As the Nationals prepare to open another tough interleague series against another tough AL East opponent (the Tampa Bay Rays come to town tonight), it's time for another look at both the encouraging and the discouraging developments surrounding this team...
ENCOURAGING: The pitching staff continues to excel. Sure, there have been a couple of bumps along the way, but the staff's 2.96 ERA so far in June is significantly improved from May's 3.56 ERA. In 14 games this month, Nationals starters have yet to surrender more than three earned runs.
DISCOURAGING: The lone hiccup in that rotation has been Chien-Ming Wang. The Nats have gotten a quality start in 12 of their last 16 games. One of those non-quality starts was pitched by Gio Gonzalez, who lasted only 4 23 innings against the Braves on June 3. The other three all were pitched by Wang, who has yet to complete six innings in an outing this season.
ENCOURAGING: After bottoming out for a 20-game stretch that saw him hit a paltry .123 with a .520 OPS, Adam LaRoche appears to be getting back on track. He's 6 for his last 18 with four extra-base hits, producing a 1.178 OPS in that brief span. He may not ascend back to the All-Star level he played at through the season's first six weeks, but LaRoche is proving he can still provide pop at the plate and hits in the clutch.
DISCOURAGING: Ryan Zimmerman has seemingly lost all of his power. He has just one home run over his last 97 at-bats. (His career homer rate entering this season: one per every 25 at-bats.) He has only two extra-base hits this month.
ENCOURAGING: Tyler Clippard took over as closer on May 22 in Philadelphia. In 11 appearances since, he's allowed zero runs and one hit. Opponents are hitting .033 against him during that span.
DISCOURAGING: Before getting designated for assignment on Sunday, Brad Lidge made 11 appearances for the Nationals this season. He pitched a clean, 1-2-3 inning in only two of them. Overall, Lidge faced 51 batters with the Nats, with 23 of them safely reaching base.