Sep 16, 2015, 9:56 PM EST
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals arrived in Philadelphia at the start of the week, understanding they were now playing out the string in every sense other than the mathematical sense, their deficit in the NL East too great to overcome with so little time left on the calendar. Maybe that lack of pressure, though, actually let this team go out and just play baseball for a change, unburdened by the pennant race for the first time all year.
Whatever the reason, the Nats club that showed up here looked everything like a powerhouse, nothing like the disappointing club of the previous 5 1/2 months that is going to come up short in the end. They crushed Phillies pitching, with Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper each homering four times in the series. (Harper launched his 40th of the season in this game, becoming only the second player in Nats history to join that club.) They got dominant starting pitching against the Phillies lineup, with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez combining to strike out 26 batters.
And so the Nationals pulled off their first road series sweep of the season, something they did five times last year. Too little, too late? Perhaps. But until they’re mathematically eliminated, they’ll keep playing these games.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: You think Werth enjoyed his time back in Philly this week? Always a crowd favorite — er, something like that — when he returns to his old stomping grounds, the veteran outfielder saved his best for this series. He homered twice on Monday. Then for good measure, he homered twice tonight. Werth launched a pair of solo shots (one in the fourth, one in the sixth) and further justified Matt Williams’ decision to move him to the cleanup spot last week, providing some protection for Harper. It’s been a difficult season for Werth, but his production over the last month has erased at least some of the questions about his ability to remain a potent offensive player heading into the final two years of his contract with the Nationals.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: You had a sense this would be a good night for Gonzalez when he retired the side in the first inning (striking out a pair) on only 12 pitches. That kind of efficiency is critical (and rare) for the left-hander, so it was a particularly positive omen this time. Sure enough, Gonzalez was in control all night, pounding the strike zone and then putting away the opposition. He wound up striking out 12, matching his career high.
KEY STAT: Harper is only the sixth player to record a 40-homer season before turning 23. Four of the others (Eddie Mathews, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Bench, Mel Ott) are in the Hall of Fame. The fifth (Juan Gonzalez) didn’t receive enough votes in his first year on the ballot amid suspicion of PED use.
UP NEXT: The Nationals return to D.C. for the final homestand of the season, beginning with a 4-game set against the Marlins. Tanner Roark (4-5, 4.38) faces Jarred Cosart (1-4, 4.58) in Thursday’s 7:05 p.m. opener.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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