By Illya Harrell on August 4, 2014
Heading into the games of Aug. 4, the Washington Nationals enjoy a 3.5-game lead over the Atlanta Braves. With the Braves struggling mightily as of late, the Nats are primed to make a run at home-field advantage throughout the NL Playoffs, but only if these five fellas play be more consistent ball.
When Stephen Strasburg realizes he has the best NL stuff east of Clayton Kershaw, opposing batters will be relegated to lucky opposite field smack singles. Nats fans have seen a Strasburg who flashes brilliance mixed with mediocre outings -- way too many mediocre outings for a player 'Baseball America' called "a once-in-a-generation talent."
Can't fault a brother for being gimpy all the time, but Washington would sure like to see more Ryan Zimmerman on the field. He missed 44 games earlier in the season, struggled through June and started mashing in July -- .362/.418/.569 in 16 games -- only to suffer a severely torn hammy while busting his butt down the first base line to beat out what would have been a 4-6-3 double play. Nats fans have got to love Z-Man's hustle. But at what price?
Goodness gracious, talk about a tale of two seasons for Adam LaRoche. He and Anthony Rendon were the offensive glue that held the Nats together while Zimmerman and Bryce Harper were on the shelf. At the end of May, in his first 37 games of 2014, LaRoche was hitting .321/.414/.522 with seven homers and 27 RBIs. Since the first of June he's batting .228/.336/.363 with six jacks and 29 RBIs in 55 games.
Gio Gonzalez also spent time on the DL. He came back on June 18 and pitched a lackluster game against the Astros, but then he went on a 23-inning scoreless streak and won his next three straight. Now he's gone 0-3 in his last four starts with a hefty 5.23 ERA.
Bryce Harper missed about nine weeks after tearing his thumb up and needing subsequent surgery. In his 22 games before the injury he was slashing .289/.352/.422 with nine RBIs. Since Harper nearly ripped his thumb off he's hitting just .231/.333/.330 with only five RBIs in 28 games. The post-injury .330 slugging outage compared to the pre-injury .422 is a clear indicator that his thumb is still barking.
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