Jun 11, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth (28) celebrates with teammates after defeating the San Francisco Giants 6-2 at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals: Are they legitimate postseason contenders?

Although the Washington Nationals haven’t been abysmal in the last couple of years, their inconsistencies when it comes to their effectiveness down the stretch of the regular season has hampered this teams chances at winning a World Series. While the Nationals meltdown against the St. Louis Cardinals during the post season in 2012 was understandable, their inability to replicate their winning ways in 2013 was what prevented this team from garnering a wild card spot.

However, since the transgressions of last season, the Nationals have developed fierceness and a sense of unwavering determination that was absent from this teams repertoire in years past. Despite the inconsistencies of the NL East, the Nationals have developed a dynamically dominant formula for success that could propel them to new heights as the season goes on.

Out of all of the teams in the majors, the Nationals are arguably one of the streakiest teams this season. As easily as this team can stifle the opposition to a single run while scoring emphatically to put the game out of reach, they can also be put in their place if they face an opponent that can hit the lights out consistently. Yet, despite their erratic periods of success, the Nationals have found a way to stack up wins when they need them the most. Eight of their last ten games have resulted in well earned victories that have shown the Nationals versatile capabilities to both pitch consistently while their offense takes advantage of opportunities to put up runs on the board.

While a sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies and a trumping of the San Diego Padres can hardly be considered supremely impressive, the Nationals are at their best when they have time to build up momentum and confidence so they can take on the more lethal teams in the majors.

While starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg has always been known as a strikeout artist, his commitment and sheer focus has allowed this talented pitcher to out do himself once again. Although his ERA of 2.99 is impressive by itself, his sensational strikeout total of 108 is the standout number that has made Strasburg a force to be reckoned with. Even when Strasburg relinquishes a loss, it has more to do with the incompetence of the Nationals offense rather than the supposed shortcomings of Strasburg.

This is not to say that the Nationals offensive capabilities are terrible; they are just decisively average when it comes to their presence at the plate. They are ranked 15th in the league in terms of runs scored (273) and on base percentage (.319), while their batting average (.251) and slugging percentage (.395) are ranked 16th and 14th in majors respectively. Still, despite the Nationals roller coaster ride on offense, they do have a few distinguished athletes that have just enough talent to make the big plays at the right time.

Although shortstop Ian Desmond is struggling to put up a competent batting average this season (.239), he has somehow managed to make his hits count as he has already knocked in 42 RBI’s. Although Desmond may not be the best hitter in the game, he has steadily developed his confidence with hitting runs outside of the park as he as already hit 13 home runs on the season and could finish the season with 33 homeruns, which would be a career high, if keeps up this pace.

Of course, it’s hard to mention the momentary moments of the Nationals offensive success without mentioning the disciplined capabilities of veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche. Although LaRoche may not be the most illustrious scorer in the majors, his top notch batting average (.310) and on base persistence (.418 OBP) have made him the unconditional spark that the Nationals usually need to allow their offense to click seamlessly and confidently from one inning to the next. If LaRoche can remain the heart and soul of this Nationals offense, he could rejuvenate his teams potential to battle valiantly in a division that is up for the taking.

When all is said and done, the Nationals are currently experiencing the best moments of their season as they have been firing on all cylinders in their last few series. Although it may be inevitable to expect the Nationals to hit a downtrodden slump sometime soon, this team has made solid improvements since the beginning of the season and is just realizing their potential as a competitive ball club.

If the Nationals can remain focused on improving their offense while their bullpen continues to thrive, they could easily win their division while making an unexpected splash in the postseason.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: MLB Washington Nationals

  • Shawn Casey

    Really? This is the best this writer can provide us as insight of the Nats? Strasburg? But no mention of Fister (5-1) Jordan Zimmermann (player of the week), and Tanner Roark (possible Rookie of the year)?. He mentions Desmond as “not the best hitter in the league” umm he was the silver slugger winner for last season. He may not be the best overall hitter but he was the best hitter at his position (Tulo be damned). Last season this team was the hottest team in baseball from August onward…they barely missed the WC but did due to the woes of the first half of the 2013 season. This season is more about early season injuries and basically treading water until the troops are healthy and now the starters are trickling back ito the lineup and we are seeing some of what this lineup can do. True the season is early and this team has scuffled offensively but as we all know PITCHING is what wins and can anyone name a better starting 5 than the Nats (once Gio returns)?
    One final point about the offense…I have noticed a more AL approach to their batting. Meaning this team is grinding at bats and wearing out opposing pitchers…that was lacking most of last season.