- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson, the Hall of Famer who in 1966 became the last player to lead his league outright in each of the three Triple Crown categories (batting average, home runs and RBIs), will turn 70 in August. But Robinson wasn’t even born yet when the last team led its division this late in the season. That was in 1933. Seventy-two years later, after the weekend sweep of the Florida Marlins, which followed another home series in which Washington took three games out of four from the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals emerged alone in first place in the National League’s East Division.

A lot can happen during a single week in baseball. A week ago Monday, after losing seven of nine games on the road, the Nationals (25-25) returned to RFK Stadium in fourth place, three and a half games behind Florida and Atlanta, which were tied for first, each seven games above .500. The Nats did manage to end their dismal road trip on a high note, coming from behind to defeat the defending NL pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2. It proved to be a good omen. The next day, the Nats began their longest homestand of the season. Despite the fact that the team was riddled with injuries and its disabled list was filled with incapacitated players, the team came from behind in each of the six games the Nats won against the Braves and the Marlins. In first place in the toughest division in baseball, the Nats are now five games above .500, having come from behind in 21 of their 31 victories. Since May 14, the Nats have won eight of the 10 games that have been decided by one run.

Pitching ace Livan Hernandez has won eight games this season, the second-highest victory total in the league. A seemingly indefatigable workhorse, Hernandez leads the league in innings pitched. Meanwhile, Chad Cordero has saved 15 games, two behind the league leader. First baseman Nick Johnson, batting a solid .333, has been carrying the team for weeks. Meanwhile, Robinson’s prowess as a manager is confirmed by the fact that the Nationals lead the toughest division in baseball despite its 10th place batting average and eighth-place earned-run average among the 16 NL teams.

In case you’re wondering, Washington went on to win the pennant in 1933, the last time the team was in first place this far into the season.

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