The Nats keep winning, though unlike the Cardinals sweep, last night was more in keeping in form with the rest of the month. Fantastic starting pitching. Well managed relief pitching coming through. No real offense to speak of.
The Nats can win the East like they did the Cardinals series. They can't win the East with the above. Not unless you think the starters can keep up an ERA just over 2.00 for the season. So the lingering question is when will the offense come around. Oh, don't kid yourself it's still not right. Even looking at the past week, which takes into account the STL series, It's been struggling. The big hits have come from the bench; Heisey, Robinson, den Dekker. The only guy that's consistently hit (other than Murphy) is the guy you all want to replace, Danny Espinosa (and admittedly he hasn't hit that much). Surely it can get better though. Revere is injured. Werth, Zimm, and Rendon are coming back from injuries. Turner is waiting out time in AAA* It would only take a couple of these guys hitting to expectations to make the offense ok (as we saw in STL). But it would be nice to turn this idea of "it can" into "it is".
Baseball is about timing. Not just at the plate but over the course of the season. Hitting and pitching get hot and cold back and forth. What you hope for is things to line up in a way such that the hitting covers the pitching and the pitching covers the hitting. Right now it has lined up for the Nats and we're seeing the fruits of that. How good has the Nats starting pitching been? By ERA the Nats have 4 of the Top 19 starters. Basically 4 guys getting #1 results. By WHIP they have 3 of the Top 19 and all 5 in Top 54 (basically where the 1s and 2s would end up). They've been good. Sustainably THIS good? No (FIP and xFIP tell us Ross and Gio are among the "luckiest" starters and Roark isn't too far behind) but who could be?
From the outside looking in I like where the Nats are. Yes, there is kind of a sword dangling over the Nats head with this pitching staff (and with Murphy) but at the same time there's a shield waiting to be deployed with the rest of the batting order (and with Max). This isn't a team firing on all cylinders where a crash has to happen. It's a team firing on half cylinders. Those guys can stop performing and other guys can pick it up. They won't maintain an 18-7 run (no the Nats aren't winning 120 games) but they can keep the Nats winning. Meanwhile the Nats are picking up wins against decent competition that count just as much as any win down the line.
Side note :
I am annoyed by one thing with the Nats from the outside; the cult of Dusty. I've maintained that I think Dusty is a good manager. To look at his history and think otherwise is kind of fooling yourself. I've also said that any "ruins arms" talk is pretty much nonsense that hasn't been true in years (and probably wasn't even that true then)** But you know what? My thinking isn't that special. Pretty much most of the outside (85%?) says the same thing about Dusty. When the Nats bungled the hiring of Bud Black and used Dusty's "last chance" eagerness to get him here, most everyone said "Hey, Dusty's good too. Maybe better" Yet a month into the season and somehow the narrative has spun into "YOU GUYS WANTED BLACK AND SAID DUSTY SUCKS AND YOU STILL SAY DUSTY SUCKS AND DUSTY IS THE BEST MANAGER EVER!!!"
Ok it's not fully there quite yet, but this is the rumblings I feel from the outside. That there was some sort of massive show of disrespect for Dusty when really there never was outside of a few haters that maintain their hate. I'm fine picking on those guys, but making it out as if the world is against you is one of my least favorite sports tropes. The media, the baseball world, they all in general, really like Dusty. You don't need to have an enemy.
*Trea Turner's stats in AAA are good (.333 / 402 / .478) but after starting .500 in the first 8 games he's been a more pedestrian .258 / .299 / .371 in the next 15. You can't dismiss the first 8 games anymore than any other 8, but you can hold off and see what is happenining now. Just saying you might want to hold your horses here.
As for other studs - Lucas Giolito has not been particularly impressive in AA. In his last 3 starts he's given up 18 hits and 7 walks in 11 and 2/3 innings and opponents are hitting .360 against him. The good news here is Lucas is 21 so if it doesn't come together in 2016 that's perfectly ok.
If the two above updates get you a little down, Victor Robles is killing low A-ball. .357 / .471 / .571 with no caveats to give you. Expect him in Potomac soon.
**and honestly I don't care much if it was true. Ride these arms till they break is a better scenario than be ultra careful with arms to protect a future that may not play out like you are hoping it will.