Coming into 2005, the NL East was considered by many to be the best division in baseball. No one, however, expected the Washington Nationals to be atop that division this late in the season.
Washington tries to match its season-high winning streak at five games when it begins a three-game interleague series with the Oakland Athletics.
With Atlanta, Florida, Philadelphia and the New York Mets all making improvements in the offseason, Washington wasn’t expected to make much noise in the division.
The Nationals, however, have played well all season and are in the midst of their best run. They beat the Marlins 6-3 on Sunday for their fourth straight win and seventh in eight games.
The victory, coupled with Atlanta’s 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh, put Washington in first place. The last time the word “Washington” topped the standings this time of year or later was when the Washington Senators were in first in 1933.
“You couldn’t ask for any more than we’ve done in the first seven games against these two ballclubs,” said Nationals manager Frank Robinson, reflecting on a 6-1 record against Atlanta and Florida during the first seven games of a 13-game homestand.
“These were tough ballclubs. They were leading this division. For us to come up and stand up and pull down the wins against them, it’s a good feeling.”
Rookie right fielder Ryan Church’s three-run homer in the eighth inning Sunday helped the Nationals complete a three-game sweep of the Marlins.
Washington has trailed in each of its last eight victories, including 2-0 on Sunday, and has come from behind in 21 of its 31 wins.
“Maybe it’s our comfort zone,” Church said. “We know going late into the game, we can come back. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. We just have confidence.”
The Athletics are in last place in the AL West, but come into Tuesday’s contest with two straight wins and six in their last seven games.
Scott Hatteberg hit a three-run homer, Eric Chavez hit a two-run shot and Marco Scutaro also connected, helping the A’s complete an impressive homestand with a 12-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
“We’re starting to become the team I thought—and everybody thought—we’d be,” Hatteberg said. “We had a really good homestand. It’s what we wanted and what we needed. (Confidence) just comes with scoring a lot of runs. Everybody gets kind of loose.”
The A’s now hit the road for interleague play at Washington and Atlanta with a rediscovered self-assuredness—a far cry from the beating their psyches took during a recent eight-game skid, all away from the Coliseum.
“Every team goes into a slump, even the best teams like the Yankees,” Scutaro said. “That’s the good thing about baseball. Tomorrow is a new day and you can forget the past.”