Nationals have a solid foundation

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals reacts after a pitch by the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field...

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals reacts after a pitch by the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 27, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (KEVIN C. COX/Getty Images/AFP)

Ken Fidlin, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:49 PM ET

The Washington Nationals suddenly have become one of baseball's must-see road shows.

In their eighth season as the Nationals, there is essentially nothing of the Montreal Expos left in this outfit. Truly, there is almost nothing left of the sad-sack outfit that stumbled along at the bottom of the National League East for its first six years of existence.

They landed in Canada Sunday night in first place, playing over .600 baseball and fresh off a sweep of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Their roster features Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, two of the brightest young stars in the game, who will probably be in their respective Cy Young and MVP conversations for the next decade. While those two may hold special spots on the marquee, the Nats have a solid foundation, especially when it comes to pitching and defence.

The Nationals' staff earned run average leads all of baseball at 2.97, more than a full run less than the National League average. Their starters have struck out 325 batters while allowing just 98 walks and have allowed the lowest opponents' batting average (.221) of any of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball.

On the weekend, Washington took down the Red Sox 7-4 on Friday, 4-2 on Saturday and 4-3 on Sunday, ending an 0-for-9 historical drought at Fenway.

Strasburg, who will pitch Wednesday afternoon in Toronto against Kyle Drabek, struck out 13 batters in six innings on Friday. In that game, Harper became the second-youngest player (Robin Yount remains the youngest) to hit a homer at Fenway. Sunday, Harper was out of the lineup with a sore back but he came off the bench to pinch-hit in the ninth. He walked and scored the game-winning run on a double by Roger Bernadina.

Washington has occupied first place most of the season to date, despite the absence of two of their key players, outfielder Jayson Werth and bullpen closer Drew Storen, both on the 60-day DL. Werth has a broken wrist that probably will keep him out until late July. Storen, with an inflamed pitching elbow, isn't expected back until after the all-star break.

Michael Morse, an outfielder who is just recently back from a 50-day stay on the disabled list with a back muscle injury, is expected to do most of the designated hitting duties in Toronto as he did in Boston.

Born as the Montreal Expos in 1969, the Nationals are the only active National League franchise never to appear in a World Series. With Strasburg, Harper and Friends just at the dawn of their big-league careers, it would be a shock if that dubious distinction lasted very much further into the future.


NATIONALS AT BLUE JAYS

MONDAY 7:07 p.m. RHP Edwin Jackson RHP Brandon Morrow

TUESDAY 7:07 p.m. RHP Chien-Ming Wang RHP Henderson Alvarez

WEDNESDAY 12:37 p.m. RHP Stephen Strasburg RHP Kyle Drabek


FIDLIN'S TAKE

After a slow start at home, the Blue Jays are winning with more regularity at the Rogers Centre, with 12 wins in their last 19 home games and, in the process, winning five of their last seven home series. At home, the Jays have a .794 OPS as opposed to a .668 OPS on the road. Their pitching has been marginally better at home where they allow an opposition OPS of .719, compared to .750 on the road.

PREDICTION

It all adds up to another two out of three series win for Toronto.


NATIONALS WHO'S HOT

  • 19-year-old Bryce Harper has an OPS of .889, six homers and 17 RBI is 38 games. In June, he has an OPS of 1.068 with a pair of HRs and 17 total bases.
  • Lefty Gio Gonzalez has a 2.35 ERA, 11 K/9 IP and a WHIP of 1.00.
  • Stephen Strasburg is right there with Gonzalez at the top of most NL pitching categories, carrying a 2.41 ERA, 11.66 K/9 IP and a WHIP of 1.04.

NATIONALS WHO'S COLD

  • Adam LaRoche has a .195 batting average and .616 OPS at home but on the road he's been going all Babe Ruth with eight homers, 22 RBI and an OPS of 1.045.
  • In two starts on the road, Chien-Ming Wang has lasted just seven innings, allowing 10 hits, three walks and a 6.75 ERA.

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