For a team teetering on the edge of .500 for weeks, an early June win streak can really light a spark. Just take a stroll down memory lane and look at the 2005 Nationals, who put together a 10 game win streak from June 2nd to the 12th of that year. That stretch was the first step to an outstanding 20-6 record for the month.
Fast forward to 2014, and this version of the Nats was ready to get 5 wins in a row on Saturday night in Petco, but a late walk-off single by Cameron Maybin spoiled any hope of getting on a real run.
Looking ahead to a tough 4 game series in San Francisco, Washington needed a win today if they wanted to still be close to .500 if they get swept against a 41-21 Giants team. If the Nats are the team to get the sweep, they will be on another 5 game win streak, and that could be the one that puts them in first place for good.
Washington got the road trip's (maybe) win streak started on a good note with a 6-0 win against the Padres today. The Nats scored their 6 runs on a refreshing 13 hits, which were accompanied by one of the best pitching performances in Nationals history by Jordan Zimmermann (5-2, 3.17 ERA)
Zimmermann, perfect through 5 1/3, allowed a scarce 2 hits through 9 innings on an almost perfect 72 degree day in San Diego for his 3rd career shutout.
"He threw a lot of sliders today for strikes," Nats manager Matt Williams said. "He has not really found it as we talked about, he throws some good ones, but it hasn't been consistent. Tonight it was really consistent, so he worked his changeup a little bit. Worked his sliders to the right-handers and was able to throw it for a strike, which was good."
Jordan painted the corners like an artist through all nine, settings 25 of 27 down on a career high 12 strikeouts and a 73% strike percentage. He started off the day by striking out 4 out the first 6 batters he faced by consistently pounding the fastball high and low. Zimmerman masterfully changed location and speed, and had the Friars constantly off-balance all day.
Suprisingly, Zimmermann said he had a "pretty terrible" bullpen session prior to the game. "But I guess that's the way it works. When that's bad it's usually a game, but when you have a good bullpen you have a good game."
The Padres entered the game with the lowest team batting average in the majors at .220. They have been two-hit and one-hit 3 times in the past seven games, and are last in the MLB in runs and on-base percentage.
In contrast to the anemic San Diego offense, Washington's bats came to life against troubled Padre's starter Eric Stults (2-7, 5.68 ERA) and put up 6 runs in the first 3 innings. Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa each had 3 hits.
Ian Desmond and Kevin Frandsen both had 2 hits in 5 at bats, and Desmond hit his 13th home run of the season (his 2nd in 2 nights) , and the Nats knocked Stults (who falls to 2-7 on the season) out after 2 1/3, the shortest outing of his career.
Stults got himself into trouble early. Span led off the game with a double that turned into a triple with a steal of 3rd 3 pitches later. With a man 90 feet away with no one out, Frandsen dribbled one out to short to score the Nat's first run.
In the second, a sharp single by Zimmerman on a hanging curveball allowed the next batter, Ian Desmond, to jack a ringing 2-run bomb to center to extend the lead to 3. The home run, Desmond's 13th of the year, is the 2nd in 2 nights. He gave the Nats the lead with one in the same spot last night in the 7th.
"That's hit a long way," Williams said of the home run. "It's difficult at night here to hit a homer. [Yonder] Alonso's the same way, so it's difficult to play long ball here at night. Much better during the day, but at night it's very difficult."
The line didn't stop there. After another 1-2-3 by Jordan Zimmermann in the bottom of the 2nd, Kevin Frandsen got the top of the 3rd rally started with a single to the 3rd base side. Werth and LaRoche followed with two more singles, the latter scoring Frandsen.
Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate with a 3 run lead with men on 1st and 2nd and still no one out. On a 3-2 fastball, he rifled one down the line that somehow landed in Alonso's glove for the first out.
After a Desmond single, Espinosa stung a first pitch to right field that scored Werth and LaRoche, and the Nats had blown it open. Those 2 runs ended up being their last of the game, and they led, 6-0.
The Padres didn't even get close to threatening the shutout until the 7th, when Seth Smith tripled to lead off the inning for the team's 2nd hit, the first coming on a 1 out single by Alexi Amarista an inning before.
But Zimmermann, following the theme of the day, set the next three batters down and worked out of the jam. A Quentin groundball to 3rd, a Headley skyscraping popup in front of mound, and an Alonso lineout to center kept the shutout intact.
To the Padre's credit, the parade of bullpen arms did a commendable job quieting the Nat's bats for the last 7 innings, allowing just 5 more hits and striking out 11 between the 4 of them.
Stult's horrid outing pushed his ERA to 5.68, while Zimmermann's fell to 3.17.
With the win, Washington is now in a first-place tie in the East with the Braves and Marlins. Over their past six games, Nationals starters have put up an outstanding line of a 1.20 combined ERA, 44 strikeouts and one walk.
Zimmermann is continuing prove himself as the most consistent starter on the Nat's pitching staff; he boasts a 3.42 career ERA in 5 years with the team.