Cross-country flights. Late-night starts. No off-days. Nothing right now seems to be able to derail the Nationals, who were at it again tonight during a 7-5 victory over the Padres.
With another offensive explosion at Petco Park, the Nationals won for the 10th time in their last 12 games and in the process expanded their lead in the National League East to a season-high six games.
"This is what I had hoped," manager Dusty Baker told reporters in San Diego after the game. "What you expect and what you get are two different things. But this is what I hoped."
At 43-25, the Nationals are a season-best 18 games over .500. They now lead the Mets (who lost to the Braves earlier tonight) by six games, their largest division lead since the end of the 2014 season.
"Offensively, we're grinding them out," Murphy told reporters. "Bullpen's been doing a great job and pitchers have been throwing up zeroes. It's a good formula for winning."
After a dramatic home series against the Cubs that was both physically and mentally draining, the Nationals haven't eased up at all since heading west. They won Thursday night's opener of this four-game series 8-5 and then followed it up with another impressive performance tonight to make it two in a row.
The big rally came in the top of the third, when Murphy laced a two-out, two-run double to right-center to give his team the lead for good. Moments later, Zimmerman launched a two-run homer to left, expanding that lead to 5-1.
"Just nice and simple, short to the ball," Zimmerman, who had been in a 4-for-31 slump since returning from paternity leave, told MASN's Dan Kolko in an on-field interview. "I think my first at-bat (a walk) kind of set the tone. Falling behind 0-2, taking some really close pitches, just missing another ball that I popped up. I feel really good. I'm just going to try to keep that going now."
Murphy added some insurance in the sixth inning when he sent a ball the other way and over the left-field fence, his 12th homer of the season.
"The longer the lineup, the tougher it is for the pitcher to come up for air," Murphy said. "So it's like, you get done with a batter and he puts a quality at-bat on you, whether they're successful or a failure. And then the next guy does the exact same thing. You just do it over and over again, and you can put yourself in some more advantageous situations with traffic on the basepaths. That's what we're trying to get the pitcher in: high-leverage situations. More mistakes happen in high-leverage situations."
Joe Ross, facing the Padres organization that dealt him to Washington as part of a blockbuster December 2014, three-team trade, gave up a quick run in the first inning and then a couple more before his evening was complete after the sixth. The young right-hander did keep the damage to a minimum, throwing 68 of his 95 pitches for strikes before handing the game over to his bullpen.
That relief corps, pressed into new roles in the wake of Jonathan Papelbon's first-career trip to the disabled list, bent a bit but didn't break. The Padres scored two runs off left-hander Oliver Perez in the seventh, but Blake Treinen pitched out of a jam to escape that inning. Sammy Solis then tossed a scoreless eighth before Yusmeiro Petit pitched the ninth for only his second career save, pressed into action with Shawn Kelley unavailable after appearing each of the preview two days.
"It got a little hairy out there at the end," Baker said. "But things worked out for us."