Before the start of the Washington Nationals' three-game set with the New York Mets, Nats' skipper Dusty Baker talked about trying to build up a lead in the NL East on the ten-game homestand after a near-disastrous ten-game road trip to San Diego, Los Angeles and Milwaukee on which the Nationals at one point dropped seven-straight.
They snapped their seven-game losing streak in the finale with the Brewers on Sunday afternoon, and Baker hoped they could bounce back in the nation's capital.
What was a 6.0-game lead after the Nationals' back-to-back wins in the first two of four with the Padres was down to a 2.0 game lead in the division after Saturday's loss.
"We lost games in all kinds of ways but that's in the past now," Baker said on Monday.
"We come home and have a good homestand against these Mets and it will be just right back where we left with fourteen less games on the schedule. That's how we're looking at it."
The Nationals started their three-game set with the Mets with a 3.0 game lead in the East over the second-place Miami Marlins.
"I think a bunch of teams would want to be 3.0 games in first place right now," Baker told reporters. "A whole bunch of teams.
"So the way I look at it, we're just thankful to be home and hopefully our fans will give us a lot more energy."
An 11-4 win on Monday gave the Nationals a 3.5 game lead and Tuesday night's pushed that to 5.0 games.
"Big game tomorrow and we can push it back to where we started on that terrible road trip, which is our plan," Baker said.
Asked about a potential sweep before Wednesday's series finale, Baker told reporters, "It would be wonderful."
"That's our plan tonight, sweep this series since we're in this position. We can -- I said when we started this series, we'd like to sweep so we'd be 6.0 games up, right back in the same position we were two weeks ago with 14 less games to go in the [season].
"Hopefully we don't have any more bad streaks, but if we do we want some cushion just in case, so this is a big game tonight and they're reeling a little bit and I think they play the [Chicago] Cubs next, and you've got to worry about Miami -- and you ain't got to worry about anybody, you just worry about what you've got to do, but you have them in your rearview mirror you hope that some day you come over the hill and you don't see anybody in the rearview mirror."
Washington's 4-2 win on Wednesday gave them a 5.5-game lead over Miami and a 6.0-game lead over New York.
Baker talked after the sweep against the Mets about players like Max Scherzer (who struck out 10 in 7 ⅓ scoreless) and Daniel Murphy (who hit two home runs and drove in three of the Nats' four runs in the 4-2 win) coming up big for the Nationals.
"It means everything," he said. "You want them to step up against everybody, but especially in games with your rivals, guys that you're chasing or guys that are chasing you. I mean, this was big, they could have went out of here tied for first place too. Every game is a two-game game when you're playing the team that's chasing you or you're chasing them."
Could a sweep like this change things the way the Mets late-season sweep of the Nationals did last September?
"It's too early to change the season yet," he said, "but we'll take it at the halfway point almost and we're hoping to increase it."
Up next, four with the Cincinnati Reds (29-50, 2-8 in their last ten) and then three with the Milwaukee Brewers (35-42, 4-6). Baker said he was sure there wouldn't be a letdown against lesser or non-division/rival opponents.
"That's no problem, keeping them motivated," he explained.
"Motivation comes from within, all you can do is stimulate that motivation. And you just can't overlook anybody.
"I mean, the Reds, they almost swept us up in Cincinnati. Milwaukee almost swept us in Milwaukee, so you certainly can't overlook anybody, because any time you get a good-pitched game -- the Reds, they're scoring a lot of runs, but they're also giving up more runs than they're scoring, so our job is to keep scoring on our side and prevent them from scoring."
After holding the Mets to six runs total in the three-game sweep, scoring twenty unanswered runs after falling behind early in the series opener and then giving up two late on Wednesday night, the Nationals will hope for more of the same over the next seven in D.C., then it's four more with the Mets to end the so-called "first half" of the season.