It is a time of feast and famine from the Nationals’ offense, with half of their last ten games over six runs, and the other half under three. Sunday was a welcome feast for Nationals fans, with a triumphant 9-3 victory over the troublesome Orioles, and an end to a three-game slide that saw the Nationals drop out of first place in the NL East. The Nationals took their lead on the power of their battery – an unlikely source if ever there was one.
In the fourth inning, tied up at three apiece, Jesus Flores stepped in against Wei-Yin Chin and sent an 81mph change up into the second row of the stands in right center. Three pitches later, Stephen Strasburg would join the home run club, sitting and waiting for a curveball, and launching it into the Orioles’ bullpen. Strasburg’s first career home run ran about 398 feet according to ESPN, and he had just about the slowest home run trot I’ve ever seen, though, according to the Tater Trot Tracker, he didn’t even make the ten slowest list of the year.
After a struggle to find situational hitting, the Nationals seemed to find it all at once on Sunday against Chen and the Orioles’ bullpen. In the third, a hard fought triple out of the glove of Nick Markakis by Bryce Harper scored Strasburg (2-2, 2 runs) and Espinosa (2-5 5, 2 RBI) put the Nationals even. In the eighth, they repeated the performance, scoring twice more on Danny Espinosa’s 4th home run of the year and a sac fly from Adam LaRoche (0-1, 3BB, RBI).
With everything said about the offense, the Nationals also benefitted from 5 innings, and 8 strikeouts, from Stephen Strasburg (4-1), though he was a bit worse for wear afterwards. Strasburg was pulled for fatigue after just five innings. The removal was a cautionary measure, according to manager Davey Johnson, and should not affect his next start, but the concern is clear that the hurler might be suffering a bit. So far, Strasburg’s reaction has been to shut down any doubt and assign it to recovering from his 2010 Tommy John surgery, but it’s difficult to put those concerns to rest, given the seriousness of the operation.
As bad as the injury bug has been, the Nationals still sit a game and a half back of the NL East lead and seven games above .500. The Nationals head to the road for ten days on their biggest test so far this season. They’ll head to Philadelphia first to take on the surging Phillies, then three against first place Atlanta, and then three against the Marlins. Should the Nationals come out with a 6-3 or 5-4 trip, there’s a good chance they’ll reclaim the lead in the East. Should they fall to 4-5 or worse, there’s a good chance they’ll be much lower on the table. Where do you think they’re going to be on June 1st?