GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals' final 30 games of the season feature a whole lotta games against the NL East's three weaklings. And nobody looks weaker right now than the Braves, who entered Thursday's series opener having lost 15 of their last 16. Make it 16-of-17 after the Nats pummeled them in a rout that at times didn't feel like a fair fight.
The Nats scored 10 runs and sent 19 men to the plate in the first three innings alone, with every member of the lineup reaching base. Bryce Harper didn't even have a hit, but his four walks helped keep the line moving and produced four runs in the process. Ryan Zimmerman was a machine again, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and four RBI. And the guy who replaced him after all the starters departed, Danny Espinosa, went 2-for-2 with a homer himself.
Jordan Zimmermann took advantage of all that run support and mostly cruised his way through six innings. By the end, it was mostly backups in the game, playing out the string of a lopsided win over a team that looks like a mess right now. And there remain three more games in this series.
With the win (and the Mets having the night off) the Nationals moved to within 6 games of the NL East leaders with 29 to go.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Basically, pick any player in the lineup and give it to him. But we'll focus on the man who has been in the middle of everything lately: Zimmerman. With Bryce Harper walking every single time in front of him, the Nationals cleanup man had ample opportunities to drive in runs. Which he did. Zimmerman doubled in the first, just missing his 201st career homer moments after the crowd gave him a standing ovation for hitting his 200th the previous night. He sent a sacrifice line drive to center in the second inning. He singled home two runs in the third. And he doubled homer another run in the fifth. All told, Zimmerman now has 23 RBI in his last 11 games and 71 in 92 total games this season. Remarkably, he only trails Harper by 7 for the team lead.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: He allowed only one run and two hits in six innings, but Zimmermann actually struggled a bit. That's because his command was surprisingly off, resulting in four walks, three of them in the first two innings alone. He also balked and uncorked a wild pitch. The good news is that he made it through his six innings in one piece, throwing 87 pitches and basically just getting his work in (while happily accepting the easiest win of his career) in preparation of the far more important start he'll make Tuesday against the Mets.
KEY STAT: Bryce Harper became only the fourth player in MLB history to score 4 runs without an official at-bat in a game, joining Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson and Larry Doby (all Hall of Famers).
UP NEXT: Tanner Roark returns from a brief minor-league stint to start Friday night's game in place of Stephen Strasburg. It'll be right-hander Julio Teheran on the mound for the Braves at 7:05 p.m.