It's just one game at the start of a very tough road trip, and it came against a Dodgers club exhausted after playing Sunday night in Pittsburgh that decided to sit several key regulars.
That doesn't make Monday night's 8-3 victory in Los Angeles any less important for the Nationals.
Truth be told, they had to win this game. The Mets had already come from behind to beat the Rockies, so a victory was required to keep pace in the NL East. The Dodgers, as previously stated, were fielding something less than their "A" lineup, with an ineffective Brett Anderson on the mound. And Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw await for the final two games of this series.
So if ever the Nationals needed a win, this was it. They did so in impressive fashion, both at the plate (where Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond combined for six hits, three doubles and two homers) and on the mound (where Gio Gonzalez completed eight scoreless innings).
No, this one game didn't cure everything that ails the Nats. But it was an important performance in something that resembled a must-win situation, and it set a distinct positive tone on the first night of a long road trip.
Some thoughts on what went down at Chavez Ravine late last night while many of you were already asleep...
This lineup is showing actual signs of life
The 8-run outburst, with five of those runs coming in the top of the sixth, was enjoyable to watch and featured big hits from several guys who had been slumping. But this performance wasn't completely out of the blue, either.
This actually has been going on for more than a week now. Over their last eight games, the Nationals have scored an average of 5.4 runs while hitting .272 with a .361 on-base percentage and .440 slugging percentage.
And the production isn't coming from one source; it has been spread throughout the lineup. Consider that the Nats have scored 43 runs in their last eight games, and not one came via a Bryce Harper homer. The frontrunner for NL MVP has only one extra-base hit and one RBI during this span.
That's a good sign. Too often the Nationals have relied on Harper to carry the load this season. Over the last week, they've proven they score runs in bunches even when the young star has little tangible impact.
Ian Desmond is warming up
I know, I know. We've proclaimed this several times before, and in every case, Desmond has fallen back into a slump. But this time is different! No, really. It is.
Because after launching a pair of home runs Monday night, Desmond is now hitting .315 with seven homers, 16 RBI, a .383 on-base percentage and 1.040 OPS over his last 20 games. That's not an insignificant sample, and it even includes a slump in the middle portion of this streak.
Of course he needs to prove he can keep this up, or something bearing slight resemblance to this. But Desmond is delivering right now for the Nationals, and not a moment too soon for this team and for its shortstop.
Ryan Zimmerman is already red-hot
Remember how we wondered how long it would take for the Nationals' returning regulars to get their swings in place after missing considerable time due to injury? Well, for Zimmerman, it didn't take much time at all.
He looks as locked-in at the plate as he's been all season. Really, he's as locked-in as he's been since last summer, when that nasty hamstring pull essentially ended his season in late July.
Since coming off the DL on July 28, a span of 14 games, Zimmerman is now hitting .333 with four homers, 11 RBI, a .400 on-base percentage and 1.129 OPS. Seven of his last nine hits have been for extra bases.
The emergence of Zimmerman as an offensive force again means the world to the Nats, because finally somebody is providing some legitimate protection for Harper in the lineup.
Gio Gonzalez is pitching as well as we've seen him in a long time
Monday night's 8-inning start was probably Gonzalez's best of the season. He didn't give up a run. He only walked one batter. He threw 76-of-117 pitches for strikes. And he completed eight innings for the first time this season.
This, though, was merely a continuation of what Gonzalez has been doing for awhile now. Over his last eight starts, the lefty is now 5-0 with a 1.48 ERA. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of those eight starts.
There's probably no coincidence in the fact Jose Lobaton has been behind the plate for every one of those starts. Lobaton has become Gonzalez's personal catcher, and you can't dispute the results. The eight times Wilson Ramos has caught him this year, Gonzalez owns a 5.12 ERA. The 13 times Lobaton has caught him, Gonzalez's ERA is 2.55.
Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.