Gelling Nats cruise to 90-win mark
MIAMI -- It's hard to pin the Nats' recent success on one thing. Between the pitching staff's Majors-leading 3.03 ERA (which includes a top-ranking rotation ERA of 3.09) and the offense's 269 second-half runs entering Sunday's finale vs. the Marlins, a lot has come together for the club to win 90 games for the second time since moving to Washington before the 2005 season.
"We didn't play horribly in the first half, but we knew that we didn't play to our capabilities," Nationals outfielder Denard Span said. "I just think the second half, collectively as a team, everybody's pitched in. You don't have any one guy that is carrying a load. As a team, we pulled together."
From post-win raves -- after each win this season, the Nats set up strobe lights and a fog machine to turn their clubhouse into something resembling a club more than a locker room -- to pregame poker sessions, it's obvious that Washington's players have come together off the field, too.
That camaraderie is part of the reason why reaching the 90-win mark didn't seem like much of an improbability to starter Tanner Roark.
"We keep it loose, we keep it funny," said Roark, who has 14 wins and trails Doug Fister by just one victory for the team lead. "We're always laughing, playing like we used to play when we were 10 years old. …We gel perfectly together, and it helped us win the NL East."
At the All-Star break, the Nationals found themselves at 51-42 and tied for first in the division with the Braves. The hope of a division title was well within grasp. They dropped to one game out of first the first day back from the All-Star break and they lost Ryan Zimmerman within the first week of the second half -- which put them back to playing with an incomplete team.
But that didn't stop them from storming the scene in the postseason hunt. The Nationals put together a 10-game win streak in August to give themselves a seven-game cushion in the East. And with so much distance there, they were able to focus on making a run for the best record in the National League.
The Nats found themselves at 14 games in front of second place entering play on Sunday.
"I feel like we've had tunnel vision all year," Span said. "It starts from the top with our manager. He doesn't get too high or too low. That's the type of mindset we've had. ... Here we are, sitting at 90 wins."
The last time the Nationals won 90 games was in 2012, when they were 98-64. With eight games left, there's still a mathematical chance they could finish with the same record. But at this point, the team just wants to stay hot going into the postseason.
"Sometimes it takes a little while to get everybody on the same page. The more we play, the better we are gelling and just coming together," Roark said. "As you've seen in previous playoff races, if you get hot at the right time, it's a good thing to have happen."