The beginning of the Nationals' weekend series against the lowly Milwaukee Brewers was about as unfortunate as they come. The Nats were blown out by a bad team on the first day of what is by all accounts a very important homestand.
That followed a tough loss to the Colorado Rockies, one that saw Max Scherzer lose to Yohan Flande for the second time in two weeks. They went from a near-sweep to losers of two straight games to teams that have been thinking about next year since April.
Two days later, however, and the Nats are once again winners of two straight. They beat the Brewers on Sunday by the score of 9-5. Now they have two consecutive series wins for the first time since June 23-28, and have notched at least six runs in two straight days for the first time since June 20-21.
Once again, the Nationals have what some would call momentum. Now the question becomes, what do they do with it?
The Nats have won two consecutive games, but winning their third in a row has lately proven an elusive feat. The last time they had a three-game winning streak was July 11-17 with the All-Star break sandwiched in between. They have won three straight just twice since July 1.
"It's hard to do that at this level," Ryan Zimmerman said of winning streaks. "I think we just need to try and continue to win series. That's all you really can do. It's hard to sweep and win a lot in a row up here. I think our goal is to win every series from here on out and if we do that, we'll have a good shot."
The Nats are off on Monday, but Tuesday will give them their first opportunity to answer that call. It will come against the San Diego Padres, who despite their shortcomings this season, are about as good as the Nats at this point in the year. Both are near the .500 mark and both are starting to show signs of life. San Diego won five straight entering Sunday.
Though the Padres do not appear destined for the playoffs, the road will technically get tougher. The Nats hope several things in particular continue as the week continues.
"The offensive approach is important," Matt Williams explained. "The typical at-bats that we had today. Jayson [Werth], at the top of the lineup, saw a lot of pitches. Anthony [Rendon] worked counts. Zim walked a couple of times. So that just creates opportunity. Those type of offensive at-bats are important. Yeah, guys are gonna hit the ball out of the ballpark on occasion but that’s not the measure of our success. It come from those extended at-bats, those extended innings. That offensively I hope continues to happen."
"I think homers will come when you're trying to have good ABs and trying to drive the ball into the gaps and line drives, things like that. Homers are mistakes," Bryce Harper said. "If we can just keep that going, keep having fun and enjoying the game and having good ABs, I think we'll be just fine."
Something that could help is the imminent return of center fielder Denard Span. Span is nursing back tightness and has been on the disabled list since July 7, but on Sunday he completed his sixth minor league rehab game and has now played on three straight days.
Getting Span back will not solve everything that has been ailing them in the second half of the season, a stretch that has seen them go 14-22. But he will certainly help.
The Nationals are 35-24 this season when Span plays and just 27-37 without him. Since he joined the Nats they are 208-151 (.579) when he plays and .36-52 (.409) when he doesn't.
Again, it's not as simple as those numbers suggest, nothing in baseball is. But the Nats still like their chances moving forward, especially given the improving health of Span, and Yunel Escobar - who has missed the last two games with a hyper-extended neck - for that matter.
"We haven't had all of our top guys for two months out of the season, or however many times. We haven't had our whole lineup," Harper said. "When Denard comes back it's going to be even better. It's a lot of fun with the way we're going right now. If we can just keep that going, keep having fun and enjoying the game and having good ABs, I think we'll be just fine."