Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-2 win over the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field.
How it happened: The Nats began their four-game series at the Mets with a disappointing loss, but their weekend couldn't have ended much better. The Nationals closed the first half of the season with a 3-2 win over New York on Sunday afternoon, their third straight win overall and one that extended their lead over the Mets to six games, matching a season-high. Sure, Washington has minor concerns involving their bullpen and Joe Ross is rehabbing on the disabled list, but compared to the Mets, the Nats are walking into the All-Star break after closing about as good a first-half as they could ask for, with a clear standing as the best team in the NL East.
What happens from here on out will be determined by lots of things. Can the Mets get healthy and work the trade deadline as masterfully as they did in 2015? Can the Marlins find another gear, perhaps once Dee Gordon returns from his suspension? For the Nats, they just need to keep doing what they're doing and hope Daniel Murphy doesn't one day wake up and realize he's human.
Murphy was the star once again on Sunday with a two-run homer in the first inning, his third of the series. Every time it seems like he's done something amazing against his former team, he hits the gas and tops himself, taking retribution to lengths that are almost cruel. The Mets have been decimated by injuries and every time they see Murphy he reminds them of what they allowed to get away.
This time Murphy's victim was Steven Matz, who was nowhere near as good this time as he was against the Nationals in D.C. on May 25. Matz allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in seven innings of work. The other run was on a Wilson Ramos RBI double in the third inning.
Gio Gonzalez was also a tad wild with four walks of his own, but he managed 5 2/3 frames with two runs allowed and four hits. Both runs came on solo homers by Jose Reyes, who had three total in the series. Gonzalez was pulled for Tanner Roark, who was able to go 2 1/3 innings, thanks to the upcoming days off.
The Nationals tied a franchise record with their 54th win before the All-Star break, matching the 1994 Montreal Expos.
What it means: The Nationals closed the first half of the season with three straight wins and a 54-46 overall record. They moved to 9-4 against the Mets this year, which tops their win total in the 2015 head-to-head series. The Nats and Mets will not meet again until Sept. 2 in New York.
Murphy vs. the Mets, Part 13: What more is there to say? Murphy once again led the Nationals to a victory over the Mets with a two-run homer, his seventh this season against the Mets alone. He now has 21 RBI vs. New York, which ties him for the most for any player against any single opponent so far this season. Murphy's homer was his 17th of the season, his second in as many games and his third of this series. He is now batting .423 (22-of-52) with hits in all 13 games he's played against the Mets this year. Murphy enters the All-Star break with a .348 batting average, best in the majors.
Gio shows progress: Gonzalez may still be far off from the pitcher we saw storm out of the gate in April, but Sunday was the third straight outing for him in which he showed positive signs of getting back on track. Gonzalez made it 5 2/3 innings and only allowed two earned runs, the first time since May 18 that he's given up less than three in a start. His fastball was also slightly faster than normal, hitting 93 and 94 on occasion.
Walks continue to be an issue for Gonzalez, who issued four in this one. He's given up at least three walks in five of his last six starts. Manager Dusty Baker left Gonzalez out there with a one-run lead in the sixth inning, but pulled him after he allowed a two-out single to Juan Lagares on his 108th pitch of the afternoon. Roark took over from there and tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings to bridge the Nats to the ninth where Jonathan Papelbon earned his 19th save of the year.
Werth fills up the box score: Two of the Nationals' three runs on Sunday were scored by Jayson Werth, who reached three times with a single and two walks. His single came right before Murphy's homer, and he also scored in the third inning on Ramos' double. Werth got that rally started with a leadoff walk. He then moved to second on a Murphy groundout and then third with his third stolen base of the season. All three of Werth's steals this year have taken third base. And with Sunday's he is now 126-for-146 in his career, which gives him the third-best steal percentage (86.3) of all-time. That's not bad for a 37-year-old, who has now reached safely in 19 straight games with 21 walks and a .440 on-base percentage during that stretch.
Up next: The Nationals take most of the week off for the All-Star break with a long homestand on the other end set to begin Friday with the Pittsburgh Pirates in town. The Nationals haven't announced who will start that game, but with a chance to reset their rotation, it will likely be Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg, depending on if Scherzer appears in Tuesday's All-Star Game.