With the Washington Nationals' win in the third game of their three-game set with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Nats wrapped up their ten-game homestand with a 7-3 record, leaving the current NL East division leaders with a 27-15 record in D.C. so far this season and 51-35 record overall.
Before the baseball world descends on San Diego for the Midsummer Classic next week, however, the Nationals and the New York Mets play a four-game set in Citi Field starting tonight at 7:10 PM EDT.
Nats' skipper Dusty Baker talked after the 7-4 win over the Brewers about the importance of the upcoming series with the second-place Mets, who start play tonight 4.0 games back in the East.
"Well, it's critical because they're chasing us and we're trying to put some distance on them," Baker said, "and so it's very important because there's four less games on the schedule, whatever happens, four less games that we have to play them head-to-head where you don't have to depend on anybody else, you just depend on yourself, and how you do and so it's a very important how we do this series and hopefully we can come out of there and gain some ground."
Washington took two of three from New York in Citi Field in mid-May, dropped two of three in D.C., then won all three games with the Mets in the nation's capital at the start of the just-completed homestand, improving to 6-3 against their divisional rivals early this season.
After following up on the sweep of the Mets by taking three of four from the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals dropped the first two games of their three-game set with the Brewers before taking the series finale to avoid the sweep.
Tanner Roark, who threw 7.0 scoreless vs Milwaukee in Miller Park last month to help the Nationals stop their seven-game slide, came through again Wednesday afternoon.
"Tanner battled as usual and I'm glad he got the win and our bullpen came on and didn't give up any the rest of the way which is rare. Usually they add on a run here or a run there, but our bullpen did a great job."
Roark gave up four runs in seven innings, all of them in a five-hit third as the Brewers rallied to tie it up at 4-4, then Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley and Jonathan Papelbon held the visiting team off the board as Stephen Drew put the Nationals ahead with an RBI double and Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run blast to make it 7-4.
"That was big and he needed it and we needed it," Baker said of Zimmerman's home run to center in Nationals Park in the fifth.
"He gave us those insurance runs because these guys, you can see how quickly they can score. They scored all those runs in the fourth and it really didn't take long.
"They strung together like four or five hits and boy they cut our lead to nothing in a hurry, but we got a big hit out of Stephen Drew to give us the lead and then Ryan Zimmerman deposited that one over the fence, so we're certainly looking forward to what's to come from Zimmerman."
Roark's ability to limit the damage and hold the Brewers scoreless after the third was important, Baker said, for a number of reasons.
How did he do it?
"The biggest factor is that he didn't -- I think he only walked one or two after that. No. 1 you've got make them put the ball in play and you make quality pitches and use your defense and Tanner, he's been steady all year long.
"He usually goes six or seven innings which is what we need and he's been a big factor in our success here."
Going seven like he did, Baker said, allowed the Nationals' bullpen to get some much-needed rest.
"Oh, yeah, cause then we can just go full throttle all the way through because we know that we've got four days off. That was big. He saved my bullpen. Kelley went one inning, Pap went one inning, Solis went a third of an inning and so our bullpen is strong for the first time in a long time for this grind that's going to happen in New York. That's a big a series in New York."