Quick Links

Blowout win carries Nats into September

Blowout win carries Nats into September

Chants of "Let's go Gio!" as the ninth inning began. A Gatorade shower and shaving cream pie to the face that came moments later. Thumping music in the clubhouse after another lopsided victory. And then applause from those remaining players watching the Braves blow a ninth-inning lead to the Phillies.

These are the sights and sounds of a pennant race, and Washington is smack-dab in the middle of one right now.

A 10-0 whitewashing of the Cardinals Friday night gave the Nationals as many wins as they posted in all of 2011 -- one shy of the club record -- with 31 games still to play. Atlanta's meltdown shortly after extended Washington's lead to 6 12 games and lowered the magic number for the NL East title to 25.

"We have a long ways to go, and we haven't done anything yet," Ryan Zimmerman cautioned. "But what we have done is give this city a baseball team to cheer for, and they've wanted that for a long time."

Zimmerman and others have insisted for five months it was too early to focus on the standings, too early to consider themselves in a pennant race. Hate to break it to you, Ryan, but September has arrived and your team is humming along, playing as well as anyone in the majors.

Sure, there was that minor bump in the road earlier in the week, that five-game losing streak that left many around town wondering whether it was time to panic. Then Davey Johnson closed the clubhouse door in Miami before Wednesday's game, rallied the troops with an upbeat, positive speech and all they've done since is terrorize whatever poor opponent had the misfortune of sitting in the other dugout.

In three games since that meeting, the Nationals have outscored the Marlins and Cardinals 24-5 and put to rest any doubts that may have been creeping up during the losing streak.

"That's what a great manager does," Gio Gonzalez said. "A great manager sees a little glitch in the system, he fixes it up and gets us back going. That little speech he had for us was one of a kind."

Perhaps nobody took the message more to heart than Gonzalez, who suffered one of the losses during that streak but returned Friday night with perhaps his most dominant performance of the season. Scattering four singles, a double and two walks, the left-hander notched the first shutout of his big-league career, finishing this one off on his 119th pitch of the evening.

And he did it with one notable distraction in his field of vision: His mother.

Yes, seated right behind the plate was Yoly Gonzalez, cheering on her son throughout his milestone performance and yelling at St. Louis' batters and Washington's fielders alike.

"I was like: 'Oh god, somebody's got to keep her quiet over there,'" Gio Gonzalez said.

In the end, Yoli joined the rest of the 29,499 in attendance in chanting "Let's go Gio!" during the top of the ninth, then rejoicing as he got Shane Robinson to loft a fly ball to center field for the final out.

Standing on the mound, Gonzalez heard it all.

"Man, it was just one of those things were you can't explain it," he said. "It felt like it was a boost of energy, kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth."

Not that the Nationals needed much of a boost the way they stormed out of the gates and took out Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright in staggering fashion. The former 20-game winner faced only 20 batters over 2 23 innings. Twelve of them safely reached base.

Everyone in the Nationals' lineup other than Michael Morse both recorded a hit and scored a run.

"We're having good at-bats, and everybody's hitting in good situations and everybody's coming up clutch," said rookie Bryce Harper, who had a pair of singles and drove in two runs. "When one guy hits, everybody hits. That's the biggest thing. Everybody's going up there with confidence."

Not a bad mindset to have as the calendar shifts to September and D.C. experiences the final month of its first pennant race in three generations.

Even if a few players are still trying not to get caught up in the hysteria.

"There's a long way to go," Zimmerman said yet again. There'll be a long way to go until there's not any way to go. That's the way we're looking at it. We're not taking anything for granted. We're not satisfied with what we've done. We've put ourselves in a good position, and I think if we can take anything out of what we've done, that's all we can take."

Quick Links

Nats pull off impressive trade to land closer Melancon from Pirates

Nats pull off impressive trade to land closer Melancon from Pirates

The Nationals addressed their most pressing need in a big way on Saturday and they didn't have to give up one of their top prospects to make it happen.

The Nats acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates for lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and prospect Taylor Hearn, CSN Mid-Atlantic has confirmed. FOX Sports was first to break the news.

Melancon, 31, joins the Nationals for the remainder of this season as an upcoming free agent. The right-hander holds a 1.51 ERA and has 30 saves in 33 chances. 

Melancon has been an excellent closer for years with a 1.80 ERA and 130 saves since he joined the Pirates before the 2013 season. Three times during that stretch he made the NL All-Star team and he finished eighth in Cy Young voting in 2015.

Melancon will close for the Nationals, which begs the question of what to do with Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon joined the Nats last summer with the understanding he would be their closer and has spoken before about his quest to challenge Mariano Rivera's all-time saves record. Regardless of how Papelbon reacts, the Nationals have found a better option for the ninth inning in Melancon.

Melancon has three years of postseason experience, as well. He has appeared in six playoff games with four earned runs across 5 2/3 total innings allowed.

Rivero, 25, leaves for the Pirates with a 4.53 ERA in 47 appearances this season. He is under team control through 2021. Rivero throws 100 miles per hour and has flashed potential through his two years in Washington, but remains a raw talent.

Hearn was a fifth round pick out of Oklahoma Baptist in 2015. He posted a 3.18 ERA in eight games at Single-A Hagerstown this season.

Both Rivero and Hearn are intriguing young pitchers, but overall this trade looks like a steal for the Nationals, especially considering what the Cubs gave up for Aroldis Chapman and what the Yankees have reportedly been asking for with Andrew Miller.

The Nats did not have to part with any of their top prospects to land Melancon, who leaves a Pirates team that is only three games out of a playoff spot. That last detail could be something to keep in mind down the stretch of this season.

Why did the Pirates let Melancon go? It is not often you see a team in their position trade their lockdown closer and strengthen another team in their league at the same time. It's a strange decision, but the Nats will take it.

[RELATED: Scherzer, Werth shine in Nats' thrilling win at Giants]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

Report: Nats make deadline trade for All-Star closer Melancon

Report: Nats make deadline trade for All-Star closer Melancon

The Nationals have found their new closer.

According to a report by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Nats agreed on a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday afternoon for All-Star closer Mark Melancon.

The Nats sent lefty reliever Felipe Rivero to Pittsburgh along with prospect Taylor Hearn, another lefty.

Melancon has a 1.51 ERA and 30 saves this season. He saved 51 games last year and finished eighth in NL Cy Young voting.

More to come...

[RELATED: Scherzer, Werth shine in Nats' thrilling win at Giants]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

Quick Links

2016 MLB Power Rankings: The Cubs are back

usatsi_9287525.jpg

2016 MLB Power Rankings: The Cubs are back

The Cubs are back. After a rough July, the Cubs were the first team to break the 60 win mark and have gotten some of their grove back heading into the dog days of summer. How did the other teams do? To the rankings! 

30. Atlanta Braves (LW: 30)

36 wins and it IS August. 

29. Minnesota Twins (LW: 29)

A Joe Mauer walkoff, just for old time's sake. 

28. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 28) 

Jay Bruce's new team this week: the Dodgers! 

27. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 26)

Most likely to leave: Archer, Ordorizzi, or Moore?

26.  Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 27)

It's almost unfathomable that they've made Miller available in trades. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE