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Jun 29

Nats’ bench stepped up during hot streak

Many Nationals fans might have predicted at the start of the season that by the end of June, the team would have settled into first place in the National League East and reeled off a season-high eight straight wins. Even their most ardent supporters, however, might not have predicted that they’d have done it largely without the players projected to be their top offensive weapons.

Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman have been on the disabled list and were not a part of the Nats’ recent run of success. Anthony Rendon has been on the DL for the past five games with a quad injury. Bryce Harper has missed three games in the past week with hamstring issues. Denard Span was forced from the lineup on Friday and in Sunday’s second game with back spasms. Yunel Escobar was a late scratch for Max Scherzer’s no hitter, and was sidelined again for two games after being hit in the hand by a pitch Friday night.

That’s six of the team’s eight regular position players who have missed all or part of the winning streak. Yet the Nats kept winning, thanks to a bench that has stepped up in almost every conceivable way.

The biggest contributor has been Michael A. Taylor, who, if he keeps up his current level of play, will be hard pressed to give up his spot in left field whenever Werth returns from wrist fractures. In addition to his sterling defense, Taylor has stepped up big time at the plate. In the past week, encompassing much of the winning streak, he has slashed .370/.370/.519 with five doubles. What’s more, he has cut his strikeout rate dramatically, whiffing just five times in his past 27 at-bats.

Clint Robinson has become pretty much the go-to guy at first base since Zimmerman went on the DL with plantar fasciitis, and he’s filled in for injured outfielders as well. He’s gone at at .271/.3uggla64/.458 clip over the past 15 games, including two multi-hit games in the past week.

Another guy who has been forced into the lineup is Dan Uggla, who filled in Friday and in Sunday’s first game after Escobar was hit in the left hand. He was crucial to Sunday’s 3-2 win, the eighth in the streak, going 3-for-4 and scoring the insurance run on a passed ball in the sixth inning. In his past seven games, he’s 4-for-12.

And where would the Nats be this season without Danny Espinosa? Here’s a guy who was supposed to come off the bench, yet he has played in 67 of the team’s 76 games this season, playing all the infield positions and left field. His bat has been cool during the winning streak, but he has played his normal solid defense. He was also unfairly charged with an error on a tough chance off the bat of Jeff Francour in the fourth inning of Sunday’s first game.

The Nationals’ bench was a liability last season, and the team had few options when players like Werth and Zimmerman were injured. But this season, thanks to guys like Taylor, Robinson, Uggla and Espinosa, they’ve been able to weather the storm of injuries just fine, and they’ll be in even better shape when the starters return for the stretch run.