Aug 15, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
That the Nationals just swept the Mets in New York isn’t a major surprise. This is a team, in case you didn’t realize, that has now won 11 consecutive games at Citi Field. A loss in Flushing, that would have constituted a surprise.
But the manner in which the Nationals won the last three nights, culminating with their most recent 4-1 victory, was notable. In last night’s case because of the major contributions from the two biggest names on the roster: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Strasburg was downright dominant on the mound, allowing one unearned run on three hits over seven innings. This was the Strasburg we had been waiting to see, a sight for sore eyes following his disastrous start in Atlanta one week ago.
Perhaps the biggest difference between last night’s performance and that previous one at Turner Field: Strasburg went back to throwing his two-seam fastball. He stuck with only four-seamers in Atlanta, throwing that basic pitch 59 times to only 15 curveballs and 15 changeups, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
Last night, Strasburg threw 43 four-seam fastballs and added 26 two-seamers, to go along with 16 curveballs and 16 changeups. He threw that two-seamer for strikes 73 percent of the time, and surrendered only one hit on the pitch all night.
If Strasburg can keep that up, inducing weak contact on well-located sinkers down in the strike zone, he’ll put himself in far better position to win games, especially on the road where he has struggled so much.
Harper, meanwhile, took arguably his best swing in months when he clobbered a two-run homer way over the right-center field fence in the top of the fourth. It was his third homer in seven games, but the previous two had been hit to the opposite field.
This one was pulled and hit with some serious force, more than we’d seen from Harper since he tore a ligament in his left thumb way back in April. This was a particularly encouraging sign.
For all the concern over him, Harper has slowly but surely been putting together more and more quality at-bats. In 26 games since the All-Star break, he’s hitting .270 with a .359 on-base percentage. True, he only has six extra-base hits and he has struck out a staggering 32 times in 103 plate appearances, but he certainly appears to be trending in the right direction.
You could say the same about the Nationals as a whole. They’ve now won 6 of 8, improved to a season-best 13 games over .500 and have opened up a season-high 6-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.
For the first time in several weeks, the Nationals look like they’re stepping up a notch.
NL EAST STANDINGS
Through Friday's early games
NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS
Through Friday's early games
SAT: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Marlins at Nats (DH), 1:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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