Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see whose stock is rising or falling.
Team slash: .246/.310/.483
Team ERA: 1.72
Runs per game: 5.14
Bryce Harper, RF: .360 AVG, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 1.339 OPS
Is it possible that the reigning NL MVP might have an even better season than the one he had in 2015? It's scary to consider, but not unreasonable given his torrid start. His 100th career home run — which, in typical Harper fashion was a scoreboard-breaking grand slam — ignited a long ball barrage, as he has gone deep five of the last six games. After his monster week, he now leads the majors in slugging, OPS and RBIs. And oh, he has more home runs (7) than strikeouts (6). Not too shabby. How much longer does he have to keep this up before he's unequivocally considered (if he isn't already) the best player in the game?
Daniel Murphy, 2B: .360 AVG, 4 XBH, .967 OPS
While Harper seems to lead the world in every statistical category, don't forget about Murphy, who keeps adding to his great first month with the Nats. Perhaps the 31-year-old second baseman will eventually regress to his career norms, but you wonder if his tweaked approach at the plate from last postseason could sustain for an entire year. Dusty Baker recently said that Murphy has learned to keep his hands in more often and focus on pulling the ball rather than trying to hit it to the opposite field, which he had done for most of his career. Because of that, what you're seeing is more of a power stroke from him on inside pitches. Who knows if Murphy will be able to maintain this, but if he does, the Nats may have gotten one of the best bargains in the offseason.
Stephen Strasburg, SP: 2-0, 2 ER, 17 K
With Strasburg on the last year of his contract, could this finally be the season he puts it all together and deliver wire-to-wire dominance? It's too soon to answer that, but so far, so good for the 27-year-old right hander. Strasburg had an excellent week despite not being at full strength, and is 3-0 for the first time in his big league career. He went 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball vs. the Braves while recovering from flu-like symptoms, and then followed that up with eight shutout frames on the road vs. the Marlins Tuesday night. He's using his usual formula of a mid-90s fastball to go along with a changeup, but has added a cutter (or slider, depending on who you ask) to keep hitters off balance. As a result, he's only allowed one extra-base hit in three starts.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP: 0-1, BS, 2 ER
Though it wasn't always pretty in his first few opportunities, Papelbon's season had been going relatively swimmingly through the first couple of weeks. He was a perfect 5-for-5 in save chances, though he did put base runners on in three of those outings. But his luck ran out Sunday vs. the Phillies as he allowed the tying and winning runs to score in the 10th inning, which came immediately after a Harper solo shot put the Nats up 2-1 in the top of the frame.
Needless to say, the Nats can't afford to have Papelbon struggling, especially considering that the rest of the bullpen arms are trying to find their respective niches. He's only blown one save so far, but has now allowed runners in four of his first six appearances. So it'll probably take a few clean ninth innings before fans will be a little less anxious whenever he is called upon.