For 10 days, they had either lost ground to the Mets or at best kept pace with the NL East leaders, unable to gain positive momentum of any kind. But late Wednesday night, the Nationals finally closed the gap a bit, taking advantage of the Orioles' walk-off win over New York by rallying themselves to beat the Rockies, 4-1 at Coors Field.
And so, on the 11th day, the Nats at long last got a game back. They now trail in the division by 3 1/2 games, with a chance to bring that number down to 3 games should Max Scherzer beat Johan Flande in Thursday's series finale, with the Mets getting a day off.
Baby steps, folks. This isn't going to happen overnight.
If the Nationals keep playing like they did Thursday, getting a dominant pitching performance and some timely hits, they'll give themselves a reasonable chance at catching the Mets and salvaging this wayward season. There was a to like in this victory, including...
Stephen Strasburg continues to dominate since returning from the DL
It wasn't all that long ago when Strasburg was the biggest question mark on the Nats roster. Nowadays, he's the closest thing they have to a sure thing in their rotation.
It's been a dramatic turnaround for the right-hander, and not only since he returned from his oblique strain. The turnaround actually began way back in June when Strasburg returned from his first DL stint, this one for a stiff neck.
He has made six starts since then, and though the oblique injury derailed things for five weeks, Strasburg has picked up right where he left off and turned back into the dominant pitcher we had seen him be in the past. In those six starts, he has gone 4-1 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, six walks and 43 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings.
Not bad, huh?
The biggest difference between Strasburg now and Strasburg back in April and May, when nothing went right? Fastball command. In his three most recent starts, he has thrown his fastball for strikes 73 percent of the time. That makes all the difference.
For the first time in awhile, Strasburg is pitching with confidence, holding tough Rockies and Giants lineups to three total earned runs over these three starts. If the Nationals are going to mount a major August/September surge, this would be great piece of the puzzle.
Jayson Werth has rediscovered his form in the leadoff spot
I wrote yesterday about the logic behind the lethargic Werth moving up to the No. 1 spot in the Nationals' lineup, hoping to take advantage of his ability to work the count while taking pressure off him to drive in runs. Well, he reached base three times during Tuesday night's win, looking perfectly comfortable in the role. Then on Wednesday he looked comfortable again, this time actually driving in the game's key runs.
At the plate with two on and two out in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, Werth lashed a ball down the right-field line, legging out a 2-run triple that put the Nationals ahead for good.
Which means the 36-year-old outfielder has now reached base five times in 11 plate appearances the last two nights, going 4-for-10 with two doubles, a triple and a walk.
That is major progress for Werth, at a time when the Nationals needed it most from him.