WASHINGTON -- These extended West Coast road trips serve as a test for most teams. Manager Dusty Baker has seen it make or break clubs, and he urged the Nationals to treat it like a business trip and not get caught up in the distractions.And the Nationals proceeded with business-like
WASHINGTON -- These extended West Coast road trips serve as a test for most teams. Manager Dusty Baker has seen it make or break clubs, and he urged the Nationals to treat it like a business trip and not get caught up in the distractions.
And the Nationals proceeded with business-like precision to go 7-2 on this three-city, nine-game swing, despite dropping Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers, 2-1. They swept the Giants, then took two out of three against the A's and finished it off by winning two of three at Dodger Stadium that will make for a happy cross-country flight home.
"If I told you we went 7-2, I think everyone in here would be happy," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
Washington finds itself in one of the most enviable positions in baseball. The Nats own a commanding lead in the National League East, at 12 1/2 games at the start of the day Wednesday, larger than their lead at any point in 2016.
Max Scherzer threw back-to-back dominant starts during this road trip, and he, along with Stephen Strasburg, have emerged as strong early-season NL Cy Young Award candidates. After a shaky start to the season, Tanner Roark has stabilized behind them with a few consecutive strong starts of his own. Zimmerman and the rest of this vaunted lineup continues to be dangerous and capable of an outburst at any point. And the much maligned bullpen has steadied a bit, thanks to Koda Glover emerging as the closer, allowing the other relievers to fall in line.
"We're hitting on all cylinders," Strasburg said. "We just got to keep doing what we're doing, because we're in a good spot."
The Nationals even held their own during a three-game series with the Dodgers, their toughest test so far this season, as these two teams are regarded as perhaps the best in the NL at this point. Los Angeles eliminated Washington in the NL Division Series in 2016, and began this series leading the NL West. And the Nationals were able to claim two out of three games with a chance to win the finale.
"This game could've been ours and it wasn't, and we got to be satisfied with what we have," Baker said after Wednesday's game. "If somebody would've told you when we left home we would be 7-2, I'm sure everybody would have been more than satisfied. When you could've been 8-1, then you're not satisfied."
And that sums up the Nationals so far this season. Despite their early-season success, they are not satisfied, because their aspirations are still so much higher.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.