Rizzo likes early energy, feel to 2016 Nats

Rizzo likes early energy, feel to 2016 Nats

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have won 12 of their first 16 games this season -- matching their best start in franchise history -- thanks to a torrid beginning from the reigning National League MVP and some strong starting pitching.

After taking down the Twins, 8-4, on Friday night, Washington owns a run differential of +31, which has impressed Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.

"I'm happy with the start, I like the energy," Rizzo said. "I like the energy of the team and the feeling, the vibe, of the clubhouse."

Washington is coming off a disappointing 2015 season that saw the team miss the playoffs after entering the year with lofty expectations. It resulted in the hiring of manager Dusty Baker, and a team that seems re-energized in the early part of the season by its new coaching staff seems to be pushing all the right buttons.

The Nationals have also received stellar starting pitching. Their rotation posted a 2.32 ERA through the first 16 games, behind only the Cubs (2.08) for the best in baseball, holding opposing hitters to a slash line of .215/.280/.317. Not only have aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg posted strong outings from the top of their rotation, but the Nationals have also been boosted by strong contributions from the back of the rotation in Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross.

"It gives us a chance to win night in and night out," Rizzo said. "That was our plan, throw a guy on the mound every night that gives us a chance, and we feel that we have that."

And then there is Bryce Harper, the reigning MVP who is off to an even better start this season. Entering Friday night's game, Harper led the Majors in OPS (1.255), slugging percentage (.849) and is tied for the lead in home runs (eight).

"I like to see when he's up there every time, because he gives us a chance to win a baseball game," Rizzo said. "He's one of the best players in the game, and you're talking about a guy who we're watching something special every time he comes up to the plate."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.