It probably isn't stretching things to say that this is the most upbeat the Nationals clubhouse has been in months.
The Nats picked up their 14th win in 19 games tonight with a 9-0 rout of the Marlins, finishing off a three-game sweep and getting back to three games over .500 for the first time since July 10.
After tonight's win, the Nats trail the Reds by 6 1/2 games for the final wild card spot in the National League. Still a ways out with just 29 games to go, for sure, but the Nats are feeling pretty good about themselves right now.
"One thing that I preach to everybody, you never take anything for granted," manager Davey Johnson said. "When you hit a ground ball to short, you never take it for granted he's going to field it and throw you out. And the same way winning games. No matter how many you're behind, if you take it for granted, you can't catch nobody and you can't play good, that's a losing attitude. And I've never sensed that attitude here.
"Strange things happen in this game. All we have to do is keep playing good ball."
In many ways, tonight's game seemed like it was ripped out of the pages of the Nats' 2012 yearbook. The Nats got a strong start from Gio Gonzalez, crushed three multi-run homers and rolled to a nine-run victory.
The offense has been lacking this season, but it sure wasn't tonight. Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond combined to go 10-for-14 with three homers, eight RBIs and two walks.
"I was glad to see Zim have a big night," Johnson said. "Got three hits, that was big. And Werth is on fire. And looks like Harp's warming up and Desi's been doing it all year. Now's the time. We've been slow coming together, but now's the time to do it."
Strangely enough, the July 10 date that I mentioned above was the last day prior to today that Gonzalez had notched a win. Gonzalez led the way tonight, however, bouncing back from a slow start to throw seven scoreless innings on a night when the Nats desperately needed it, with their bullpen having been pretty overworked lately.
"I tell ya, when that game started, the way Gio was going the first couple innings again, I was thinking, 'Oh my goodness, if I can get five out of him ...' " Johnson said. "And after I think about the second inning, he really turned it up a notch. Shoot, went out there in the seventh, and shoot, I was even thinking about going eight with him. But he ended up pitching a great ballgame. He was outstanding. Just when we needed it."
"He's been struggling but he hasn't brought it back together. Tonight he was outstanding. We were very short (in the bullpen) and I was hoping for a laugher and we got one. That was sweet. I was telling (Craig) Stammen, I said, 'Tell Clip (Tyler Clippard) and (Drew) Storen I'm going to do everything in my power to keep from going to them.' That was big."
It's weird to see the offense struggle for such a long period of time and then suddenly get it together, but Johnson doesn't really have any answers for what's caused the dramatic turnaround. He's just happy it's happened.
"I just think when you don't play like you think you're capable of playing, whether it's pitching or hitting, you kind of want to make amends," Johnson said. "I think guys want to start doing the things they know they're capable of. There's been a good feeling on this club for about two weeks where it seems a little more relaxed, more quality at-bats, all that kind of thing. It's fun to watch."