Jun 27

With skid over, Nats can focus on winning habits

It’s too early to say whether Tanner Roark’s guile and Jayson Werth’s guts actually saved the Nationals’ 2016 season. But when they look back it all, their June 26 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers may be seen as an epiphany.

For now, at least, the bleeding has stopped.

In just a week’s time, the Nationals had gone from the hottest team in the National League to the coldest, and this curly wweek’s series with the New York Mets went from an opportunity to build a huge National League East lead to a struggle to stay in first place.

But after seven straight losses, most of then excruciating, Roark’s seven innings of shutout ball finally put a stop to it. Perhaps no Nats pitcher this season has made more clutch pitches in a single game — retiring two with a man in scoring position in the fourth, three more in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two in the seventh.

Where the Nats were finding ways to lose — like botching forceouts, allowing key homers to benchwarmers, and turning singles into Little League home runs — they finally found a way to win. Even after all of Roark’s heroics, the Nats still wound up in a one-run game, with the potential tie run just 90 feet from home, thanks to a blinding sun in left field.

But just as he’d done 11 days earlier with his bat against the Cubs, Werth sealed the win with a clutch play, this time with his glove and his focus, hauling in a fly ball just a few feet from where he had lost one moments earlier.

Roark’s gem hasn’t solved all the Nats’ problems, many of which became all the more apparent during the skid. They still need more production out of the leadoff spot, balls to fall with men on base, and consistent pitching from their bullpen and ace starters.

But with the seven-game monkey off their backs, the Nats can relax a bit while focusing on the solutions to those problems. And they’re starting this homestand against a Mets team that is struggling with injuries and can do no better than leave town with a tie first first place.

Instead of beginning the these next 10 games with desperation and uncertainty, the Nats begin with hope and opportunity. After their longest losing streak in seven seasons, that’s about all they can ask for.