It has been a great month of August for the Nationals. They enter Friday's game against the Mariners with a 17-9 record during the month. It's helped that they recently went on a 10-game winning streak. Six of those victories came during their last at-bat.
With that in mind, MLB.com recently caught up with manager Matt Williams to talk about the Nationals and the status of Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper.
MLB.com: The Nationals have had a nice run in August. Why is that?
Matt Williams: I think we had some come-from-behind victories, we really had good pitching performances. I think all of that contributed to a winning streak. But I think, overall, we have been playing well. August, so far, has been a good month. We hope to continue that. It's a combination of all of those things.
MLB.com: During the month of August, what is your most pleasant surprise?
Williams: What I'm most pleased with is their inability to give up because the baseball season is a grind. There is so many games, it's easy to say, "Today is not our day." But they have refused to do that. That is most gratifying because you know they are into it every day. You know that they are pulling as hard for one another and picking each other up. That's how you get to where you want to get to. That can't be forced. That has to be the team dynamic. The 10-game streak, that's craziness. It was a crazy 10 days.
MLB.com: Six of your 10 wins were last at-bat victories.
Williams: That does not happen very often. That's emblematic of them. Never give up. That's the pleasantness of it.
MLB.com: Based on what you have seen, especially during this run, does it tell you how far the Nationals can go in the postseason?
Williams: I don't think in those terms. We have five weeks or so of playing games to try to get to the postseason. I've been in enough postseasons to know that you can have the best team and it doesn't mean you are going to win. You can get a hot team, a bounce that can go somebody's way and it can turn a series. You just never know. Our primary goal is to play well for the next five weeks. We are in kind of a position where we could kind of control our destiny by playing well. If we get to the postseason, then we want to be playing well at that point.
We've talked about it: 103 victories [with the Giants] in 1993 and going home. I can't go there. My brain will not let me go there. We just need to play well until the end of the season and see where we are at. Hopefully, we are at the top and we can go to the postseason.
MLB.com: It also helps that the team is healthy?
Williams: Yes, but we are missing a big piece. We are still missing Ryan Zimmerman. Bryce [Harper] is getting back to form. He is feeling stronger. We are able to rest some guys a little bit, which we will continue to do going into September.
MLB.com: How do you think Bryce has been doing since he has been back?
Williams: He is doing fine. Anytime you have an injury to an extremity, it's magnified even more. The fact that it's his top hand [thumb], that's the guide hand to the swing. It makes it more difficult. I think he is getting stronger. I think that's the biggest thing. It's started to get to the point where he is not thinking about it. He doesn't have to think about it in his swing or make any adjustments to any of it. He is getting back into the flow of games. When you miss two months, it's not easy to come back. We saw that with Zim. We saw it with Wilson Ramos. It took them a while to get back. Most of all, I think it's about strength.
MLB.com: In your heart of hearts, will you have a postseason run with Zimmerman?
Williams: We hope. I believe he will be back by the end of the season. That time frame, I don't know when that date is. But I believe he will be back by the end of the season. How many games that will be, I don't know. But I know he is working hard to get back. I know there is so much you can do with the hamstring injury he has. But you asked me in my heart? I'll say yes. Ryan will be back and be on our team before we get done with the season.
MLB.com: How is Zimmerman doing now?
Williams: He is doing fine. It's a long process. The last thing we want at this point is for him to rush back and hurt it again. We don't want that. He is baby stepping it. He is making progress every day. He is going through the protocol, which was established for him. He is doing the things he needs to do, while allowing the hamstring to heal. It's not easy to heal that muscle.
MLB.com: As you approach the end of the season, what is your biggest concern about this team?
Williams: Just that we continue to live through our DNA [which means being aggressive], push forward and demand that we play well. It's important. At this point in the season, guys are tired. Little things creep up. You have a nick here and a nick there. But we have to push through that. We have to continue to stay with our plan. I don't think we'll have an issue doing that. I'm not concerned about much other than we do that and that is in all aspects. If we can do that, then we have a chance.
MLB.com: When are you going to do your Babe Ruth impersonation?
Williams: I'm not exactly sure. I think it's important right now that we concentrate on the task at hand. But I do live to my word, so at some point, it will happen. I just don't know when. We are wondering if we can get an authentic uniform. I'm not going to gain 30 pounds in the next 10 days. So we may have to make arrangements to get a prop in that regard. It will happen at some point. When, I don't know.