Outside of the San Diego Padres, it’s hard to argue a bigger surprise to the beginning of the 2010 MLB season than the Washington Nationals. They are off to a 20-15 start and are already one third of the way to their win total from last season when they went a Major League worst 59-103.
With the Capitals shockingly falling in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Nationals could be the talk of the town this Summer if they prove their hot start is not a fluke.
How exactly have the Nationals won 20 of their first 35 games?
For starters, no pun intended, Livan Hernandez has been a force at the top of the rotation. He is 4-1 with a 1.04 ERA. Other than Jason Marquis, no other pitcher has been a complete train wreck either. The real success however has been the combination of Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard in the bullpen. Capps leads the majors with 14 saves in 14 opportunities. Clippard is 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 25 innings. His 7 wins are tops in baseball thus far.
In the lineup Ryan Zimmerman has been dominant with 22 RBI’s in only 27 games, missing 8 due to injury. He is also sporting a .319 batting average and has 8 home runs. Future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez has also been off to a scorching start batting .367 and has provided a jolt at the bottom of the lineup.
It seems whenever the Nationals need a run or two or three someone steps up with a hit whether it be Christian Guzman, Josh Willingham or Ian Desmond.
How long this winning formula can last remains to be seen but they have to be happy with where they are right now already hitting the 20 win mark in mid-May. They’ve also already played two series against the Phillies who have been to the World Series the past two seasons.
The biggest source of optimism however, is phenom Stephen Strasburg who is tearing up the minor leagues. In two AAA starts, he has allowed one hit in 12 innings while striking out 13. Strasburg is expected to join the Nationals in June. Not only will he likely immediately bolster the rotation but he will also put fans in the seats. You can expect Nationals Park to be sold out when he debuts.
The Nationals could repeat what the Capitals did during their 2007-2008 campaign when they hit a hot streak late in the season to make the playoffs. In a city where sports has been a wasteland of depression for the last two decades (not as bad as Cleveland but nevertheless) the fans are looking for anything to get behind. Just as the Capitals did two and a half years ago, the Nationals could capture the city’s attention.
Outside of the FIFA World Cup, their is nothing else happening for sports in D.C. beyond the Nats. It is early in the season with over 100 games to be played but with their beloved Caps sitting at home what else is their for the District’s sports followers to talk about?
Sources: MLB.com, ESPN.com, www.dailycomet.com, Nationals.com