Where was the first stumbling block for the Nats? Was it on Opening Day when Michael Morse and Drew Storen didn’t take the field? Was it when Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez stumbled so badly the Nats had to turn to Tyler Clippard to close out games? Was it when Ryan Zimmerman hit the DL and then struggled to hit when he came off of it? Was it when Jayson Werth cracked his wrist attempting to make a sliding grab against the Phillies? Was it the showdown series against the Dodgers, Yankees, or Marlins that ended in sweeps? Was it the game where Wilson Ramos hit a homerun, tore his ACL, and the Nats blew a six run lead on a Joey Votto walk-off grand-slam? Or was it the horrific nine run blown lead suffered one week ago at the hands of the Braves?
There have been a lot of moments in 2012 that could have sent the Nats reeling, but none of them have. Without their clean-up hitter and closer the Nats started the season 14-4 behind a historically impressive start by their pitching staff. They then went into LA for a showdown series against the Dodgers and promptly got swept in three close games. One being a blown save by Henry Rodriguez that led to a walk-off homer by Matt Kemp in the bottom of the 10th inning. After that sweep the Nats went 6-4 in their next ten including a two-run walk-off homer by Ian Desmond that ended the Nats five game slide and gave them a one run victory over the Diamondbacks.
On May 6 the Nats lost Jayson Werth to a wrist injury as he was in the midst of a bounce back year. After losing a player and a team leader like Werth the Nats had another opportunity to crumble, and even worse was the fact that Ryan Zimmerman was currently on the DL. Instead the Nats bowed their necks and endured going 5-5 over the next ten games, and although the Nats got Zimmerman back on May 8 he wasn’t himself. Between May 8 and June 23 Zimmerman hit .216/.270/.290. While waiting and hoping for their best player to become himself again the Nats went 23-17.
In the midst of that stretch the Nats were swept by the Marlins on May 28-30 and the Yankees on June 15-17. To some those series were signs that the Nats weren’t ready to play with the real contenders, but after each sweep the Nats went 8-2 and 5-5. After every obstacle the Nats have gotten up and dusted themselves off and gotten right back in the ring, and sometimes they have been better for it.
Last Friday night the Nats blew the biggest lead in franchise history in route to losing 11-10 to the Braves in extra innings. It is never easy when a team blows a 9-0 lead, but the Nats viewed it as only one last and moved on. After losing the first game of a double header 4-0 and having their lead in the NL East shrunk to 2.5 the mood of the fan base reached its lowest of the season, but the players didn’t share that mood, and since that point the Nats haven’t lost a game.
This Nats team has had many opportunities to give up on itself. To give up on what to this point has been a magical season, but they haven’t, and the reason might be as simple as the talent on the field. With a five man rotation as good as the Nationals have it is hard for long losing streaks to continue, and easy for long winning streaks to build. The Nats have suffered only two losing streaks of four games or longer while they have had five such winning streaks. This is what winning teams do. They limit losing streaks and build winning streaks.
The Nats have also been helped by players like Steve Lombardozzi (.260/.307/.332) and Roger Bernadina (.289/.370/.388) who, while not being great, have given the Nats a soft place to land while waiting for starting position players to heal. This type of talent of the bench is key for winning teams as injuries are going to happen and the drop off from a starter to a replacement player can be cushioned by a good bench. Both Bernadina and Lombardozzi deserve credit for the roles they have played on this team this season.
The resiliency of the Nats may have less to do with a strong spirit than it does with a mighty pitching staff and a deep roster, but there have been many times a team of lesser men would have panicked. It could be as simple as the Nats having faith in their talents and knowing how good they could be while realizing that a baseball season is a long season and one loss or even a bad stretch of losses won’t break a season. The Nats have endured a lot this season, and there will be other test as the last third of the season winds down, but if the Nats have passed the test they already have there is no reason to doubt that they can pass whatever ones lay ahead.