What's going on with the Nationals?
The Nationals are rolling. Don't believe it? Well, they just swept the Marlins! Also, Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation has named Washington the "also-ran" with the best chance at making a playoff run. Hey doesn't "also-ran" mean by definition that the team isn't making the playoffs? Maybe, but the point is that the Nationals are playing really well and are only 6.5 games out of the National League Wild Card.
Also true: Jayson Werth is playing like it's 2010, Bryce Harper is playing like it's 2016, and the top four pitchers in Washington's rotation are as good as any top-four in the league. Watch out, people.
Who are these guys?
Tanner Roark was almost the Nationals' starting pitcher on Sunday, but they opted to go with reliable veteran Ross Ohlendorf instead. Acquired in the famous Christian Guzman trade of 2010, Roark split time between starting and relieving at Triple-A Syracuse this season. He was pretty dominant in both roles while accumulating 84 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 105⅔ innings. Roark hasn't been any less impressive while pitching out of the pen for the Nationals this season. He has a 0.93 ERA in 19⅓ innings with 14 strikeouts and four walks. It would have been interesting to see what Roark could do in an MLB start, but now we won't likely get that chance until Washington is eliminated from playoff contention (which might not even happen in 2013).
Tyler Moore is a right-handed power hitter who has absolutely destroyed Triple-A pitching in the past two seasons, but he hasn't quite figured things out in the majors yet. With his 45 strikeouts and just 6 walks in 132 at-bats this season, Moore doesn't seem very useful, especially since he hasn't hit lefties particularly well in the majors so far. That makes him kind of useless as a caddy for the left-handed Adam LaRoche, but Moore should be on fans' radars because he has 12 hits in seven games since his recent call-up on August 17.
Who's on the mound?
Zimmermann appears to be back on track after a rocky July that saw him give up 21 runs in 26⅓ innings. Included in those figures is an outing against the Mets last month in which the Amazins blasted Zimmermann for five runs in 6⅔ innings. Known more for his excellent control than for his strikeout ability, Zimmermann still has a WHIP of just 1.11 this season and has been very good in August save for a recent blowup at Wrigley Field. Also very good in August: Gee, whose streak of four straight quality starts was broken when he gave up four runs in six innings in his last start against Detroit. In fact, unless Gee gives up a boatload of runs against Washington tonight, he'll book a third straight month with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Like Gee, Haren is a pitcher whose recent performances are much, much prettier than the work he was doing at the beginning of the season. When he went on the disabled list with "shoulder weakness" at the end of June it seemed like the Nationals were just getting Haren out of the way, but he's actually pitched much better since his return. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has been stellar all season long, but now that Haren is able to actually go two starts without giving up a home run, he's lowered his ERA from an insane 6.15 on June 22 to the 4.66 mark he has today. While Nationals fans need Haren to pitch well to keep the team's playoff hopes alive, Mets fans need Wheeler to pitch well just to help them try to get over the recent Matt Harvey injury. Wheeler has been great lately, with 33 strikeouts and 10 walks in his last five starts.
Sunday: Ross Ohlendorf vs. Jon Niese
I've always like Ohlendorf because his last name reminds me of my favorite video game villain. The media like Ross Ohlendorf because he went to Princeton (what an underdog!). The Nationals like Ohlendorf because he's been very effective as a spot starter and long reliever this season. Making one of those starts against the Mets last month, Ohlendorf was brilliant with eight strikeouts, two walks, and one run allowed in seven innings. With the youngster Taylor Jordan recently hitting the disabled list with a back injury, Ohlendorf is back in the rotation and it wouldn't be shocking to see him keep the Nats in the game like he always does. He may need to be better than that to beat Niese, though. The lefty's last three starts have been among the best outings of his career.
What about some GIFs?
Ryan Zimmerman hits this walk-off home run against the Mets in the second game of a doubleheader on July 26. Then, the camera got all wet.
Justin Turner and Andrew Brown crash into each other on a fly ball. Haha, still not as good as the butt fumble, right guys? Guys?
Dan Haren had a horrible first half of the season, but he began to turn things around with an excellent outing against the Mets on July 27: