The methodically dominant performance pushed the Nationals into uncharted territory. They stretched their lead in the National League East to a season-high five games over the idle Atlanta Braves. At 59-39, they moved to 20 games over .500 for the first time since baseball returned to Washington. (A Washington club last stood so far over .500 when the 1945 Senators finished 87-67.) They share the best record in the major leagues with the New York Yankees. Since the Nationals came into existence, they have never been better.
“If we play up to our abilities, we’ll be fine,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We can win a pennant.”
The Nationals’ front office convened here to prepare for the July 31 trade deadline. It was suggested to an American League scout that the Nationals might not tweak their roster much between now and then. “Well, yeah,” he replied. “Why would they?”
Why, indeed? Their pitching staff has the best collective ERA in the majors at 3.21. In July, they have scored 117 runs, more than any other team. They have played the past five games without Ian Desmond, and they will get Jayson Werth back soon, perhaps inside of a week.
“Guys have been pouring out their guts to play hard,” Jackson said. “We’ve had times where we’ve been swept. Once you get in a rhythm and get the ball rolling, we all know in the clubhouse what we’re capable of doing. It’s just a matter of doing it. We’re doing that right now.”
Last weekend, the Nationals suffered a heart-wrenching, nine-run blown lead against the Braves and lost again the next afternoon. Their lead in the NL East had been whittled to 11
2 games. They responded by winning that night, and then the five games that followed.
“It could have been a turning point in the season,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “To reel off some wins to get that gap between us again, it shows you what kind of team this is.”
Now their road appears to only grow easier. Of their final 64 games, 41 will come against teams that currently have a losing record.
Thursday night, the Nationals encountered a Brewers team that had lost six straight games and gave them no chance. They scored four in the second inning, a barrage that started when LaRoche ambushed starter Yovani Gallardo. He crushed the first pitch of the inning into the visitors’ bullpen, his 19th home run this year.