The Washington Nationals lead the New York Mets by just 2.5 games in the NL East, but after winning eight of nine, it’s safe to say that they’re the the class of the division.
Whether Washington is the class of the National League, however, is yet to be determined.
“We’ll see as the season goes on where they rank when they play the Cardinals again, when they play the Dodgers – we haven’t seen them yet – and some of the really good ball clubs that are in this league,” Nationals TV play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “(But) I think the East is there for the taking for the Nationals. You can’t assume anything in baseball because it’s a long season. You have to play your way through it. You have to play your way through injuries, which the Nationals are right now.”
Washington has been without seemingly its entire lineup in recent weeks. Denard Span has a sore knee and back, Anthony Rendon is on the DL with a strained left quad, Yunel Escobar missed some games this past weekend after getting hit by a pitch, Bryce Harper has missed a few games with nagging injuries, Ryan Zimmerman will be out a few more weeks with plantar fasciitis, and Jayson Werth will be out until August with a fractured left wrist.
And still the Nats are in the first place.
“This is a ball club that’s very resilient,” Carpenter said. “They’ve done a very good job. Clint Robinson, Michael Taylor, Tyler Moore – some of the younger guys coming off the bench have done a great job. Although Clint Robinson’s a 30-year-rold rookie who never got a chance to play with the Royals because a couple of guys named Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer were in front of him. So the Nats have some significant injuries, but they’re getting help. It speaks well of the depth of the organization and the way they’re able to keep on winning and you can credit a lot of that to the pitching.
Max Scherzer, especially. Scherzer is 9-5 with a 1.79 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP and 130 strikeouts in 110 and 1/3 innings pitched. He has gone at least eight innings in his last three starts and allowed just one hit in back-to-back, complete-game shutouts.
“It’s really the greatest stretch of pitching I’ve seen since I was a 15-year-old kid growing up in St. Louis watching Bob Gibson in 1968,” Carpenter said. “He made 33 starts that year. He had 28 complete games and he had 13 shutouts and a 1.12 ERA, which as much as anything contributed to them lowering the pitchers’ mound after him and Don Drysdale and others were having these dominant starts. So Max Scherzer is taking me personally back to a different time in the history of baseball when these pitchers were doing what they were doing in the late-’60s and they had to change the rules to keep these guys from dominating the game.
“And I’ll tell you: The great thing about him is not only his stuff; this guy gets a game face on before he starts and you don’t want to go anywhere near him,” Carpenter continued. “He’s on the bus and he’s relaxed and all that. But you get the uniform on him? We had a shot of him in San Diego several weeks ago sitting in the dugout before his game, and he looked like his eyes were shooting laser beams through the centerfield wall out there. That’s just the way he is. He is the ultimate day-of-game, game-face guy. I would not want to face this dude. He has been an amazing, amazing addition to our ball club.”