Yahoo Sports Minute:

Nationals stay positive after mediocre April, May

The SportsXchange

Memorial Day weekend is over and the team based in the nation's capital is two games below .500 at 25-27.

That is not how this season was supposed to unfold for the Washington Nationals. They were considered the consensus favorites to win the National League East in 2014.

Yet first-year manager Matt Williams remains undaunted with the season nearly one-third over. He smiled when asked if he was enjoying his new job after being part of the Arizona Diamondbacks' coaching staff.

"I really like it a lot," he said. "It's stressful some days, though."

Adding to Williams' stress is that two of the Nationals' top hitters are on the disabled list. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is out with a fractured right thumb and left fielder Bryce Harper is recovering from April surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.

Zimmerman received clearance earlier in the week to start swinging a bat but is still at least a few weeks form returning. Harper could be out as long as through the All-Star break.

With the injuries in mind and knowing his lineup should eventually be at full strength, Williams is able to stay positive.

"I think you can point to a lot of things that have contributed to our record and it doesn't deter us by any stretch from getting ready to play tomorrow and getting ready to play the rest of our games," Williams said. "I'm hopeful and enthusiastic about what's to come."

Whether Williams is truly optimistic or just whistling in the dark remains to be seen.

The Nationals are 23rd in runs scored with an average of 3.90 a game, so it stands to reason that Zimmerman and Harper will help when they return. Washington has scored just 19 runs in its last seven games, leaving everyone in the lineup shaking their heads.

"We're definitely going through a tough patch right now," center fielder and leadoff hitter Denard Span said. "We just haven't been able to catch any breaks. Guys have been diving for balls left and right and taking away key hits from us. We've just got to weather the storm."

The good news for the Nationals is they are still very much in the NL East race. Though in third place, they trail the division-leading Atlanta Braves by just three games. Washington is also only three games out in the wild-card standings.

"I think we're all trying a little too hard right now," ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg said. "We're at the stage where we need to take a step back and let the game come to us."


--If it's an even year, then it must be time for the San Francisco Giants to make a serious run at a World Series title.

The Giants, of course, won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. They missed the postseason in 2011 and 2013.

Yet while the Giants were considered an afterthought -- along with the other three teams in the division -- to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West entering spring training, they have the best record in the major leagues at 34-19.

A big reason for the Giants' strong start is how general manager Brian Sabean has an inordinate amount of success when he decides to zig while the rest of baseball zags.

A case in point is first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse. While Moore got limited play on the free agent market last winter after an injury-filled season with the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles, the Giants signed him for one year and $6 million and he has hit .285 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 53 games.

Sabean was also willing to gamble two years and $23 million on right-hander Tim Hudson in free agency even though he was 38 and coming off a broken ankle. Hudson has pitched like an ace, going 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 10 starts.

--Nelson Cruz is the bargain of the year for the Baltimore Orioles.

The 33-year-old designated hitter leads the major leagues with 19 home runs and tops the American League with 48 RBIs.

The Orioles are paying him just $8 million as they waited out the free agent market until after spring training began and, unlike most teams, were willing to forfeit their first-round pick in the amateur draft as compensation.

Orioles general manager Dan Duquette deserves a ton of credit for the move -- not so much for the Ubaldo Jimenez singing, though -- and Cruz deserves as much. He cost himself more than $6 million by turning down the Texas Rangers' qualifying offer of one year and $14.1 million last November. Instead of sulking, Cruz is on course for the best season of his 10-year career.

--Social media is one of the best things that has ever happened to baseball fans, providing instantaneous news updates, game reports and the chance to interact with players, team and media.

However, it is also easy to see why some players have nothing to do with social media as it was revealed this week that a fan made what was termed a "credible death threat" to Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Khris Davis on Twitter while the team was visiting the Chicago Cubs earlier this month.

It is mystifying why anyone would do something like that. What has Khris Davis ever done to make someone want to kill him?

The Brewers say the matter was taken care of by Major League Baseball security. Here is hoping whoever threatened Davis gets the harshest penalty possible.

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