At the All-Star Break the Washington Nationals were so buried at the very bottom of the standings that we can all be forgiven for having ceased to pay any attention to them. So it is not surprising that nobody noticed just how good the Nationals have been for the past month, having gone 7-1 in their last eight games, and 15-7 since July 15.
So what is their secret? Now that is the real shocker. Since July 1st, the Washington Nationals have had the best ERA in all of baseball. That’s right, I think you probably need to read that sentence again because it doesn’t seem to compute in your head, but for nearly a month and a half, the Nationals hurlers have been the best in the game, better than Boston, better than San Diego, better than the Cubs, A’s, or Mets.
This pitching dominance has been created by letting youngsters have the ball and seeing how far they can go. Things were bad for a while when injuries felled 1-2 starters Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann, but in recent weeks rookies Joel Hanrahan (3.27 ERA) and John Lannan (3.71) have stepped into the void, along with veteran scrap-heap find Tim Redding (2.43). And prospects are looking even better with ace Hill due back any day now and Bergmann expected to be ready by September.
But even better than the rotation has been the team’s bullpen, which has been a strength since day 1, and currently sports the third best ERA in the National League, behind only the Mets and Padres. Pretty much anyone Manny Acta runs out of that pen can be counted on to turn in a good outing, whether it’s Chad Cordero (2.57), Jon Rauch (3.67), Chris Schroeder (1.46), Luis Ayala (2.45), or Saul Rivera (3.31).
Let’s face it, at 52-61 and 11.5 games out in the East, the Nationals are not going to get anywhere near contention this season, and probably not next season or the season after that, for that matter. But if they keep pitching like they have of late, by which I mean, better than any other team there is, they can make a pretty inspiring run at .500 down the stretch!