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Instant analysis: Nats 8, Phillies 4

Jun 4, 2014, 11:56 PM EST

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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals have been waiting for weeks to go on a sustained run, a stretch where they’re firing on all cylinders, at the plate and on the mound. It may be too early to declare this the run they’ve been seeking, but they’re certainly on the right track.

With yet another potent offensive attack that included contributions from up and down the lineup, and with yet another strong performance from their starting pitcher, the Nationals took down the Phillies to win for the fourth time in five games … even if this one required a 1-hour, 48-minute rain delay in the seventh inning before it could be completed.

Everyone in the lineup but Jayson Werth reached base against Phillies veteran A.J. Burnett. The red-hot Denard Span had a pair of doubles and a run-scoring grounder. A resurgent Anthony Rendon homered for the second straight night and added a 2-run double later for good measure. Danny Espinosa delivered a clutch hit when his team needed it most. Even Stephen Strasburg produced his first RBI of the season, then later drew a walk and scored.

Strasburg was equally effective on the mound, holding the Phillies to two unearned runs in seven innings while striking out 11. He thus continued a recent stretch of dominance by the Nats rotation, which has allowed a total of only five earned runs over the last five games.

Put it all together, and the Nationals are back over .500 at 29-28, having moved to within 1 1/2 games of the Braves in the NL East. They’re getting healthy, they’re getting great pitching and they’re scoring runs in bunches. And they might just be getting on the kind of sustained roll everyone has been waiting for this team to pull off.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: There were no shortage of big hits for the Nationals in this game, but probably the biggest came from Espinosa in the bottom of the fourth. With the game still scoreless, the bases loaded and one out, Espinosa stepped to the plate in a big spot. If ever a situation called for a shortened swing and a contact-first approach, this was it. Then again, a 2-run double off the top of the wall in right-center certainly sufficed as well. Hard to complain about the result there. Espinosa’s big blast — it was perhaps a foot shy of a grand slam — gave the Nationals the lead for good, energized the crowd of 33,614 and continued this team’s recent stretch of offensive dominance at the plate.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: There seems to be a perception out there that Strasburg has merely been good, not great so far this season. But then you look at the numbers. He now owns a 3.10 ERA in 13 overall starts, not to mention an MLB-high 101 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings. His 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate is his best since his rookie season in 2010. And over his last nine starts, Strasburg is now 4-2 with a 2.09 ERA. He was fantastic tonight, striking out 11 over seven innings, 10 of them on swing-and-misses. And get this: This was the fourth time in his career Strasburg has struck out at least 11 without walking one batter. Only 17 pitchers in MLB history have done it more times. His changeup was devastating. He mixed in curveballs when he needed to. His fastball command was sharp. And that much-discussed slider Strasburg added this spring? He hasn’t used it in weeks, electing instead to go back to basics and use what got him here. That plan certainly has worked well.

DEFENSIVE LOWLIGHT: Ryan Zimmerman was bound to face a tough play in left field eventually, and it happened in the top of the fifth tonight. Reid Brignac lofted a deep drive to the base of the wall, and Zimmerman (making his second career start in the outfield) got twisted around and couldn’t make the play. It was by no means an easy play, and certainly one that seasoned outfielders might not have made. The greater concern might actually have been Zimmerman’s throw after he retrieved the ball. Even though Ian Desmond ventured well into shallow left field to receive the throw, Zimmerman short-hopped the shortstop. It had no bearing on that particular play, but eventually there’s going to come a play when Zim needs to be able to make a stronger throw than that.

KEY STAT: Denard Span has raised his batting average 48 points from .236 to .284 in his last 14 games.

UP NEXT: The series concludes with a late-afternoon matinee (followed by a concert by Plain White T’s) at Nationals Park. It’s Doug Fister vs. Kyle Kendrick at 4:05 p.m.

  1. David Proctor - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:01 AM

    The game felt oddly closer than it was in the last two innings. I was actually a little bit nervous, with a 4 run lead. Either way, a win’s a win and this was a great win. Sweep them tomorrow.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:07 AM

    KEY STAT: Denard Span has raised his batting average 48 points from .236 to .284 in his last 14 games.

    That’s impressive.

  3. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    Colbert is fake-tough. Popeye was not faking. RIP Zimm.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:31 AM

      I still have a bunch of my Don Zimmer baseball cards from the old Senators. Zimmer finished his playing career with the Senators. He wasn’t a good player but somehow he made the All Star team with the Cubs in that special 1961 season and of course he got his World Series ring playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and LA Dodgers with some of the greats of the game.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:34 AM

        The man was a baseball player.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:38 AM

        A baseball lifer for sure.

    • David Proctor - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:31 AM

      Huh?

      • David Proctor - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:33 AM

        Nevermind, I understand now.

  4. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    It seems like Ryan Zimmerman is playing deeper in LF than McLouth would be. I think that’s a smart move. Better to give up singles than doubles and triples.

  5. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 5, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    Altho … how many times has Zim seen that same flyball, but from 3rd base? And he still misjudged it. This [stuff]’s a lot harder than it looks.

    • Eric - Jun 5, 2014 at 1:09 AM

      That fly he missed looked anything but easy, even if it looked on replay like the early stutter step was the difference.

      Didn’t see the throw back in… Was it that bad?

      • veejh - Jun 5, 2014 at 3:28 AM

        The throw back in was pathetic. I don’t want to keep being the pessimist with regards to Zim’s defense, so I’m not going to go there, but I only see him playing 1st base or DH for the remainder of his career.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:27 AM

      +1 LF is anything but easy….not something you learn in a couple of minor league games
      Agree with veejh and most he will be at 1b next year. Won’t see him in LF after this season.

  6. scmargenau - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    It has to be arthritis. I have it from hoops and I throw just like Zim. You mind just makes u protect the shoulder. Hard to explain

  7. laddieblahblah - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    Once again, Espi provided the most encouraging AB of the game.

    How many times have we all seen him strike out on a high FB? A few hundred, at least – practically automatic. For years now, the book on him is to throw a high FB to him with 2 strikes and the worst you could expect was that he would foul it off, and you would have to throw another pitch. Almost always, though, he swung and missed for another routine K.

    Burnett followed the tried and true formula with Danny once he got to a 2-strike count, and sure enough, Danny swung at it – but didn’t miss. Almost a grand slam! He just cut back on his swing and caught that pitch well enough to reach the top of the RF wall.

    Now it is Desmond, not Danny, who leads the team in strike out futility. How did that happen? Danny is 4 for 8 in his last 2 games, and has at least 3 hits, that I can recall, which he recorded on 2-strike counts, including that clutch double last night.

    I will not allow myself to become too optimistic, but he has got my attention.

  8. Joe Seamhead - Jun 5, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    I was at the game last night, though we left when the rain started and the delay was called.
    Ryan did not look comfortable out there, but, hey, it was only his fourth game of his pro career playing the outfield. Will he get good out there? Maybe, but I doubt it. He has that tendency to step in with the crack of the bat, a habit that is tough to break, but it’s a move that results in getting balls hit over your head. That said, it still makes sense to get Ryan Zimmerman back on the field, and his bat back in the lineup any which way that you have to.At this point the most that you can hope for is that he handles the routine plays and that he doesn’t hurt himself out there. A funny observation though: he always used to scratch up the infield dirt at 3rd base with his feet and pound his glove and look into it at the start of an inning. He does the same routine in left.

    I was thrilled for Espinosa the past couple of games. That first double was a key hit for the team last night.

    As happy as I am for Denard Span, I’ll guarantee you that he is kicking himself in the tookus for getting picked off for the second time this week.

    Overall, a very good game by Strasburg, but though someone said that ALR should have been charged with a throwing error on the play to first to SS, it didn’t look that way from my seat, but granted, I didn’t have the benefit of replay. I thought Strasburg had to make that catch. Strasburg getting a RBI hit, and later a BB and scoring a run was a welcome sight!

    Is this 4 out of five games of scoring a ton of runs just a mirage? Fool’s gold? An aberration? I think that they bottomed out in the bottom of the 8th inning on May 28th when they blew the game against the Marlins. They had a collective self-awareness explosion on the off day on the 29th. They woke up, and they turned the corner right then. The last one to really awaken should do so very soon, and when Wilson really gets going at the plate? Look out!

    GYFNG!!!

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