Their sweep may have come against a last-place team with an anonymous roster, but it gave the Nationals eight wins in nine games. After Gio Gonzalez’s seven scoreless innings and an onslaught spearheaded by Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, the Nationals sit 61
2 games behind the idle Cincinnati Reds for the second wild-card spot. The fans at Nationals Park could feel regret it took so long, or they could cross their fingers and see what happens for one more month.
“The season of expectations and kind of the hangover from last year and all that, really now we’re just shaking it off and playing good baseball,” Werth said. “That’s really all it comes down to. We haven’t played good baseball all year until recently. We need to keep it going. There’s plenty of time. There’s plenty of time to do a crazy thing.”
Johnson could not identify why, exactly, the Nationals have won 14 of 19. “If I knew the magic formula, I could really make some money,” Johnson said. The manager believes the Nationals have played more relaxed, which may be a symptom of winning, not a cause for it. “What comes first?” Werth said. No matter the reason, the Nationals — albeit against a weak recent schedule — have reminded themselves why those expectations arose in the first place.
“This is the Nats that I remember,” Gonzalez said. “We’re getting our groove back. The chemistry and the vibe in here, it’s just getting better and better.”
The meek Nationals lineup from the first four months of the season has grown fearsome. Once fighting slumps, Denard Span and Harper are now riding 12- and 11-game hitting streaks. Werth, even if he missed May, has slugged his way to the periphery of the most valuable player race. Over their past 19 games, the Nationals lead the National League in runs per game, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
“We’re a scary team when we’re going good,” Harper said. “I think everybody knows that.”
After the first two innings Thursday, Gonzalez had walked three Marlins and allowed two hits. “If you had told me I was going to go seven innings, I would have laughed in your face,” Gonzalez said later. Gonzalez marched back to the clubhouse to change his jersey, soaked with sweat on a muggy night. Two lockers down, closer Rafael Soriano told him, “Stay back. Your arm is dropping way too low. You’re trying to rush.”