Aug 04

Resilience, luck have Nats in good position

We’ve all heard that it’s better to be lucky than good, but a resilient Nationals team has offered proof over the past week that it’s best to be both.

The Nats were clinging to a 1 1-2 game lead over Atlanta in the National League East just a week ago. Since then, they have lost four of seven games, some in spectacular spirit-crushing fashion. Yet they have gained two games on the Braves, who may be flatlining at an opportune time.

Is that luck, grit or a little bit of both?

Before you answer, consider this: In the past seven days, the Nats’ season had four chances to derail. It’s still on the tracks.

The formerly bulletproof bullpen’s epic meltdown in Miami alone might have sent many teams into a tailspin. Closing games is a matter of confidence, and when a team and a pitcher lose that, it can be hard to regain it.

Then there was offensive power outage. The Nats’ silent bats betrayed Stephen Strasburg in his best road start of the season in Miami, and turned stalwart Doug Fister into a hard-luck loser against Philadelphia. In between, the Nats lacked the firepower to take advantage of Cliff Lee’s elbow injury in a 10-4 loss to the Phillies.

Four winnable games went up in flames, but the Nats were undaunted. That’s because strong starting pitching has kept the team on an even keel. Washington starters have gone at least seven innings in nine of the past ten starts, the only exception being Gio Gonzalez’ dud against the Phillies on Thursday. And during this past difficult week, some have turned in tough efforts to stop the bleeding.

Tanner Roark pitched as comfortably in Marlins Park as any Nationals starter ever has and survived another shaky bullpen performance on Wednesday. Jordan Zimmermann shook off the horrors of last Monday’s game in Miami to blank the Phillies on Saturday, and Strasburg dominated Philadelphia on Sunday, as he has for the past two seasons, in his second consecutive strong start.

So what kind of team would actually come unglued by such a rough stretch? Ladies and gentlemen, the Atlanta Braves. Not only have they lost six straight, they’ve lost four one-run games, three in extra innings.

A road trip through Dodger Stadium is tough for any team, so it was no surprise to see them drop three there. But the punchless Braves then were swept in San Diego, including a blown save by Craig Kimbrel. Talk about spirit-crushing losses.

Nobody in the Washington clubhouse is shedding any tears for the Braves, though. Not with a crucial showdown looming this weekend.

Have the Nats been lucky, good or both? We may not have to wait long to find out.