Their closer has blown three saves and put at least two men on base in eight of his last 13 appearances. Their rookie phenom is mired in the first prolonged slump of his life, one that has lasted nearly two months. Their catchers have thrown out exactly one of the last 43 opponents who have tried to steal a base against them.Their All-Star shortstop is out until September. Their highest-paid player just returned from a three-month stint on the disabled list and already had to miss a game because his legs were tired. And their staff ace is going to be shut down for the remainder of the season in about a month.Oh, did we mention the Nationals have baseball's best record and are now on pace to win 99 games in 2012?If you prevented yourself from checking the standings over the past few weeks, you might very well have come away convinced the Nationals are in trouble. They haven't exactly played like the best team in the majors.But this might be the true confirmation of Washington's new-found status as a baseball powerhouse. Even when they're not playing their best, they're still winning more regularly than any other club in the sport.Why? Because they're loaded with superior talent, up and down the roster.The rotation isn't just Stephen Strasburg and four guys who take up space. Jordan Zimmermann has the NL's second-best ERA. Gio Gonzalez has the fourth-most strikeouts. Edwin Jackson has completed seven or more innings seven times. And Ross Detwiler, with another strong performance last night, now boasts a 2.99 ERA (ninth-best in the NL).The lineup is as deep with potent bats as just about any other in the NL. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth ... what team wouldn't take that quintet, or sextet once Desmond returns from his oblique tear? And even when those stalwarts struggle to produce on a given night, Davey Johnson merely turns to someone else for clutch hits, whether it's Danny Espinosa (who drove in all three runs last night), Chad Tracy or Roger Bernadina.And there are few slicker-fielding clubs than this one, from Zimmerman's Gold Glove at third base to LaRoche's steadying influence at first base to Bernadina's game-saving ability in center field. (And if you saw his jaw-dropping conclusion to last night's victory in Houston, you know just how important Bernadina has become to this team.)Point is, the Nationals aren't winning games because of the contributions of one or two big names. They're winning games because night in and night out, they manage to get contributions from just about everybody on the roster.And through the season's first four months, they continue to get better.At the one-quarter pole, the Nationals were on pace to win 93 games. At the one-third pole, the pace went up to 96 wins. At the halfway mark, they were holding steady at a 96-win pace. And now that they're just surpassed the two-thirds mark, they've upped the rate to 99 wins.That's a pretty good sign. While other clubs endure through roller-coaster seasons, riding long winning streaks one week and then falling into the abyss the next, the Nationals have been remarkably consistent.There have been only three 10-game stretches this season in which the Nationals lost more games than they won: April 19-May 1 (4-6), June 15-25 (3-7) and July 8-21 (4-6). That's it. Those don't even qualify as troublesome losing streaks.That most recent downturn ended after the first game of the July 21 doubleheader against the Braves. At that moment, the Nationals had seen their lead over Atlanta dwindle to 1 12 games. Then John Lannan was called up from Class AAA to make a spot start and pitched a gem, and ever since then the Nats are 14-4.Are there some things to be concerned about with this team? Sure. They're by no means perfect, and some questions have been raised in recent days.But there's simply too much talent on that roster to let the little hiccups cascade into major headaches.This just in: The Nationals are the best team in baseball at this moment. And there's nothing fluky about it.
Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.
Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.
Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.
Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.
Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.
Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.
New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.
A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.
Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.
The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
A sea of red and white Nationals jerseys flooded toward the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. But there wasn’t a Bryce Harper signing. And there wasn’t even a game. The Nationals are in New York to play the Mets.
Then, as I turned and walked down the street I began to see random jerseys: Phillies, Yankees, Astros and Mets, among others.
It all clicked.
As I walked inside the building and looked around, there was everything from memorabilia to interactive games like a speed gun, home run derby and more.
MLB fans filled the building and the once-sea of red and white thinned out into a blob of colors. Fans from all different teams came out for the weekend’s festivities.
This left me curious: Could I find a jersey for every MLB team?
It was easy to find the big name teams. Going down the escalator, I was hit with a couple Jacob deGrom jerseys and a Carlos Correa one, as well.
Mets, check. Astros, check.
A right turn and there was an Aaron Nola jersey, the All-Star phenom who surprised this year for the first-place Phillies. Check.
The Yankees and Red Sox weren’t far behind.
As the day went on, my notepad of teams kept getting crossed off. The National League Central was the first division to go, and the American League Central followed suit. Surprisngly, it took me a couple hours — of course, I wasn't searching the whole time — to find the Marlins. Every other NL East team was easy.
Three hours later, I had found all but five teams: Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels.
I decided to take another lap before I left. And standing, right by the stolen base activity, stood a man in a Randy Johnson throwback Diamondbacks jersey.
We both look at the kids running down the line toward the base before a purple jersey caught my eye. It was another kid, waiting in line, wearing a Nolan Arenado jersey.
That left me with just three more teams. As I headed toward the exit, I was shocked I had not seen a Mike Trout jersey. One of the greatest players in modern baseball and not one Angels fan.
Then a co-worker pointed toward the MLB shop area. Finally, a Trout jersey. And then I turned around to grab my backpack and notebook. Another Trout jersey. Weird. I crossed off the name and looked up. Another Angels jersey. OK, enough.
With just two more jerseys left and me being the stubborn person I am, I walked around the FanFest for another 20 minutes, looking for that green A’s jersey, or dark blue Rays one.
Then, I finally found Stomper, the Athletics mascot taking photos with kids. On him was an A’s jersey — ironic, right?
After about 10 more minutes I gave up. There were no Rays jerseys. The best I could do was a Tampa Bay tank top a woman was wearing while her kids played. But, that doesn’t count. We’re looking for jerseys.
Oh, and here are other sports apparel that I saw before that non-existent Rays jersey.
- Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan t-shirt
- San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo jersey
- A Texas Longhorns athletic shirt
- France soccer jersey
- Philadelphia 76ers shirt
- Montreal Expos Vlad Guerrero jersey
- Oakland Raiders Bo Jackson jersey
- Golden State Warriors Steph Curry jersey
- DC United Wayne Rooney jersey
And so, the search for a Rays jersey continues.
MORE ALL-STAR GAME NEWS:
- Ultimate ASG Preview: Your guide to 2018 ASG in D.C.
- ASG Uniforms: Best, worst of past decade
- Nationals ASG History: Every Nat All-Star ever
- Home Run Derby: Preview, predictions and more
- Celebrity Softball Game: Participiants, how to watch and more
- Sneak Peek: Take a look at Harper's HR Derby cleats