The Washington Nationals continue to demonstrate that they are a team to reckon with as the team approaches the midpoint in 2012 season, having completed a second straight road series sweep in a 6-2 victory against Toronto on Wednesday. For the series, the Nationals outscored the Blue Jays 16-7; after sweeping the Boston Red Sox the series earlier by a combined score of 15-9. The win secures Washington their first undefeated six-game road trip arriving from Montreal in 2005, and extends the team's lead in the National League east to five games in the loss column. Washington now owns a league-best 20-13 road record and a second best overall record of 38-23; a level of success that many thought was at least a year away from occurring.
Entering the inter-league road trip, the Nationals possessed baseball's best earned run average of 2.97; and their efforts against solid lineups in Boston and Toronto make their six-game winning streak even more impressive. Over the six games, the Nationals yielded more than three runs only once; in a 7-4 victory in the series opener in Boston. While stalwarts Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann have continued to dominate, the recent performances from Edwin Jackson and Chien-Ming Wang on this road trip have made the rotation a solid five deep.
As good as the starting rotation has been, the bullpen has stepped up as well, with Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen becoming a dependable go-to lefty-righty combination in set up roles; and Tyler Clippard dominating in his newly appointed closer role. With the recent return of Brad Lidge and eventual return of Drew Storen from injury, the relief corps is only going to get better in maintaining leads given to them in the seventh inning and beyond.
While several every day starters are out with injuries and sluggers Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman struggling at the plate, it would be inexperienced lesser-known talent like catcher Jhonatan Solano and outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore who would spark the offense of late; with Solano hitting his first career home run in Tuesday night's win and Moore slugging his first two career home runs in Wednesday's victory.
When considering the young talent on the Washington roster; not lost in the recent team success has been the play of phenom Bryce Harper, who has made the most of his brief major league opportunity. Since bottoming out in May with a .227 batting average, Harper has been on fire; hitting successfully in 17 of his last 22 games, hitting at a .369 clip with five home runs. Even when not hitting, Harper has been a force on the field, chasing down fly balls all over the outfield and scoring a game winning run on Sunday after drawing a ninth inning walk. It is difficult to say that Harper could exceed his lofty expectations, but in the past month he has done just that.
The Nationals return home for a six game home-stand with AL East-leaders New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. With dominant pitching, solid fielding, and timely hitting throughout the lineup, there is little reason to think that the Washington Nationals' bubble will burst any time soon.
Scott Duhaime is a life-long Washington Nationals fan with a career statistics/analytics background. His passion for baseball and his quantitative skills translate into a deep analysis of player statistical contributions both to their respective teams and the sport in general.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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