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Red-hot Nats in rare company

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Red-hot Nats in rare company

PHOENIX -- The 70-win plateau shouldn't mean anything for a ballclub, but in the mostly unremarkable, 78-year history of Washington baseball, that figure has been reached only 37 times.

And only twice before had a D.C. baseball team gotten to the 70-win mark in 113 games or fewer: 1925 and 1933. The common thread between those two Senators clubs? They're the last two Washington teams to reach the World Series.

So the fact the Nationals joined that rare group Friday night with a 9-1 dismantling of the Diamondbacks speaks volumes about the quality of baseball being played by this team in 2012. Even if those inside the clubhouse insist they're still not getting caught up in the hysteria.

"That number's not important to me," manager Davey Johnson said. "What's important to me is how we play every day, and we're playing like I know we're capable of playing. We're not doing anything more, anything special. We're just playing within ourselves."

And when the Nationals do play within themselves, they rarely lose. They've opened the longest road trip of their season with five consecutive wins. Add two victories to close out their last homestand, and the Nats have now won seven straight.

At 70-43, they're nine games up in the wild-card race, four games up in the NL East, three games ahead of everyone else in the sport.

They're playing .644 ball on the road and have won 11 of their last 12 away from South Capitol Street.

Here's the real reality check: If they go 25-24 the rest of the way, the Nationals will still finish with 95 wins. If they merely go 20-29 from now through Oct. 3, they'll still win 90 games.

"I think we've got our blinders on right now, just playing," outfielder Michael Morse said. "A lot of us, including myself, we don't know what tomorrow is going to bring. This is uncharted waters for a lot of guys in here. We like what we're doing. We want to keep doing what we're doing."

So they emerged from the dugout at Chase Field Friday night and did just that, cruising to a blowout victory over a Diamondbacks club that is trying to keep itself in the NL pennant race.

This victory included six innings of one-hit ball from Stephen Strasburg, a start that probably sounds more dominant than it truly was because the right-hander battled some command issues and matched his season high with four walks while racking up 104 pitches.

Strasburg actually had a no-hitter in its infant stages with two outs in the bottom of the fourth when a foul tip caught Dale Scott square in the jaw, knocked off his mask and forced the veteran umpire out of the game. The ensuing nine-minute delay before C.B. Bucknor (who had been manning third base) was able to strap on his gear might have thrown a wrench into Strasburg's slim shot at a history-making start.

"It really affected him, and it's my fault," Johnson said. "I feel bad, because I should've known it was probably going to take 10 minutes, and I let him stand there. ... When I saw him go down, I should have said: 'Boys, come on off. This is going to take a while.'"

Strasburg tried to stay loose by throwing some warm-up pitches to Kurt Suzuki, but when play finally resumed with Bucknor now calling balls and strikes, Strasburg suffered his only hiccup of the evening. He walked Miguel Montero, then surrendered an RBI single to Chris Johnson.

"I've never experienced anything like that," Strasburg said. "I hope he's OK and everything. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes. I wish I went out there and threw strikes, but it just didn't work out. Just glad I was just able to give up one that inning."

Strasburg (13-5) not only didn't give up another run after that point, he didn't put another man on base. He retired seven in a row to complete a strong evening of work, battling through a stiff back that acted up when he tried to cover first base on a grounder to the right side.

By that point, the Nationals had given their starter a 4-1 lead thanks to home runs from Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse (the latter of which traveled 446 feet to right-center field, the longest opposite-field homer in the majors this season, according to ESPN's Hit Tracker).

Nine of Morse's 11 homers this season have been hit to either center or right fields.

"It's pretty impressive what he does," Zimmerman said. "The stuff he does is stuff that normal people don't usually do."

After a series of nailbiters in Houston that might have taken a few years off Johnson's life, the Nationals decided to make this one easy on their manager. They tacked on five late runs after Strasburg departed, including four in the top of the ninth that turned this game into a rout.

Thus this ballclub won for the 70th time in 113 games. There are still 49 games left to play, and much can happen during those seven remaining weeks.

But there are fewer and fewer opportunities for complete catastrophe to happen now. If they merely stay the course, the Nationals have positioned themselves to do something special in 2012.

"We're just getting to the fun time," Johnson said. "The only thing I think about numbers is when you get to a certain point where you can play .500 ball and still win 95 games. Then you're in pretty good shape."

Guess what, Davey? One more win and you're there.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.