Nationals hopes still alive after win vs. Phillies
Denard Span was answering a question about his 26-game hitting streak when the first roar came from another corner of the Nationals' clubhouse. Span looked around as asked what happened, then was informed Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez had just robbed a home run from the Reds' Jay Bruce in the top of the ninth inning at Miller Park.
"OK," Span said. "That's good for us."
Not as good as what happened a couple of minutes later as Bryce Harper was answering a question about the Nationals' just-completed, 11-2 thumping of the Phillies and was interrupted by another roar from teammates who were watching Milwaukee's Sean Halton launch a walk-off homer against ex-Nationals lefty Zach Duke, officially handing Cincinnati a crushing loss.
"So, that's good, too," Harper said with a smile.
The Nationals have known all along they would need to win a bunch of games down the stretch to have any chance of making a last-ditch charge into the postseason, but they also have known they'll need somebody else — at this point, the Reds — to lose a bunch of games as well.
The Nationals have been holding up their end of the bargain, winning 25 of their last 35, including 14 of 19 during their now-completed stretch against the NL East's bottom three clubs. And the Reds are trying their darndest to at least make this thing interesting right down to the wire, losing four of their last six games, capped by Sunday's shocker in Milwaukee.
Yes, the deficit is down to 4 1/2 games with 13 to play. It's still improbable, but it's not impossible.
If the improbable is going to happen, it's going to take — among other things — two more weeks of performances like this from the Nationals. They obliterated the Phillies pitching staff on Sunday, matching a season-high with 18 hits and getting production from every spot in their lineup.
And nobody was more productive than Wilson Ramos, who also happens to be the most worn-down player on the roster to boot.
Starting his 23rd straight game behind the plate — most by any big-league catcher this season — Ramos continued his late-season charge. He went 4-for-4 with a homer and five RBI, giving him 49 in 54 games since returning from the disabled list on July 4.
"That was a hard thing for me, when I pulled my hamstring twice, but I never put my head down," he said. "I stayed working all the time, and for me, I know I can help this team to win a lot of games, especially behind the plate."
Ramos still has played only 68 games this season (after playing in only 25 games last season before tearing his ACL) but he has produced 15 homers and 55 RBI to go along with a .286 batting average. Add his game-calling and defensive skills and it's easy to see what he could do over a full season, not to mention why the Nationals weren't afraid to trade Kurt Suzuki back to the Athletics last month.
"He's been missed," manager Davey Johnson said. "Suzuki did a great job, but he couldn't, wasn't the kind of player Ramos is. Ramos is a really strong No. 1. One of the best catchers in the league."
Ramos' healthy return has been among the key factors in the Nationals' late-season surge, but he's not alone. Ryan Zimmerman has been on a tear at the plate in the last two weeks. Jayson Werth has been the most-productive hitter in the NL this summer. And Span has enjoyed the best stretch of his career over the last month, on Sunday extending his hitting streak to 26 games (four shy of Zimmerman's club record, set in 2009).
The pitching staff has done its part as well, particularly Zimmermann, who has received more run support than anyone else on the staff but has thrown well enough himself to earn 18 wins, tops in the NL, and give himself a chance at 20 if he wins his final two starts.
"It feels good," the right-hander said. "But then again, I'll trade all those wins in for a spot in the playoffs."
If the Nationals keep doing their thing — and if the Reds keep doing theirs — Zimmermann might yet get a chance to savor both.