Washington Nationals: Dan Haren Looking Like An All-Star Again

By James Williams
Bennie Sieu -USA Today Sports

The Washington Nationals have a five-game winning streak going, and they still have hopes of making a return trip to the postseason. The sudden resurgence of right-handed pitcher Dan Haren could very well be the key to a successful run at catching either the Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals or the Arizona Diamondbacks for one of the two NL Wild Card spots.

Haren, who is 7-11, will face the San Francisco GiantsRyan Vogelsong as the Nationals go for a sweep of the Giants this afternoon at Nationals Park. A win today would also get them back to the .500 mark and extend their winning streak to six games. That positive energy would be a great launching pad for a big 10-game road trip that begins Friday at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves.

Haren has won three games in a row, and after coming off the DL, he has a 2.43 ERA in his last six starts and has allowed only two homers in 37 innings. That is impressive given that he led the NL in giving up the long ball before he went on the DL and hit the reset button.

In the playoff run, an effective Haren to go along with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann gives Washington a fighting chance to make the postseason. But there is a problem that manager Davey Johnson has to address if there is any hope of the Nationals making a playoff run.

He must see how best to fix the team’s suddenly inconsistent bullpen. The trio of  Fernando Abad, Ian Krol and Ryan Mattheus have not exactly been lights-out. Since coming back off the DL with a healed broken hand, Matteus has been prone to walking batters and giving up hits with runners seemingly always in scoring position.

Both Abad and Krol, left-handed specialists, continue to be spotty. Krol can be forgiven since he is a rookie and still finding his way in the big leagues. But Abad is a veteran pitcher and more should be expected from him.

Not all is bad in the Nationals’ bullpen. Long man Tanner Roark has yet to give up a run in his first six innings in the bigs, and both setup man Tyler Clippard and closer Rafael Soriano have been solid. However, they are in danger of being overused, since the guys in front of them aren’t performing as well as hoped.

With 44 games left as of today, the Washington Nationals’ hopes of making it back to postseason rest on a “wing (their pitchers arms) and a prayer (that they keep hitting and scoring runs).”

Rant Sports columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @wordmandc

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