On May 18, the Nationals began the stretch of their schedule that, more than any other, would shape the first half of their season. For 11 consecutive series, more than a month of games, the Nationals would play only teams from the NL East and AL East, the two best divisions in baseball. They were 23-15, half a game out of first place. Breaking even and staying afloat seemed like a worthy goal.
The Nationals so far have dismissed the challenge as easily as any other this season. They are not only surviving the tough stretch; they are thriving. The Nationals have gone 13-8 in the first 21 games, 11 still to go. They now lead the NL East by three games. They are 13 games above .500 for the year, their highest point since July 20, 2005.
The Nationals have done it in large part by winning on the road. They have been dreadful away from Nationals Park the past two seasons, even last year as they pushed toward respectability. This year, they are 18-13 on the road, including 9-4 during their all-East stretch.
The major reason has been their pitching staff. The Nationals have held teams to an average of 3.29 runs during the slog through the East divisions. The Nationals have scored 4.3 runs per game, and just three of those 13 wins have come by one run. They are not exactly eking wins out.
The hardest part of this slate still awaits, with the Yankees coming into Nationals Park this weekend, followed by the Rays. The Nationals have not balked at any challenges yet.
FROM THE POST
Edwin Jackson led the Nationals to a 6-3 victory over the Blue Jays, proving he can match the elite starters at the top of the Nationals’ rotation.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Lehigh Valley 4, Syracuse 1: Corey Brown went 1 for 3 with a walk. Yunesky Maya allowed one run in five innings on two hits and no walks, striking out two, before he left with an injury.
Harrisburg was off.
Winston-Salem 15, Potomac 4: Adrian Sanchez went 3 for 5 with a double. David Freitas went 1 for 2 with a double and three walks. Freitas was named to the Carolina League all-star game. Matt Swynenberg allowed eight runs in 1 2 / 3 innings on seven hits and two walks, striking out one.
Hagerstown 9, Hickory 0: Brian Goodwin went 1 for 4 with a double and a walk. Justin Miller went 3 for 5 with a double. Matt Skole went 2 for 4 with his 14th home run and a walk. Christian Meza allowed no runs in five innings on two hits and no walks, striking out six.