Early runs was the name of the game again for the Washington Nationals as they beat the Chicago Cubs 9-1. With home runs and a dominating pitching performance from their starter, Gio Gonzalez, the Nats cruised to their fourth straight win and 84th win on the season. The Nats are on pace for 100 wins this season, and the magic number is 19.
Gio Gonzalez has been on an absolute tear lately. He took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, until Darwin Barney hit a hard grounder just to Ryan Zimmerman’s left at third base, but that didn’t take away from the outing. He went seven innings and gave up just three hits, no runs, no walks, and struck out nine on 93 pitches.
Since the beginning of August, Gio has gone seven or more innings four times. He’s given up zero runs in his last two outings, he once again sports a sub-3.00 ERA (2.98), and he is tied with R.A. Dickey for the National League lead with 18 wins. Sure sounds like an NL Cy Young candidate to me.
Roger Bernadina made the most of a rare start, and an even more rare leadoff opportunity. He reached on an infield single in the first, stole second, and eventually scored on an Adam LaRoche single. Bernadina and Bryce Harper hit back-to-back home runs to lead off the third inning. It was Harper’s 16th homer of the year. LaRoche chimed in with his 28th blast two batters later, giving the Nats a 5-0 lead.
Harper hit is second home run of the game in the sixth inning for his 17th on the year. In the same game, Harper matched and eclipsed Ken Griffey, Jr. on the all-time home run list by a teenager. He’s now third behind Tony Conigliaro (24) and Mel Ott (19) with 25 games left this season. That’s some good company.
LaRoche remained locked in at the plate, too. After going 4-for-4 with a walk on Tuesday, he went 3-for-4 with a walk and another home run on Wednesday. LaRoche is getting close to career highs in both home runs and RBI, and there’s a lot of baseball left to be played. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa chimed in with their own back-to-back home runs in the seventh, and Kurt Suzuki eventually scored on an RBI walk by Ryan Zimmerman.
Sure, it was the Cubs, but the Nats showed why they can be an absolutely dominant team in the last two games: they capitalize on mistakes, and they play with confidence. In the last two games, the Nats hit 12 home runs, six in each game. No matter who you are, you don’t want to face this Nats team right now.