It doesn't appear that the New York Mets will make it easy for the Washington Nationals to catch them. The Mets extended their lead in the National League East to 5 1/2 games after bashing a club-record eight home runs in a 16-7 win in Philadelphia last night. The Mets, who welcomed David Wright back from the disabled list, play three more against the Phillies this week while the Nats open a series with the Padres in D.C.
The Nats, coming off back-to-back win over the Brewers, haven't won three straight since defeating the Orioles in consecutive games and then beating the Dodgers five days later after the All-Star break on July 17.
"The biggest obstacle for us has been putting four or five games together where the offensive explosion is there and we're pitching well and we get on that roll," manager Matt Williams said. "We just haven't done that as of yet. That consistency in which you play over a course of a week where you can get on that roll is the saving grace for any team.
"Ultimately, we want to play well and give ourselves a chance every day. And that takes the guy that starts the game, the guys that play the field, coming through with that base hit, moving up on the ball in the dirt ... all of those factors come into play. We can't worry about what has happened. All we can worry about is today."
Eleven-year veteran Ryan Zimmerman says the Nationals can't add the pressure of focusing on the need for lengthy winning streaks.
"It's hard to do that at this level," Zimmerman said. "I think we just need to try and continue to win series. That's all you really can do. It's hard to sweep and win a lot in a row up here. I think our goal is to win every series from here on out, and if we do that, we'll have a good shot."
A couple of tall right-handers square off in a top flight pitching matchup tonight as the Padres send James Shields to the mound while the Nats counter with Stephen Strasburg. Shields didn't face the Nats in San Diego in May when the Nats took of three of four from the Padres. Strasburg claimed the win in the finale of the four-game series, allowing three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts over five innings.
After battling injuries for most of the first four months of the season, Strasburg has been lights out since returning from the disabled list on August 8. In his last three starts, Strasburg is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA, fanning 25 with just two walks over 20 innings.
Strasburg is 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA in five career starts against his hometown Padres.
The Nationals are expected to have Denard Span back for tonight's game, as first reported by MLB.com. The 31-year-old has been on the DL since July 7 while dealing with back spasms that first began bothering him on June 7.
With Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Zimmerman and Span all experiencing lengthy stays on the DL, the Nats have yet to play with their full, projected opening day lineup, 123 games into the season.
Despite playing through pain, Span still managed to slash .304/.367/.430 with five homers, 15 doubles, 22 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. The Nats are 35-24 when Span starts this season.
"We haven't had our whole lineup," Bryce Harper said. "When Denard comes back it's going to be even better. It's a lot of fun with the way we're going right now. If we can just keep that going, keep having fun and enjoying the game and having good ABs, I think we'll be just fine."
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