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Gio finds his groove, bats get hot in rout over Atlanta

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Gio finds his groove, bats get hot in rout over Atlanta

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Thursday night's series opener was a blowout. Friday night's game was a nailbiting, extra-inning thriller. Now came another blowout for the Nationals against a Braves ballclub in complete disarray.

The Nationals' bats broke out once again, this time against Shelby Miller, whose hard-luck season reached a new low when he allowed seven earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings, even though six of those could be directly attributed to shaky defense behind him. Bryce Harper launched another home run, then added two doubles for good measure. Ian Desmond had three hits. Ryan Zimmerman drove in another two runs to continue his torrid RBI streak.

Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, was the sharpest he's been in weeks, tossing six scoreless innings and allowing only two hits while striking out 10 before handing things over to the Nationals bullpen, which closed this one out with ease, sending the Braves to their 11th straight loss and 18th in their last 19 games.

The Nats, on the other hand, have now won 12 of their last 18 games, keeping pressure on the Mets, who also won in a rout tonight in Miami. The deficit in the NL East remains 5 games heading into Sunday's series finale, the final precursor to next week's showdown at Nationals Park.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It feels like Harper is coming up with new ways every night to impress you at the plate. He had the 4-walk, 4-run, 0-swing game on Thursday. Then he hit the longest homer of his career Friday night. Now he put together another impressive performance in Game 3 of the weekend series. Harper went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a homer that capped what might've been the best at-bat of his career. Harper was down 0-2 to Miller, then fouled off four pitches while working the count full, then somehow managed to launch a 95-mph cutter at his knees into the Red Porch seats for his 33rd homer of the season. Later in the game, he fumed at plate umpire Jerry Meals over borderline strike calls on 3-0 and 3-1 pitches. So how did he respond? By roping a double on the 3-2 pitch.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It's been an erratic summer for Gonzalez, who entered this one having won only once in his last seven starts. There were still some erratic moments tonight, in the form of four walks, but there was a lot more good than bad. Gonzalez tossed six innings of scoreless ball, carrying a no-hitter into the top of the sixth. He also struck out 10, using his fastball particularly well this time. For the Nationals to make a real run down the stretch, they're going to need all five of their starters performing up to capability. This was an encouraging sign Gonzalez could still have that in him.

KEY STAT: From Aug. 22, 2012-June 20, 2014, the Nationals went 7-24 against the Braves. Since then, they've gone 19-7, including 12-3 this season.

UP NEXT: The Nationals will got for the 4-game sweep at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, with Joe Ross (5-5, 3.50) facing Braves lefty Manny Bañelos (1-3, 3.33).

MORE NATIONALS: Barrett begins long road back from complex elbow surgery

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Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays, routinely using relievers as starters to deal with a rash of injuries, are pitching their way to victories.

The Rays (37-40) go into a two-game interleague series against the Washington Nationals with the momentum of a three-game sweep of the American League East-leading Yankees. New York hadn't lost three games in a row at any point all season, but the Rays pulled it off, capped with a 7-6 win in 12 innings on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

"That's the best team in the league right now, them and the Astros ... I think coming home from that we had confidence and it all carried over into that series," said Rays rookie first baseman Jake Bauers, who won the game in the 12th inning.

Since beginning their experimental use of relievers as "openers" to start games, the Rays have a 3.07 ERA, and entering Sunday's game, that edged the Yankees for the best ERA in baseball since May 19. They've won five of seven games to again challenge .500, and Sunday's walkoff home run by Bauers was their second this season, after totaling one in three seasons from 2015 to 2017.

The Nationals (41-35) had gone 3-9 in their last 12 games before Sunday night's rain-delayed game against the Phillies, dropping into third place in the National League East. They'll send out Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA), who has no wins in his last four starts and his ERA has risen from a sterling 2.10 to 3.08.

Gonzalez lasted only four innings in his last outing, giving up five hits and two runs against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. For his career against the Rays, he's 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA, though he's only faced Tampa Bay once since 2012. That was a rough 2015 start at Tropicana Field, lasting 3 1/3 innings and giving up five earned runs on eight hits, walking more batters than he struck out. For his career at Tropicana, he has an 11.25 ERA.

The Rays will have an actual starter on the mound in Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48), who is in line for an All-Star appearance after the first three months of his season. He has just one loss in his last seven starts, and while he has never faced the Nationals, he has generally fared well in interleague play, going 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA in eight career starts.

Tampa Bay, hoping to build on its current momentum, has a tough week ahead, with two games against Washington, then another four against Houston to close out the homestand.

Washington goes from St. Petersburg to a weekend four-game series at the Philadelphia Phillies before returning home for a week.

The Rays got a head start with a Sunday afternoon game and the Nationals saw their prime-time game delayed by rain, keeping them on the field beyond midnight and still needing to fly to Florida for the two-game stopover.

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.