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82 wins for Nats ... and still counting

82 wins for Nats ... and still counting

When victory No. 82 in the most successful baseball season in the District of Columbia in 43 years was official, the reaction on the field and in the clubhouse at Nationals Park was no different than after any of the previous 81 wins.

Tyler Clippard and Kurt Suzuki met at the pitchers' mound to shake hands. Players lined up for their customary high-fives. The same mix tape of songs heard after every win was pumped through the clubhouse stereo system.

Most Nationals didn't even realize their 2-1 Labor Day triumph over the Cubs had secured the first winning season by a D.C. ballclub since Ted Williams' 1969 Senators did it at the recently renamed RFK Stadium.

"I wasn't really concerned about that," manager Davey Johnson insisted.

"That's been the farthest thing from our goal," first baseman Adam LaRoche added.

"We want to take it to the next level," Tyler Clippard chimed in. "We don't want to stop there. That's what's exciting about the season."

All fair points, and all evidence of just how far the Nationals have come in such a short amount of time. When this team opened its season five months ago against these same Cubs, a winning record would have constituted a significant accomplishment.

But as the wins began piling up and the magic number suddenly became part of the local lexicon, the bar for success kept getting raised. Now, anything short of the first postseason berth by a D.C. ballclub since 1933 would be a huge disappointment.

So the most important development out of Monday's game from the Nationals' perspective wasn't how many wins they had at the end of the day but who earned that win with another impressive pitching performance: Ross Detwiler.

In churning out seven scoreless innings, Detwiler improved to 9-6 on the season, lowered his ERA to 3.15 and left his teammates feeling as confident as ever about his ability to keep winning games down the stretch and perhaps into October.

"He's been great for us this year, and it's really only the tip of the iceberg for him," Ryan Zimmerman said of the 26-year-old left-hander. "He's still learning how to pitch, so he's come a long way. I think we're all proud of how he's learned from his mistakes and grown and become the pitcher he is."

Where Detwiler used to be good for four or five innings before fading, he now appears to get stronger as the game progresses. It's no longer a big deal for him to complete seven innings, nor to pitch his way out of jams as he did a couple of times on Monday.

He's learned both to be aggressive with his fastball early in the count but also to know when to turn to his offspeed stuff in a pinch. Put it all together, and the Nationals' current No. 5 starter (and soon-to-be No. 4 starter once Stephen Strasburg is shut down) is at last living up to the promise the club saw when it drafted him sixth overall in the country in 2007.

"I'm learning myself and what I need to do in different situations," he said. "Say I'm behind in the count. I'm learning how to throw a changeup, or how to throw a sinker down in the zone, instead of just sinking in there and letting it get hit. I think that's the biggest thing."

Detwiler was aided on Monday by a couple of timely hits from some of the big bats in the Nationals' lineup. LaRoche got things started with a solo homer in the second, his team-leading 25th of the year. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman combined to produce what proved to be a key insurance run in the eighth, with Harper singling to right and then coming all the way around to score on Zimmerman's double into the left-field corner.

That run turned out to be the difference after Clippard suffered a hiccup in the ninth, surrendering a couple of singles that allowed Chicago to plate its only run and threaten to plate the tying tally.

Clippard, though, calmly struck out Josh Vitters to end the game, secure his 30th save and secure a winning season for a once-downtrodden franchise that is at long last getting to enjoy the fruits of success.

There aren't many remaining in the organization from those early days in 2005 and 2006, when nobody quite knew what the future held for the Nationals.

As it turned out, there were plenty of dark days ahead: 100-loss seasons, front office and coaching staff overhauls, small crowds, poor TV ratings and only a glimmer of hope.

Which only makes this season sweeter for the few who have seen this thing all the way through and who understand 82 wins is only the next step toward a much loftier accomplishment.

"We've come a long way," said Zimmerman, the club's first-ever draft pick. "I guess you can't try to start an organization like we did here from the ground up and expect that to happen really quickly. We've gone through the process, and they've done things the right way. It's been a struggle sometimes and it's been frustrating, but I think now we're going to be set for not just this year, but a lot of years to come."

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Bryce Harper sends 'Wow' tweet after Nationals trade for Adam Eaton

Bryce Harper sends 'Wow' tweet after Nationals trade for Adam Eaton

Nationals star Bryce Harper has had an eventful week, which included finding out that he might not be the Nationals star much longer. 

An anonymous club executive said that the Nationals won't meet Harper's demands for a 10-year, $400 million contract, and are prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. 

That happened on Monday, then on Tuesday Washington missed out on trading from White Sox ace Chris Sale, who ended up going to Boston. 

And then on Wednesday, the Nats ended up trading their pile of top pitching prospects to the White Sox anyway, but instead of getting Sale, they got centerfielder Adam Eaton

Eaton, 28, has never been an All-Star. But he finished last season with a .284 batting average, .362 slugging percentage, 59 RBIs and 14 home runs. He's also an asset defensively in the outfield. 

But the pitching prospects Washington gave up – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning – amounted to a steep price for Eaton. So steep that the Nats reportedly offered almost the same package of prospects for Sale. 

Within minutes of the Eaton trade news breaking, Harper tweeted this. 

He followed it up with a message of welcome a few minutes later.

Obviously, the initial tweet is what grabbed peoples' attention. But who can really say if Harper meant it as a positive or negative reaction to the Eaton trade? Frankly, it might not have anything to do with the trade at all. 

Plenty of other "wow" things happened this week. 

MORE NATIONALS: Dusty Baker takes part in “Play Ball” clinics in D.C.

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Nationals deal top prospects Giolito, Lopez and Dunning to White Sox for Adam Eaton

Nationals deal top prospects Giolito, Lopez and Dunning to White Sox for Adam Eaton

The Washington Nationals were unable to trade the farm to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for former Cy Young winner Chris Sale. But still looking to make a splash, the Nationals went back to the White Sox, and have made a deal.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the Nationals will trade Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton, pending physicals.

Eaton, 28 years old, will be entering his sixth season, having played two seasons with the Diamondbacks and two season with the White Sox.

Eaton has never made an All-Star team, but has a solid OBP of .357 and has back-to-back seasons of 14 home runs and at least 50 RBIs. He also has a very friendly contract, having recently signed a five-year, $23.5 million contract.

In return, the White Sox get a treasure trove of prospects.

Giolito is the top prospect in the Nationals' organization and one of the top prospects in all of MLB. He appeared in six games for the nationals in 2016, finishing with a 6.75 ERA and 11 strikeouts. Lopez, the No. 4 prospect in the organization, appeared in 11 games in 2016, finishing with a 4.91 ERA and 42 strikeouts.

Dunning, one of the ace of the Florida Gators' staff, was selected by the Nationals with the 29th pick of the 2016 MLB Draft.

But considering the Nationals were willing to give up numerous top prospects for Chris Sale or Andrew McCutchen, it's puzzling that the Nationals would receive just Eaton in return.

Heading into the 2016 winter meetings, it was well known that the Nationals were interested in making a big splash and shaking things up.

It looks like they're doing just that.