“This is what we anticipated from the get-go,” Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the third straight win over the Philadelphia Phillies, their fourth straight win overall and their seventh win in the last ten games.
Since they fell a season-high 12 games under .500 on May 23rd, the Nationals are 16-7, and heading into this weekend’s three-game set with the Atlanta Braves in the nation’s capital, Martinez’s squad is just two games under .500 and 7.5 back in the NL East, having moved into third place this week for the first time since April 19th.
Thursday night’s win had it all (except for a solid start). Ten hits, three home runs, seven runs total, 5 1⁄3 innings from the bullpen (in which they gave up two runs on four hits), a couple of nice defensive plays, and even two outs at home plate that helped thwart the Phillies and end potential rallies.
With the Nationals ahead 1-0 in the top of the second, Scott Kingery tried to score from second base on a single up the middle, but Trea Turner ranged over to make a play and popped up to throw home and get the runner at the plate.
With the Nationals up 3-0 after three, the Phillies scored two in the top of the fourth on RBI singles by Bryce Harper and Jay Bruce, but Harper tried to score a second run on Bruce’s two-out hit to right and was thrown out at home by Adam Eaton, who fired a strike to Kurt Suzuki to cut the former National down.
With a runner on and one out in a 3-3 game in the fifth, Turner made another range-y play on a grounder up the middle by César Hernandez, diving to get the ball, and tossing it to Howie Kendrick from his stomach to start an inning-ending 6-4-3.
“We don’t make those plays, things get crazy, and they made unbelievable plays, got us out of a jam, but that’s part of playing good winning baseball,” Martinez said.
They were the sort of plays the Nationals often bungled earlier this season, but the second-year skipper said it wasn’t a lack of effort when things were going wrong over the first two months.
“You know what I think really happens throughout that period,” Martinez explained, “is that guys tend to try a little harder and they do it for their teammates. ‘I’m going to pick them up,’ ‘I’m going to a little bit more of this, I’m going to do a little bit more of that.’ Just be you. Just play the game. And that’s one thing I think they’re doing right now. I’m going to get on base for this guy, I’m going to make the play for this guy. I’m going to throw a strike right here and it’s all — this is what we anticipated from the get-go, so like I said, they’re playing really well.”
At the plate, Juan Soto drove in a run with a double in the first inning, Kurt Suzuki hit a two-run home run in the second, Anthony Rendon hit a go-ahead home run in the sixth, and the three-run home run Victor Robles hit in the seventh made it 7-3 in what ended up a 7-4 win.
Soto went 1 for 4. Rendon was 2 for 3 with a double and a home run. Howie Kendrick went 2 for 3 with two runs scored. Robles was 2 for 3 with his second home run in two games and a walk. Suzuki hit his fifth home run in eight games against the Phillies and his 8th of the year.
They don’t have Harper any more, but the Nationals are getting production up and down the lineup, and making up for what they miss with their 2010 No. 1 overall pick in a Phillies uniform.
Harper has 12 HRs and 50 RBIs on the season. Brian Dozier, who homered in each of the two games on Wednesday, but didn’t play on Thursday, has 12 HRs and 28 RBIs on the year after a slow start. Robles hit two in two days against the Phillies, his 10th and 11th, and he’s at 40 RBIs. Howie Kendrick has 12 HRs and 43 RBIs so far this season.
“They’re all doing their part and they’re swinging the bats well,” Martinez said. “What I like is even when we don’t hit home runs, they’re putting the ball in play, they’re moving the ball, our strikeouts are down, which is nice, so they’re making contact and they’re putting balls in play when we need to.”
What could have been a difficult stretch, with two postponements, and three games in two days, went as well as the Nationals could have hoped. Did the team bond with all the time they spent waiting around together before they actually played the three games they did?
“We’ve been together all year, we really have,” Martinez said, “but this is gratifying to see.
“And the way they’re playing,” he added, “I mean, hey, we made some really good plays on defense today, we really did, we’re playing good baseball, all the way around. We’re getting big hits when we need them, our bullpen has stepped up, starting pitching has been good.”
“Let’s just come back tomorrow and do it again.”