Let this sink in for a moment. It’s June 13 and the Washington Nationals are on pace to win 100 games.
Certainly there’s a lot of time between now and the start of the playoffs, but every series it seems like the Nats are taking two out of three games — or better. This series is no different, as the Nats got five nervous innings from Chien-Ming Wang, four dominant inning from the bullpen, and three home runs to take their second consecutive game from the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2, before 22,538 with the roof open at Skydome.
The Nats run their record to 37-23, second best in the Majors behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Atlanta’s loss to the Yankees, the Nats open up a four game advantage in the N.L. East.
Wang (W, 2-2, 4.67) pitched in and out of danger all night long. He gave up just four hits in his five innings, but walked another five, adding tot he angst. But he struck out a season-high five and allowed just two runs, coming on Jose Bautista’s 18th home run of the season in the fifth inning. With his manager and pitching coach on the top step watching nervously, Wang finished his five innings by getting Edwin Encarnacion on a ball tot he track in left and a ground out by Yunel Escobar to end the inning without any more damage.
That’s where the bullpen took over. Ross Detwiler gave Johnson 1 2/3 perfect relief. Craig Stammen gave up a double to Bautista but retired Encarnacion on a fly ball to center to end the seventh. Sean Burnett was perfect in the eighth and Tyler Clippard struck out two, including Brett Lawrie on a devastating change-up to end the game for his ninth consecutive save in as many chances.
The Nats offense was powered entirely by home runs. They got three of them, starting with Bryce Harper’s seventh of the season, a missile in the third inning off starter Henderson Alvarez (L, 3-6) which hit off an advertising sign above the second deck in center field. Danny Espinosa (6) delivered a two-run shot — left-handed — in the fourth. And back-up catcher Jhonatan Solano came out of his shoes to smack a line drive homer in the seventh inning — his first of his big league career.
His teammates gave him the honorary silent treatment upon his return to the bench, but quickly surrounded their teammate with hugs and fist bumps.
Such is life for a first place team.
THE GOOD: Bryce Harper. He went 3-for-4 with his mammoth home run. His average is up to .307. He’s 19 years old.
THE BAD: Harper. Was picked off in the eighth inning by veteran lefty Darren Oliver following a bunt single.
THE UGLY: Ryan Zimmerman. Went 0-for-4, striking out twice and grounding into a double play to end a threat.
THE STATS: 10 hits, 1 BB, 6 Ks. 1-for-9 with RISP, 4 LOB, 2 GISP. No errors, no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 12:37 pm against Toronto. Stephen Strasburg 97-1, 2.41) faces Kyle Drabek (4-6, 4.43).