BALTIMORE — The key rally in Sunday's 3-2 victory over the Orioles may have aptly encapsulated much of what the first half of the Nationals' season has been about.
Thanks to three consecutive two-out base hits from Clint Robinson, Dan Uggla and Tyler Moore -- none of whom were intended to be regulars before the year began -- the Nats drove in all the runs runs they would need in the fourth inning to give Max Scherzer some breathing room to seal a win.
There's no denying that the 2015 season has been headlined thus far by the Herculean efforts of All-Stars Scherzer and Bryce Harper. But it's also been highlighted by who hasn't been on the field; Sunday's lineup was without four preseason projected starters in Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span because of various injuries. For most teams with championship aspirations, that's a death knell. But for the Nats, it's given the bench players a chance to show that they're good enough to keep the club afloat.
"Just because they aren't everyday guys, doesn't mean they can't play," Uggla said of his fellow reserves. "When they get an opportunity, they're going to rake. It's always fun watching those guys."
The fill-ins are a confluence of fascinating (and unlikely) stories. Uggla, for example, was fighting for a roster spot in spring training before barely making the team and eventually notching arguably the biggest hit of the season so far. Robinson was essentially a career minor leaguer before he made his first prolonged stint in the big leagues this year at age 30; now he's hitting near the middle of the order. Danny Espinosa's bounce back campaign has exceeded Nats fans' expectations by miles. Rookie Michael A. Taylor is trying to prove he's ready to be an everyday outfielder in 2016 and beyond.
The tales go on and on, but the bottom line is that collectively, the reserves have sent a strong message about what they're capable of.
"It says something for our everyday guys, too," Moore said. "We're kind of giving them some help and taking some of the pressure off those guys."
All of it has helped add up to a two-game lead in the NL East as the club heads to the All-Star break. And as Moore mentioned, the bench has given the regulars high hopes for the season's second half.
"Having those [bench] guys just excites you for the postseason even more," said Bryce Harper. "You have those guys on the bench and hopefully we're going to get the guys back that we need to get back and our bench is going to be stronger than ever."
"It's awesome," added Ian Desmond. "To see the work they put in on a daily basis, kind of their patience and perseverance pays off. They're grinding every day and we've got a special group of guys coming off the bench for us."
As the second half of the season begins, all of the Nats' preseason goals are still there for the taking. Sure, the road to get to this point has been fraught with far more trials and tribulations than most baseball pundits would have expected. But thanks to its motley crew of contributors, the club can still dream big once play resumes Friday.
"Every team's going to go through [injuries]. But it's how you handle the adversity when you go through the marathon. We've had guys step up," said closer Drew Storen. "Everybody's happy with where we're at. We're going to pretty much get a good team back when guys come off the DL, so it's going to be exciting."