Even when on the road, playing a last-place club like the San Diego Padres affords the Nationals an opportunity to create some distance in the NL East division, especially when the New York Mets are playing like they have been. On Friday night the Mets lost to the lowly Atlanta Braves and dropped their fourth game out of their last six. That stretch also includes two losses to the Brewers, who are six games under .500.
The Mets may be slipping against lesser competition, but the Nationals certainly are not. They homered past the Padres on Friday night to win their third straight game and make it nine out of 11 overall. Over their last 18 games, they've won 14 of them and their offense continues to lead the way.
They now lead the Mets by a season-high six games in the NL East. The Nats never led by more than 4 1/2 games in 2015. On this date in 2014, the last year they won the division, they were 1 1/2 games up. And in 2012 when they won a franchise-best 98 games, they led by four at this juncture.
The Nationals scored seven runs on Friday, including four in the third inning alone. Both Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy homered, as the Nats chased Padres starter Christian Friedrich for a season-high six earned runs. Joe Ross, meanwhile, was solid with three earned runs allowed through six innings against the team that drafted him.
Here are some notes and observations from Friday night's 7-5 win…
Murphy homers again: After hitting .416 in May to earn NL player of the month honors, Murphy has slowed down considerably through 14 games in June. He's hitting just .236 and is only sixth on the Nats in hits this month. But the power numbers are still there, as Murphy is slugging .509 in June now with three homers, 11 RBI, four doubles and a triple this month. He has five home runs in his last 16 games overall.
Murphy's homer was his 12th of the season, which puts him just two away from the career-high of 14 he posted last year. This is all in 65 games, which means he could set a new career mark before the first half of this season is over. In fact, he's still on pace to double his career-high and hit 28 homers by the end of this year.
Murphy still leads the majors with a .361 batting average and is second to only David Ortiz with a 1.010 OPS. Murphy's homers rank second among NL second basemen only to Neil Walker, who replaced him in New York. And his 45 RBI rank second among all MLB players at his position. Murphy also doubled in two runs in the top of the third to help post his 29th multi-hit game of the year.
Zim also goes yard: Zimmerman has also fallen off in the month of June after thriving in May. The Nats first baseman is batting just .184 through 10 games this month after having major trouble against the Chicago Cubs, in particular. On Friday night, though, he came up big with his 10th homer of the season and his second this month. Zimmerman has just four hits in his last eight games, but two have been homers.
Harper, Werth keep rolling: Both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth notched two-hit games on Friday night. For Harper, it was his second straight outing with two outs. For Werth, it was his third straight.
For as much as people have been talking about Harper's struggles in recent weeks, he has been showing positive signs as of late. He's batting .308 in 14 games this month and over his last 11 starts is hitting .333 with eight RBI and a .860 OPS. Despite his homer on Thursday night, the power numbers have still yet to catch up. He has just one extra-base hit in his last nine outings and only three in his last 16.
Werth has been on fire this month, hitting .353 with 11 RBI, 10 walks and a .981 OPS in 13 games. He's reached safely in 15 of his last 16 appearances.
Bullpen again shows cracks: Just like Thursday night, the Nationals held on despite finding some trouble after their starter left the mound. All four relievers they used - Oliver Perez, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis and Yusmeiro Petit - allowed baserunners and Perez was charged with two earned runs after Treinen gave up two RBI groundouts in the seventh inning.
Perez is now in Felipe Rivero's territory with a 4.67 ERA. He's given up runs in four of his last eight outings, a stretch of just 3 1/3 total innings. He did not record an out on Friday and left after walking Christian Bethancourt and surrendering a double to Jon Jay.
The Nats' pitching staff as a whole has been rocky this month with a 4.33 ERA, and Ross and Gio Gonzalez have been a big reason for that number, but the bullpen has also struggled. In June the Nats' relief corps has given up 23 earned runs in 41 1/3 innings. That equates to a 5.01 ERA. It's an alarming pace and something the Nats have to be keeping an eye with the trade deadline just over the horizon.