Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 7-4 victory over the Mets on Tuesday night:
How it happened: With both Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey looking sharp through the game's first three innings, this looked every bit like the pitchers duel we were expecting to see last week when the two aces faced off in New York.
But like last Thursday's game, the Nats eventually pounced on Harvey and ended his night earlier than he would have liked. Their home run barrage started in the fourth inning, when Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon delivered back-to-back solo shots to give Washington a 2-1 lead. The next inning, after Bryce Harper hit a sac fly to make it 3-1, Daniel Murphy (who else?) delivered the big blow with a a two-run shot to give the Nats a 5-1 cushion and essentially yank Harvey from the game.
After the Mets gone a run back in the seventh, Ben Revere hit his first home run as a member of the Nats to extend the lead to 6-2. The long ball parade continued in the eighth as Wilson Ramos got into the act with a solo shot.
What it means: The Nats were able to bounce back after Monday night's blowout loss. At 28-18, they're 1 1/2 games up on the Mets for first place in the NL East. While it's clear that these are the two best teams in the division, there's plenty of season left before it can be determined which club is truly superior.
Strasburg extends winning streak: It's pretty simple at this point: if Strasburg takes the mound, the Nats win. That's been the case now for 14 consecutive starts — extending a franchise record. Once again, Strasburg was solid against the Mets, allowing two earned runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings. His 11 strikeouts on the night marked the fifth time this season that he has registered double digit punch outs in a start. Strasburg is now 8-0 on the year with a 2.79 ERA and 86 strikeouts. Not too shabby.
Nats rough up Harvey again: For the second time in less than a week, Washington's offense put up a few crooked numbers on the scoreboard to chase Harvey early in the game. Including Tuesday's outing, the Mets struggling ace has allowed 14 runs on 16 hits over 7 2/3 innings against the Nats in two starts. Ouch. If Harvey winds up temporarily removed from New York's rotation, Mets fans can thank their division rivals from D.C.
Murphy keeps hurting his old club: With yet another solid performance, the Nats second baseman might be making the Mets wish they would have kept him around a little while longer. In five games against his former team, Murphy is hitting 8-for-21 (.380) with two home runs — both coming off Harvey — and 6 RBI.
Up next: The rubber match in this series will be a matinee tilt on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. The Nats will send Tanner Roark (3-3, 2.89 ERA) to oppose Mets rookie Steven Matz (6-1, 2.81 ERA).
The formula has been a simple one for the Nationals of late: if Stephen Strasburg takes the mound, Washington will emerge victorious. It's been the case in the 27-year-old right hander's last 13 outings, a streak that sets a new franchise record for wins during a pitcher's starts.
Whether or not Strasburg's remarkable run is sustainable, Dusty Baker is willing to enjoy it for however long it lasts.
"Whatever Stras is doing," the Nats manager said, "you just ride it. It's like surfing. You ride the wave to the beach and jump off and just catch another wave."
Strasburg is 7-0 on the year with a 2.80 ERA — a very good mark, but still not up there with the National League's elite arms such as Jake Arrieta (1.29) and Clayton Kershaw (1.48). Baker said that one of the reasons the Nats have flourished with Strasburg on the mound is that he continues to be the beneficiary of good run support. Take his last outing, for instance, where the offense jumped on Mets starter Matt Harvey in the third inning to create a 9-1 cushion to pitch through the rest of the way.
But Baker was quick to point out that, run support aside, Strasburg is displaying an important trait that many aces around the game show when they're on a roll.
"I don't care what it is, he's still 7-0," Baker said. "I'm sure everybody would trade to do that.....part of the reason he's 7-0 is because he's been out there without his best stuff and still managed to keep us in the ballgame until our offense came through."
If Strasburg is to extend the streak to 14 wins in a row, he'll need to do so against a Mets lineup that will get a second look at him in less than a week. That scenario didn't work out so well for rotation mate Gio Gonzalez, who was throttled Monday night for seven earned runs after faring well against New York's offense just a week ago.
But, sticking with the wave analogy, Baker says Strasburg and the Nats should adopt the surfer's mentality of not worrying about impending disaster.
"If you think about falling off, you gonna fall," Baker said. "So don't think about falling, don't think about when it's going to end."
Much is made about pitch counts in Major League Baseball these days with the advancement in how young pitchers are treated both throughout their youth and throughout their professional careers. And, it's no secret that Nationals manager Dusty Baker has been associated with overusing pitchers in the past, particularly during his time with the Chicago Cubs.
Despite him being a decade removed from having an office at Wrigley Field, the reputation has followed Baker. Some still invoke those days when he rides a Nationals pitcher past the 100 mark, a round number that has been synonymous with the limits of a pitching arm.
In 28 of the Nationals' 45 games this season a pitcher has eclipsed the 100 mark. Max Scherzer has gotten there seven times out of his 10 starts. Stephen Strasburg has made it there in seven of his nine outings. Tanner Roark's done it six times, Gio Gonzalez five times and Joe Ross three times.
Baker understands the significance of 100 pitches in a game, but thinks it's also good to see how far a pitcher can go and still be effective.
"You're not going to find a guy's threshold unless you take him pretty close to that threshold," he said.
"I do believe that you build a pitcher -- every time you take him out of trouble, it's like the kid who climbs up in the tree. He'll never learn how to get down unless you sometimes leave him up in that tree. And then he'll get hungry and he'll come down out of the tree. But if you send the fire department out to take him down from that tree, he'll never learn to get out of that tree."
Now, that's a colorful way of putting it, but for Baker, it really depends on several factors for when he pulls a pitcher.
"Matchups, score. I mean, the scoreboard dictates how much of everything. How he's fared against this guy. Does this guy have power, does he have speed, can I afford for him to get on base to start a rally, or can I afford for this other guy to get on base," he explained.
It also depends on the pitcher's history, Baker says. Scherzer, for instance, ranks third in baseball in total pitches thrown this season. But he's always near the top of the league, having placed seventh last year, third in 2014 and 12th in 2013. Scherzer has averaged at least 100 pitches per outing for eight straight years.
Strasburg is averaging over 100 pitches for the first time in his career, but he's got 837 2/3 innings logged as a big leaguer. He's a 27-year-old who has pitched 200 innings in a season before.
Like Strasburg, Roark and Gonzalez have logged plenty of innings throughout their careers and aren't young pitchers anymore. The one starter who could perhaps use some caretaking is Ross, who at 23 years old is by far the least experienced of the group. It's not a surprise to see he's reaching 100 at a lower rate than his counterparts.
And perhaps it's Ross in particular whom Baker needs to find out what he's made of.
"If you rescue them every time that they're in trouble, then they'll never know how to get out of trouble on their own," Baker said.