It took 82 games, but the Washington Nationals are one game over the .500 mark. After floundering right around .500 for the past several months, they have finally cleared this hurdle. The Nats are not out of the woods yet, as one poor series can drag them back under, but things are looking up.
The Nats are off today, but they can rest easy knowing that they just returned from a 5-1 road trip to Miami and Detroit. Not the two toughest opponents in baseball, but those wins have to come from somewhere.
They are holding a strong third place in the National League East, 7 games behind the first place Atlanta Braves and 1.5 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies (5.5 games out of first). The Nats are also closing in on the Wild Card, standing only 1.5 games (tied with the San Diego Padres) behind the Phillies and Colorado Rockies who are tied for the second spot. A large part of the Nats recent success has been due to many of their injured players returning to the lineup. Shortstop Trea Turner and third baseman (and All-Star) Anthony Rendon have stayed healthy since their returns from broken fingers and bruised elbows, and are anchoring down the left side of the infield and the top of the lineup. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman finally returned from his lengthy IL stay this weekend in Detroit and served as the designated hitter for the first two games. He has one hit and one walk but, at this point, any time on base is a good thing. He should be returning to the field this week.
The previously lackluster offense is on an upward trajectory after homering in 15 straight games (a Nats franchise record) which also means there have been 15 straight games with dugout dance parties. Additionally, they have the best record in baseball since May 24.
An ongoing problem this season has been endless poor performances from the bullpen. Closer Sean Doolittle has found his feet, with 18 saves so far, and he recorded his 100th career save on Sunday. The one bullpen move that is looking promising has been the addition of 42-year-old veteran closer Fernando Rodney. He brings 17 years of MLB experience and 326 career saves to the struggling and inexperienced relief corps. He recorded his first Nats save on Saturday night and did his customary bow and arrow sign before leaving the field.
The All-Star break is coming up from July 8-11 and will be a good time to for the players (except Rendon and Max Scherzer) to get some rest. The Nats will need to make the most of this opportunity to recharge if they hope to continue their strong play and make a come from behind push for the playoffs.