The Road Warriors Return

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As we hit the home stretch of the regular season, there will be much use of the “C” word, as people refer to the various opportunities the Nationals could clinch: a potential playoff spot, possibly a division title, even home-field advantage. But on Wednesday, August 15, the Nationals already clinched something significant. By winning their 41st road game, they broke the previous franchise mark for victories away from Washington D.C. (40 in 2005), thereby guaranteeing themselves a winning road record in the 2012 season.

The return of Ian Desmond gives the Nats the healthiest lineup they’ve had all season.

To really appreciate how good the Nationals have been on the road this season, consider the following: at 41-23, their .640 road winning percentage is not simply the best in the league, it’s better than any other team’s home winning percentage. In other words, at this juncture in the season, Washington statistically stands a better chance to win on the road than any team that hosts them.

For some perspective, imagine this: the last team to accomplish this feat for a full season was the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who went an otherworldly 59-22 (.728) away from Safeco Field on their way to a 116-win season. Not even the 1998 Yankees, who went an astounding 52-29 (.642) away from New York in a 114-win campaign, finished the season with a better road record than the rest of baseball’s home marks. All three National League division winners (Braves: 56-25, Astros: 55-26, Padres: 54-27) were better at home that year.

All of this is even more encouraging knowing that they will see Ian Desmond – who has been sidelined with an oblique injury since shortly after the All-Star break – activated for Friday night’s series opener against the Mets. After he took his first full workout on Tuesday in San Francisco, Desmond decided to have a little fun with his manager, giving him a scare about the timetable for his return.

“I’m hurting,” he told Davey Johnson following his first session of hitting again at full strength. “My ears are hurting from the loud sounds coming off my bat.”

Steve Lombardozzi has stepped up in a big way, and earned himself a spot on the roster despite Desmond’s return.

And while Washington will not get catcher Wilson Ramos back until next season, with Desmond’s return they will field the healthiest version of their projected everyday lineup so far this season. Nationals fans have yet to see Desmond, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse all on the same field at the same time. It is conceivable that in spite of the club’s unprecedented success thus far in 2012, that the Nationals best baseball is yet to come.

If so, there is no better time for it than this week in Washington, where they will face the division rival Mets and Braves. While the Mets have dropped off the pace in the NL East race, they remain a dangerous club with tough pitching, including former Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana, who throws in the series opener on Friday. And we hardly need to tell you the importance of the Braves series, which will see two of the top three teams in the National League dueling it out for NL East supremacy and postseason positioning. As others have noted, it may be the most important series played in our Nation’s Capital in several generations. So it is comforting to know that the Nationals are not only playing some of their best baseball yet, but there are reinforcements on the way as well.

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