The Nats are on fire

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The Nationals are playing some quality, exciting baseball here in the season’s final week. Too bad it doesn’t count for anything except pride.

Tonight’s 2-1 win over the Braves was Washington’s fourth straight, and it featured impressive performances from a number of players. Let’s break down several of those who are finishing strong, while also pointing out those who are struggling down the stretch…

— Ryan Zimmerman is most definitely finishing strong. He’s driven in 11 runs and recorded eight extra-base hits over his last 13 games. He’s got a chance to match his career high in RBI (110) if he can drive in five more over the next three days. He’s already set a career high in home runs with 33. “He’s just a great ballplayer,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “We’re all lucky to have him. He’s just playing really good baseball. And he’s finishing strong. He’s a big strong kid that a 162-game schedule is not going to slow him down.” Zim also is finishing strong in the field. He made another fabulous play tonight with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, diving to his left to snag Omar Infante’s hard grounder and then firing to second for the game’s final out. “I wouldn’t even know where to start,” pitcher Garrett Mock said of his third baseman. “He is so good in so many different aspects of the game. To have a guy like him there, I know there’s been a lot of talk lately about him getting the Gold Glove. I think he’s earned it.”

— Speaking of Mock, he ended a mostly disappointing season with a nice strong final outing. Six innings, one run allowed, three double plays induced. You can’t ignore his final numbers — 3-10, 5.62 ERA — but at least he leaves everyone with a positive impression heading into the winter. “It’s a long season but I feel like I’m making some steps in the right direction,” he said. “I really wish I had a couple more.”

— Tyler Clippard has quietly become quite a reliever for the Nats. And not just in traditional one-inning doses. Clippard has become the master of the multiple-inning relief performance, and he did it again tonight, tossing 2 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. Riggleman let him take the mound for the ninth because Mike MacDougal is battling tightness in his right leg (though MacDougal did come on to record the final out) but Clippard’s effectiveness and his background as a starter has made him a valuable commodity. “I’m loving it that Riggs is showing confidence in me,” Clippard said. “I want the ball, for however many innings. I’ll go out there regardless.”

— On the negative side of things, Adam Dunn is struggling at the plate. Really struggling. Did you realize he’s now in an 0-for-26 slump? Yep, doesn’t have a hit since Sept. 23. During this stretch, his average has plummeted from .280 to .266. What looked like a career year suddenly doesn’t look as impressive.

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Mark Zuckerman

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