WASHINGTON -- Thursday night’s end tasted a lot better on the home side of Nationals Park.
It was a satisfactory win, not a cabbage-smashing, music-blaring bonanza, just clean baseball for a team which found the task to be so elusive through the first two months of the season.
Washington’s 7-4 victory produced the team’s first three-game series sweep of the season. It is 16-7 since coming back from New York in disarray, two games under .500 for the first time since April 28 (12-14) and cranking on the wheel to turn a doomed vessel around.
“I think baseball is hard to explain sometimes because we’ve won I feel like in many different ways lately, that's what good teams do, you can win 1-0, you can win 10-9, you can blow somebody out or win a close game,” Trea Turner said. “I think we have a deep enough lineup and roster to kind of do that. Some days the bullpen, they're going to pick us up, some days our starting pitching, some days top of the order, bottom of the order, whatever it may be and lately we've been doing it all.”
Turner made two stellar defensive plays Thursday. He and Adam Eaton threw out runners at the plate. The bullpen held after a short start by Erick Fedde. The No. 3 hitter produced two hits.The No. 5 hitter produced two hits. The No. 8 hitter produced two hits. It looks better. It is better.
Not so for the Phillies. They are dragging. The bullpen is beat up, losing Andrew McCutchen for the season is a yet-to-be-resolved ding and they have little to say about it. Manager Gabe Kapler spoke for 2:26 afterward. Bryce Harper was not available following a bumpy series.
Philadelphia is four games over .500 following a peak of 11 over May 29. The Nationals were eight under that day and 9 ½ games behind the Phillies. They enter the weekend trailing second-place Philadelphia by three games.
“You know what I think really happened [early on]? Guys tend to try a little harder. And they do it for their teammates,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I'm going to pick him up. I'm going to do this, do a little bit more of that. Just be you. Just play the game. That's one thing I think they're doing right now. They're playing the game. I'm going to get on base for this guy, make a play for this guy, throw a strike right here. It's all -- this is what we anticipated from the get-go. They are playing really well.”
More heat arrives Friday. Dallas Keuchel is slated to make his season debut for the Braves, who are a healthy 13 games over .500 and atop the division by 4 ½ games. A three-game series against Atlanta will finally yield to a day off Monday before a gift-giving portion of the schedule kicks in.
A series against last-place Miami precedes a visit to 26-44 Detroit. Home series against Miami (still in last place) and Kansas City (last place in the American League Central) end the pre-All-Star-break portion of the season. It’s an opportunity.
So, Turner is right. Baseball is hard to explain sometimes. It’s also more palatable when it’s going well, which is the space Washington has entered the last three weeks.
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