Washington’s nine-game road trip to Cleveland, San Francisco and Arizona finished with the Nationals 6-3, after they split two and four-game sets with the Indians and Giants, respectively, and swept their three-game series with the Diamondbacks.
The Nationals’ 64-44 record overall after the trip was the second-best in the majors, behind only the Chicago Cubs (66-41).
Their +136 run differential on the year, after they outscored the D-Backs 32-8 in Chase Field, was the second-best run differential in the majors as well, again, behind only the Cubs (+171).
With Miami and New York both 4-6 in their last ten games heading into the weekend, the Nationals opened up a 7.0-game lead over the Marlins and an 8.0-game lead over the Mets in the NL East.
Dusty Baker, however, and as expected, said he was not taking anything for granted when he spoke before the series opener in D.C.
He was asked before the start of this weekend’s three-game set with the NL West-leading Giants, who were 62-46 before last night, if he was comfortable where the Nationals were at this point?
“No, not really,” Baker told reporters. “You don’t get comfortable until you clinch it. You start getting comfortable, man, a lot of things can happen.
“You [saw] at the All-Star Break, we had a 7.0-game lead then too, didn’t we? And then within a week it was down to about 3.0 or 4.0.
“Comfort is not something that you do in baseball. You just keep grinding and keep grinding and keep grinding and keep grinding.”
While each series is important, another one with a potential postseason opponent like the Giants was especially so, Baker explained.
“This is big,” he said.
“For those of us that have been in the playoffs many times, you realize how important these head-to-heads are at the end, but those that haven’t been in there, at the end they wish that we had done or played better — because if we had to end the season [today], we’d have start in Chicago, or if we had to [stop] the season now, we end up tied or something, we’d have a playoff game in LA, which isn’t to our favor.
“And you could very well have to go through San Francisco.”
Baker’s Nationals, as mentioned, split the four-game set with the Giants last week in AT&T Park, and they were just 1-5 against the Dodgers after the season series with LA ended, and 2-5 against the Cubs.
Friday night in the nation’s capital, they took a 3-2 advantage in the season series with San Francisco, taking the opener of the three-game set, 5-1 behind a strong start by Gio Gonzalez and some timely offensive contributions from Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner, Wilson Ramos and others.
“It was a good game,” Baker said after the win. “We hit the ball out of the ballpark and we hit some — four or five more balls on the nose and almost went out of the ballpark, so our guys are swinging better and feeling good about themselves.”
Gonzalez, as usual, pointed to his teammates when asked what was behind the Nats’ win.
“Willy [Ramos], the offense, some great plays defensively,” Gonzalez said.
“Everybody played a great role. Our bullpen came in and did a great job by shutting it down in the last two innings, so as far as that, what worked was everyone playing together.”
The Giants fell to 5-14 so far in the second half, though they still hold a 2.0-game lead in the West.
The Nationals won their 11th in 19 second-half games, their fourth straight overall and their seventh in the last ten.
There can’t be any letup, however, as Baker explained before the win, citing some advice he received from late, great, manager of San Francisco’s NFL franchise.
“Bill Walsh told me, you’re actually probably harder and sterner on your team when things are going good versus when they’re going bad,” Baker said.
“So you don’t let off the pedal and you make sure the guys don’t let off.”