Rejoice, Nationals fans. The streak is finally over.
After Sunday afternoon's 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, the Nats snapped their season-high seven-game losing streak and headed back to D.C. on a high note. The win, coupled with a loss by the New York Mets, gives Washington a three-game lead in the NL East ahead of this week's key series at Nats Park between the two division rivals.
Now that the skid is over with, here are a few thoughts on Sunday's game and more:
Roark saves the day: With Stephen Strasburg’s Sunday start scratched due to a back injury, it was up to Tanner Roark to play the role of stopper. And boy did he ever.
Pitching a day before he was scheduled to, Roark gave the Nats a clutch outing to help snap their losing skid. He threw seven shutout frames and struck out seven on 95 pitches, raising his record to 7-5 and lowering his ERA on the season 2.96.
For sure, he wasn't dominant the entire way — the Brewers scattered seven hits off him — but he did what so few Nats starters had done throughout this recent slide: he worked his way out of jams. When the Brewers had runners at the corners and two out in the fourth inning, he stuck out Kirk Nieuwenhuis to end the threat. Three innings innings later, with the tying run on third base, he retired Alex Presley and Jonathan Villar to keep the Nats' 1-0 lead in tact. Dusty Baker lamented on Saturday how starter Gio Gonzalez couldn't get the third out in big spots, but Roark came through in that area in spades in the series finale.
And if it wasn’t obvious enough just how big Roark’s performance was, his teammates greeted him with jubilant high-fives in the dugout after he escaped his last inning on the afternoon unscathed. He may not be considered the staff ace, but on Sunday, he did what aces are called upon to do.
Bench bats deliver again: On a day where most of the regulars in the lineup struggled at the plate, the decisive blows in this game came from a pair of bench players. Then again, the Nats’ reserves have come up big all season long, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise when it keeps happening.
In a scoreless tie in the seventh inning, Jose Lobaton put Washington out front with an opposite-field solo home run, and Clint Robinson followed that up in the eighth by launching a two-run shot to create a 3-0 cushion. And even though things got dicey in the ninth inning — the Brewers were a base hit away from tying the game — those runs would be just good enough to secure a 3-2 victory.
Who replaces Strasburg? The big news that broke before Sunday's game was that Stephen Strasburg was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an upper back injury. And while Nats fans are rightfully concerned about how seriously injured the star pitcher might be, the team has to find an adequate replacement for him in the meantime.
Baker said after Sunday's game that the Nats will call up a minor league pitcher to start in Strasburg's absence on Tuesday night against the New York Mets. The question is — who that might be? Some fans are clamoring to get a glimpse of top prospect Lucas Giolito, but is this the time for him to make his major league debut? That's for the organization to decide. If Giolito isn't the choice, then keep an eye on is 24-year-old Austin Voth, who is 4-3 with a 2.99 ERA at Syracuse and appears to be better positioned to make a spot start.