In spite of the injury issues the Nationals have been dealing with over the last few weeks, with Anthony Rendon back on the DL, Denard Span and Bryce Harper in and out of the lineup and Yunel Escobar getting hit in the hand again, and missing time, they've managed to win eight of their last ten, 11 of 15 and 14 of 26 so far this month as they've reclaimed first place and taken a 2.5 game lead over the New York Mets in the NL East.
It's helped that Washington finally, during the last few weeks, got their starting rotation back together, and ran off a stretch of 47 ⅓ scoreless innings from their starters.
"It's awesome," Max Scherzer told reporters after he contributed the final six scoreless innings to that stretch before giving up a run in the seventh inning of Friday night's series opener in Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.
"Any time the starters are going out there and doing their job, it just does so much for the ballclub, it does so much for the pen. Just allows the offense to relax and continue to score runs, and keeps the pressure on their guys and getting into kind of the back end of their bullpen. When the starters do their job it's a great thing and we've been on a great run as well."
"I think that they work hard and they're prepared," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said of the work his starters have done.
"They go out there and have willingness and a game plan to win. So they've been doing well. There's a lot that's been written, we all know that, but they have to go out and pitch well and we have to score runs behind them to get them to this point, so I'm happy for them, they're all feeling good, which is first and foremost and their last turns around the rotation were good."
It's also helped that the Nationals have received contributions from the bench players who've been called upon to fill in for their injured starters.
"It helps," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said last week asked about the work of players like Michael Taylor, Clint Robinson and Tyler Moore.
"It's not ideal, it's not the way we planned it for sure. But it's important for us to get as many reps as we can whether it's off the bench for a pinch hit in a crucial situation or if somebody is getting a day then get them in there for four and they've played well. Michael has played well. Both Clint and T-Mo have gotten a number of at bats, which is good. That will only help them down the line."
The Nationals wrapped up their weekend in the City of Brotherly Love with a split of their doubleheader with the Phillies, taking the first game of two, 3-2, before dropping the second, which brought an end to a season-high eight-game win streak.
Stephen Strasburg put together a strong outing in the first game, giving up just two runs in seven innings as Nats' hitters connected for nine hits and three runs against Philly righty Kevin Correia.
"We had lots of opportunities today," Williams told reporters after the win. "That being said, we hope to create some more in the second game."
Another solid start helped as well, Williams explained, with the Nationals' pitchers allowing them to stay in games until their offense can break through.
Strasburg was followed on the mound by lefty Matt Thornton, right-hander David Carpenter and closer Drew Storen on Saturday as the bullpen preserved the lead with two scoreless.
"Real good game for Thornton and Carpenter today and of course Drew in the ninth," Williams said. "All of that helps you stay in baseball games and one swing of the bat can often make a difference."
In the second half of the doubleheader, the Nationals were without Harper and Span, who sat out after playing in the first game. The lineup Williams put out there managed to score five runs on 10 hits, but a rough outing by Tanner Roark put the Nats in a hole they couldn't climb out of in what ended up an 8-5 loss.
"We kept fighting," Williams said. "Against a guy [Severino Gonzalez] we didn't know, had never seen before.
"[Ian Desmond] had a big homer for us, got us back in it. We had some opportunities, not quite enough today in the second one."
Williams said after the game that he expected Harper, Span and Escobar would be available for the series opener tonight in Atlanta, especially after a day off on Monday that would allow them to rest up.
"They all could use a day of course," he said. "They gutted through this one, but I anticipate Tuesday will be good barring some sort of issue over the next twenty-four hours."