It’s no time to plan the parade route, but consider this: Washington’s 12-5 run over the last 17 games rivals its best stretches since the club reached relevance.
Every season from 2012 on has included at least one stretch of 13-4, often two. The Nationals’ best run since then? Surprisingly, a 14-3 jaunt from April 29-May 19 of last season.
So, 12-5, pretty good.
Which provides some perspective following Tuesday’s 7-5 loss in Chicago. The Nationals of the last three weeks put together a stretch not often seen -- even by an organization accustomed to winning regular-season games with regularity. During it, they lost three games by a run, another by two en route to 12 wins.
It could have been better. Since the Nationals arrived home bloodied from a sweep in New York, Patrick Corbin has made four starts.
His first was stellar: a shutout of the Miami Marlins, which included a hefty 116 pitches thrown (and the standard caveat for anything related to the Marlins as an opponent).
Corbin’s three since have been problematic. He was hammered in Cincinnati, mediocre in San Diego and beat up again Tuesday in Chicago, when he allowed seven earned runs in five innings. The exit velocities against him suggest his night could have gone even worse.
Chicago hitters averaged 97.4 mph off the bat and 99.6 mph against his key pitch, the slider. Corbin is the wart of the run.
Otherwise, it’s been productive enough to pull Washington into so-so territory, a broad leap from its aflame season of the first two months.
The Nationals are seven games out of first place in the National League East and 6 ½ out of the wild card as they arrive home.
A quick word to wild-card observers: the 6 ½-game deficit is misleading. Seven teams remain ahead of the Nationals for the two spots.
One is currently the Chicago Cubs, which dropped a half-game back in the Central on Tuesday. Milwaukee or Chicago has its hands on the first wild-card slot.
Which leaves the Nationals in a place to pass six other teams for the second one as opposed to three teams in the division. Take note. Those playoff considerations remain far away. And, this coming 11-game homestand will have a mighty influence on what happens next. Arizona arrives in a good place. It’s two games over .500 with a plus-58 run differential -- tied for second-best in the National League -- suggesting underachievement. Simple Rating System (the number of runs they are better or worse than the average team) pegs the Diamondbacks as the third-best team in the National League.
The first four games to open the season’s longest homestand does not include any layups. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray start the series for Arizona. Afterward, banged-up and hanging-on Philadelphia comes to town for four games. Atlanta follows for three.
The homestand will allow for a legitimate read of the team’s recent run. Win eight, and the club could shift into acquisition mode.
Lose eight, and the July 31 trade deadline suddenly appears a lot closer and more damning. What to do with Anthony Rendon? What to do with other veteran parts like Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier? What to do, in general, with a second consecutive failed season?
The Nationals are not there yet. But, adroitly moving through the last two-and-a-half weeks have reset the questions around the team from “When the manager is being removed?” to “What should be believed about this group?”
Back in Philadelphia on May 5, sitting in his office after everyone left, Davey Martinez said “we’re going to take off” once everyone was healthy and situated. He turned out to be right.
Now, the question is how long it will last.
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