Bill Ladson

Nats return to top of NL East in exciting '14 campaign

Zimmermann's no-hitter, walk-off-filled 10-game win streak among highlights

Nats return to top of NL East in exciting '14 campaign

WASHINGTON -- The 2014 regular season was great for the Nationals. They won their second division title in three years, this time by 17 games over the Braves and Mets. It helped that they had a dominant pitching staff, led by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

Despite major injuries to players such as Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, the Nationals managed to stay consistent at the plate. It helped they had Denard Span and Anthony Rendon producing at the top of the order.

But the Nationals fell short against the Giants in the National League Division Series. The offense went missing, as the Nationals hit .164 in a 3-1 series loss. Harper and Rendon were the only hitters who performed admirably in the postseason.

With that in mind, here is a look back at the top five storylines of 2014.

1. Zimmermann records team's first no-hitter
It was the last day of the regular season at Nationals Park and Zimmermann gave the fans a thrill during a 1-0 victory over the Marlins. He became the first pitcher in Nationals history to throw a no-hitter, and he did it with the help of a phenomenal diving catch by former Nationals left fielder Steven Souza Jr. to end the game. With two outs in the ninth inning, Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich came to the plate. First-base coach Tony Tarasco had Souza shift toward the left-field line. On a 2-1 pitch, Yelich hit the ball to left-center field. Center fielder Michael Taylor knew he didn't have a chance to catch the ball, but there was Souza, who dove and caught the ball like a wide receiver to protect history.

Zimmermann completes no-no

2. Nationals find a permanent third baseman
Rendon performed like the club's Most Valuable Player of 2014. Not only did he produce offensively, but he played Gold Glove-caliber defense at third and second base. After great games, Rendon is a man of few words and sometimes tries to avoid the media. He would rather stay humble and credit God for his success. Zimmerman, who will move over to play first base, said that Rendon is the best option to play third.

3. Nationals win their second division title
On Sept. 16, the Nationals won their second NL East title in three seasons by blanking the Braves, 3-0, at Turner Field. There was general manager Mike Rizzo crediting his scouts and player-development people for the team's success. There was Harper wearing a fireman's helmet, spraying champagne and beer all over the locker room. The clinching game marked the third time since 1969 that two MLB teams from the same metro area clinched a division title -- the Orioles wrapped up the American League East in Baltimore -- on the same day. The last time it happened was in 2004, when the Angels and Dodgers clinched.

Nationals clinch the NL East

4. Nationals win 10th straight game
On Aug. 21, not only did the Nationals win their 10th consecutive game, they had another walk-off victory at Nationals Park. An error by D-backs third baseman Jordan Pacheco in the bottom of the ninth inning helped the Nationals edge the D-backs, 1-0. It was Washington's fifth walk-off victory in the previous six games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to accomplish that feat was the Astros from July 19-24, 1986. The winning streak matches the team record set in 2005. The victory also meant that manager Matt Williams would keep his promise to the team. Early on, Williams vowed that he would impersonate Babe Ruth if the Nationals won 10 consecutive games. As a member of the Giants, Williams once impersonated Ruth's famous stance and home run trot. But don't look for Williams to do the impersonation any time soon.

5. Williams shows who's boss
Hired to replace Davey Johnson, Williams didn't rely on the long ball like he did as a player. It surprised no one when Williams would utilize the hit and run or have one of his players like Rendon or Span steal a base. Williams saw major players such as Harper, Zimmerman and Ramos miss significant time because of injuries. But the Nationals won the division with ease because Williams didn't panic.

Nats walk off on error

Williams also showed who was boss. In April, he took Harper out of a game against the Cardinals in the sixth inning for not hustling. Harper led off the inning and hit a ground ball to Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn. Harper didn't run all out to first base and was thrown out easily. After the inning ended, Harper was replaced by Kevin Frandsen.

In September against the Mets at Citi Field, Williams also had words with left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who slammed the ball in Williams' hand after he was taken out of the game. Television broadcasts showed Williams and Gonzalez having a heated discussion in the dugout. While he understood that Gonzalez wanted to stay in the game, Williams thought about what was best for the team. The skipper felt Aaron Barrett was the best option to face Juan Lagares.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.