Postgame analysis of the Nats' 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night at Nationals Park.
How it happened: There are few certainties in life and in baseball, but Tanner Roark going deep into a start has become essentially a sure thing for the Nationals these days.
Usually he's good for six or seven innings. In Saturday night's 6-0 win over the Pirates, Roark nearly went the distance, stopping just short of his second career complete game with eight dominant shutout innings. Roark took the mound in the top of the ninth with 102 pitches, but was replaced by Blake Treinen after he promptly gave up a single and hit a batter. That allowed the 38,861 at Nationals Park to shower Roark with praise as he walked to the dugout.
Roark has now gone at least seven innings in five straight starts. He's made it at least six innings in 16 of his 19 starts this season and through at least seven in 13 of those outings.
Roark is the best in baseball at inducing weak contact (22.7% according to FanGraphs) and that continued on Saturday. He only struck out five batters and allowed just five hits and one walk. He walked off the mound with a 2.82 season ERA.
Roark even got some rare run support. Anthony Rendon homered and also added an RBI single. Stephen Drew doubled three times, Danny Espinosa had an RBI double and even Roark himself pitched in with an RBI single.
It was another all-around effort for the first-place Nationals, who have won five straight games.
What it means: The Nationals now have a chance to earn their seventh sweep of the season on Sunday. The Nats moved to 56-36 with the win, 20 games over .500 for the first time since 2014. Both the Marlins and Mets lost on Saturday, so the Nats now hold a season-high seven-game lead in the NL East.
Rendon hits No. 10: Rendon had been mired in a mini-slump with no hits in his previous four games (16 PA) entering Saturday night, but he was a big factor in the Nats' win over Pittsburgh. He went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Rendon brought the Nats' first run home in the first inning on a single to left field against Cole. He then smacked a solo homer deep into the stands in left-center off reliever A.J. Schugel. That was Rendon's 10th homer of the season. This is the second time in his career he's reached double digits in home runs (2014). The Nationals are now one of only three MLB teams to have seven players with 10 homers or more this season, the Cardinals and Mariners are the others.
Drew doubles three times: Whenever Stephen Drew sees the field for the Nationals, good things usually happen. The longtime everyday player is new to his role on the bench, but he's transitioned well. On Saturday in a rare opportunity to start, he landed three doubles in his first three at-bats. He scored both times, the first thinks to a Danny Espinosa double and the second on a throwing error by Josh Harrison.
In Drew's last 22 games - 10 of them starts - he's 17-for-44 (.386) with five homers, 11 RBI, seven doubles and five walks. The Nationals are 15-7 over that stretch. That's not bad.
Aggressive baserunning pays off: With a steal in the first inning and another in the second, the Nationals tied their stolen base total from all of last season. This year they have 57 steals through 92 games, the same amount they accrued across 162 games in 2015. That is clear evidence of both Davey Lopes' expertise as their first base coach, and manager Dusty Baker's emphasis on aggressive baserunning.
The first steal was by Jayson Werth in the first inning. He notched his fourth steal of the season and in doing so passed Carlos Beltran to move into second place all-time in career steal percentage. Werth's 86.395 percentage trails only Chase Utley, his former teammate, who holds a 87.8 career mark.
Quotable: Roark on his outing - “Two seamer was definitely working. I felt like the curveball was working as well, and change-ups to righties as well. I was doing well. Keeping them off-balance, using all four pitches to lefties and righties, it keeps them guessing even more, and that’s what I’ve been able to do a lot more this year – throw change-ups to righties."
Baker on Rendon - “I just think Anthony is going to have a great second half. I give them all challenges some point in time. He was batting behind [Bryce] Harper tonight because he doesn’t hit many double plays, he puts the ball in play, he’s a tough out."
Up next: The Nationals and Pirates finish their series with a 1:35 p.m. first pitch. Max Scherzer (10-6, 3.03) will get the start for the Nats opposite Pittsburgh right-hander Chad Kuhl (1-0, 6.08).
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