The Washington Nationals were the surprise of the first half of the season.
They will try and prove that their rise to the top was no fluke as they begin a four-game series in Milwaukee against the Brewers.
Washington, which was just 67-95 last season, has dropped five of its last seven games, but entered the break with a 2 1/2 game lead over the perenial powerhouse Atlanta Braves in the NL-East.
“We’re not concerned about the wild card right now. We’re not concerned about Atlanta—they’re behind us. What we’re concerned about is going out there and winning our share of ballgames,” manager Frank Robinson said. “We know we’re in the driver’s seat right now, and if we continue to win our ballgames, we can’t be caught. Our focus is winning the division title. That’s what we’re out to do.”
On Wednesday, the Nationals traded for Rockies outfielder Preston Wilson in a bid to boost the offense. With cleanup hitter Nick Johnson on the disabled list, the Nationals were reduced to using utility players such as Carlos Baerga and Wil Cordero in the No. 4 spot in the order.
Wilson leads the Rockies with 15 homers and 47 RBIs, though he’s been plagued by a sore knee and hit just .258 with 77 strikeouts.
The Nationals’ staff has been lead by All-Star Livan Hernandez. With 12 wins at the break, he already surpassed his total from the entire 2004 season. The veteran right-hander is coming off his first All-Star game appearance on Tuesday night. Last year he was selected to the NL team, but didn’t play in the game. Hernandez believes he was being saved in case the game was tied. On Tuesday night though, he pitched one inning and gave up two runs on two hits in the bottom of the fourth, but relished the All-Star experience.
“There are a lot of surprises in baseball. Being an All-Star is something special and you need to enjoy it because you don’t know when you will come back again,” Hernandez said. “You need to enjoy the moment, especially with your family here.”
Despite an inflamed right knee that has him contemplating arthroscopic surgery after the season, Hernandez is ready to pitch in the second half.
“The knee is good. It needed a little rest for the second half. It will not be perfect, but it will be good to play,” said Hernandez, who has not missed a start this season and is 1-0 against the Brewers.
Milwaukee hopes that its series win over Atlanta before the break can carry over against the National.