The Washington Nationals have been playing a complete game over the past two weeks, finding success in all areas of the game. But you know things are going right when Ryan Zimmerman plays like a Gold Glover in his ninth career game in left field.
The Nats (35-29) had key contributions from all over the diamond tonight, with a strong start from Tanner Roark, three RBI from Jayson Werth, and stellar defense from Zimmerman, as they won their fourth straight game and third against the San Francisco Giants (42-24), 6-2.
The Nats’ offense did not take long to get going, thanks largely in part to the struggles of Giants starter Matt Cain. Once an ace, Cain had a rough 2013 and has not been his dominant self in 2014 either, entering the game with a 3.52 ERA and his worst strikeout to walk ratio since 2008. He promptly worsened that ratio tonight, walking the first three Nats he faced. An Adam LaRoche single drove in two, and a Zimmerman groundout brought the third home to put the Nats on top by three early.
With the way the Nats’ starters have been going, three runs seemed like it would be more than enough for Roark (W, 5-4). Indeed, this season’s revelation delivered the 12th straight quality start for the Nats. He tossed six innings, giving up two runs on seven hits, no walks, and four strikeouts. And like any good pitcher, he relied on his defense to limit the damage.
In the fourth, Danny Espinosa did his usual thing in robbing Gregor Blanco of a base hit on a ground ball through the right side, making a slick throw to prevent a runner on third from scoring and ending the inning. But in the sixth and seventh, it was Zimmerman who made some amazing plays to prevent runs from scoring.
Michael Morse stood on second with two outs in the sixth when Brandon Crawford lined a ball to left field. Zimmerman made a great jump on the ball to get close, and dove headfirst to catch the ball on the fly and end the inning.
Roark was sent back out for the seventh, now up 4-1 thanks to a Werth homer, but got the hook after letting up singles to the first two Giants. Enter Drew Storen, who quickly induced a double play to douse some immediate danger but move a runner to third. Pinch-hitting Pablo Sandoval then drove in the inherited runner to trim the lead to 4-2. A shallow flare from Angel Pagan threatened to extend the inning, but Zimmerman rode to the rescue once more, making a sliding catch to end the frame.
After a clean eighth from Tyler Clippard, his 21st consecutive scoreless appearance, the Nats offense recalled the anxiety of yesterday’s two-run ninth inning. Collectively, they decided that everyone would be happier if they could just add to that lead a bit, and add they did. Jose Lobaton was aboard with two outs when Denard Span and Anthony Rendon both battled Yusmeiro Petit to draw walks, and Werth came through again with a two-run single to put the Nats up 6-2.
Jerry Blevins’ perfect ninth sealed the series win for the Nats, who have improbably won three straight games in the home park of the best team in baseball. Now winners of eight of nine, the Nats have claimed sole possession of first place in the NL East with Atlanta’s loss today. They’ll go for the sweep tomorrow, and the comments on the Nats being contenders or not appear to have moved to a certain consensus with this series: when the Nats are on, they’re as good as anyone in the game.