. He was a stout tank. A 5-11, 210-pound skyblaster who averaged 31 homers and 92 RBI per season over his first six MLB campaigns, before his career precipitously declined.
The past six seasons he's managed just 46 total homers. He only mustered two in 141 at-bats with Atlanta and World Champion San Francisco last season. His best days have faded in the rear view mirror, but in baseball it only takes one pitch to momentarily recapture a distinguished flash from your glorious past.
On that night, Uggla had a throwback game, going 3-for-5 with the game-winning dinger. He also had a two-run triple in his prior at bat. Uggla’s brief renaissance inspired and symbolizes Washington’s return to the optimistic, c'hip-chasing team they were envisioned to be.
Uggla ‘s amazing rake also set in motion a couple of key offensive twists.
RISE OF HARPER
Bryce Harper is staying healthy, mashing out and living up to his Ruthian rep. The Young Don jacked three home runs in five innings against the Marlins on May 6, giving folks another example of why he was mythically touted as early as high school.
Entering last night's 11-1 thrashing of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the 22-year-old slugger was 10 for 16 with six home runs and 13 RBI over his last four games. He is batting .298 with a .640 slugging and leads the league in home runs (11) and walks (27), plus ranks eighth in the NL for wins above replacement (1.4 fWAR).
"There haven't been that many players to come into the league with (Harper's) hype and the pressure of the new age of social media," Rizzo said. "There were some bumps in the road and a learning curve, but he's becoming the kind of player we always thought he would...we think hes just scratching the surface."
Washington Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar went 5 for 5 last Monday night in the Nats' 6-4 win over the Miami Marlins then went 5 for 5 again last night against the D-Backs. This rapid-fire production is oddly coming from a 32-year-old infielder who played 1,096 games before ever collecting a five-hit game. When a team makes a championship run, not only do the things you expect to go right have to go right, sometimes the baseball gods have to give a team a boost and produce the unexpected.
Eventually everything else just falls into place...and my man Ian Desmond didn’t even get crackin’ yet.
In any event, the health of the pitching staff and the constant elevation of young Harper's game are the keys to a potential championship journey. A journey that Harper said runs through the Nats -- "the team to beat."
Harper, however, isn't getting too hype over his recent power surge. He's from the school of act like you been there before. “I mean, that’s just the way I need to play, " he said. That’s the way I need to come in every single day and play this game. It’s nothing to do with being hot. I mean, that’s the type of player I need to be, and that’s the type of player I want to be. That’s what I need to do.”
You can’t beat a good old-fashioned Northeast showdown. The young gun Mets have comparable arms and a determined foe in the Nats. The two are sure to have some classic confrontations down the stretch. It seems like both teams are on fleek and ready for a second half of I-95 creeping, corner-kissing, heat-tossing, clutch-clapping, crowd crazy, MLB drama.