Nationals teammates Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez each spoke at the end of the 2016 regular season how they viewed the playoffs as a new beginning, how their frustrating years were behind them and how the postseason offered a clean slate. All numbers start at zero again in October and they were determined to use that fresh start to their advantage.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who also had a tough year involving injuries and struggles at the plate, including a career-worst .642 OPS, thought the same for himself.
"This year was frustrating for me. I'm not going to lie. I've always been a streaky guy and I just never really got going this year. Whether it was missing a little bit of time here or there, or just not being able to get going," he said.
"I was joking the other day. When you have a great regular season, you say 'I want to carry this into the postseason.' Then, when you don't have a good season, you say 'now I get to start a new one.' It's kind of whatever you want to make of it."
Through two games in the Nats' NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Zimmerman has looked like a new version of himself, a revitalized offensive force delivering exactly what his team hoped he could provide. He has become more important in the Nats' lineup as a right-handed bat with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos done for the season, and so far the results have been very good.
Zimmerman is 3-for-7 with a walk, having reached in exactly half of his NLDS plate appearances. He hasn't scored or brought in a run, but he is playing better than he was just recently when he closed the regular season going 4-for-19 in his final six games.
Zimmerman, 32, says he also just feels different.
"Something in this last week or 10 days, whether it was in [batting practice] or just having time to get healthy, I feel great at the plate," he explained. "I feel like I'm right where I need to be. I'm having great at-bats. I'm just excited it came. I guess it's better late than never."
Zimmerman has been among several Nats players who weren't offensive standouts int he regular season, but have produced so far through two NLDS games. Catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, in particular, have been huge. Lobaton's three-run homer on Sunday essentially turned the series around.
Manager Dusty Baker, naturally, is encouraged by all of that.
"You need some untimely heroes during these playoffs. We're a team and we stress that all the time. Hey man, if one guy is not performing up to his level, then somebody else has got to pick him up," Baker said.
"This is how teams win. I mean, these guys, I'm proud of them to this point, how they have responded, especially with the injuries to front-line guys. I'm just hoping that some more guys step up."
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