The Washington Nationals, now 83-52, have made discussion of their pitching staff very easy this year. If you want to discuss the Nationals pitching staff, you simply mention how well they have pitched, pepper in some league leading stats, rattle off a few tired comments regarding Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit and move on.
After last night’s victory over the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals hold a National League leading 3.28 ERA, second only to the Tampa Bay Rays in the majors. It does not hurt that they also lead the NL in hits allowed with 1,062 – second overall to the Rays – and lead all of baseball in runs allowed (483) and home runs allowed (103). When it comes to strikeouts, they come in a pathetic fifth overall with 1,111 – 195 of which can be credited to Strasburg.
In fact, for a while, the Nationals pitching staff was performing so well that it was hard to discuss anything else. That is, until the offense caught fire and inserted itself into the picture.
Prior to the All-Star break, the Nationals ranked eighth in the NL and 14th overall in batting with a .251 average. They ranked even lower in on-base percentage with a .314 OBP, 11th in the NL and 21st overall. Since then, the team has upped their batting average to .278 (fourth overall) with an on-base percentage of .331 (eighth overall) and 61 home runs (ninth overall).
These days, it is hard to talk about the Nationals offense without mentioning seemingly routine games like last night’s, which saw 11 runs scored on 19 hits – six of which were home runs. It has been, however, easy to discuss the Nationals offense without mentioning their catchers, who have, until recently, lacked production at the plate.
Since his acquisition on August 3, Kurt Suzuki has become the Nationals’ everyday catcher. The decision to put him behind the plate for 20 of the 31 games since was probably not motivated by his offensive prowess.
Prior to his joining the team, Suzuki posted a .218/.250/.286 line with 15 doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs. Since joining the Nationals, his numbers have improved slightly. Suzuki is now batting .239/.304/.352 with two doubles (17 between both leagues), two home runs (three between both leagues) and 10 RBIs (28 between both leagues).
His play in the past week, however, has been most impressive and served as the inspiration for this article. Through his last five games, Suzuki has posted a .333/.444/.700 line with two home runs and five RBIs.
Now that Suzuki has successfully adapted to a new pitching staff in just 20 games, his offensive production is expected to continue flourishing.
Even backup-turned-starter-turned-backup catcher Jesus Flores, whose offensive production has represented a dead spot in the lineup for much of the season, has improved at the plate in recent weeks.
Though he is batting just .223/.255/.335 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 25 RBIs on the year, Flores has shown some signs of life lately.
In the past week, Flores has appeared in three games, a span over which he has posted a .333/.333/.667 line with a home run and three RBIs. Though it represents a very small clip from his season, it is more representative of his recent role as a backup than it is of his production as an everyday player.
Now, with production coming from the catcher’s spot in the lineup, the Nationals are poised to continue improving an offense that has been firing on all cylinders as of late. The team is currently on pace to win 100 games. If the entire lineup continues to hit, there is no reason to believe they will not reach that milestone.