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Blowout win is cathartic for Nats

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Blowout win is cathartic for Nats

It seems like an odd notion, given the manner in which they've stormed out to the top of the NL East through the season's first month, but the Nationals really needed to do today exactly what they did.

Seven innings of one-run ball from Gio Gonzalez? Check.

A rare offensive explosion, ignited by Jayson Werth's first home run and RBI in nine days? Double-check.

And a blowout victory over the Phillies, dealing yet another blow to the five-time kings of the division and their legion of fans who attempted to invade South Capitol Street yet again? Triple-check.

Perhaps one word best describes today's 7-1 thumping at Nationals Park: Catharsis.

After battling their way through nothing but tense nailbiters on a nightly basis, after failing to capitalize on countless scoring opportunities, after playing pinata to the Phillies' 34-ounce Louisville Slugger and watching their ballpark overtaken by fans from the north, it felt like the Nationals exorcised all their demons over the course of 2 hours and 27 minutes of domination.

"It feels like they have a chip on their shoulder," Philadelphia right fielder Hunter Pence said.

Ya think? After getting stomped on by their division rivals for years and after holding little stature around the baseball world, the Nationals have finally arrived. And they want everyone to know it.

"We're going to come out and keep doing what we're doing, hopefully, and I think everyone will recognize we're for real," first baseman Chad Tracy said. "We know it. Now it's just a matter of everybody else figuring it out."

The Phillies have certainly figured it out over the last 24 hours. In losing the first two games of this series, they've been outscored 11-4 and outhit 29-11.

The domination extends farther back, though, because this actually was the Nationals' seventh consecutive win over Philadelphia, their 11th win in their last 13 head-to-head meetings.

Check out the NL East standings at this moment. In first place, at 18-9: the Washington Nationals. Tied for last place, at 13-15, the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I felt like the ballclub we were bringing to the ballpark last year when we went into Philly, that we could play with them," manager Davey Johnson said. "I think all we're doing right now is reaffirming that we can play with them. They're shorthanded. We're shorthanded, probably more so than them. But we can still compete with them, and I think that's a good message to send."

The Nationals sent all kinds of messages during this rare, lopsided victory. Their rotation again solidified its current standing as the best quintet in baseball, with Gonzalez scattering four doubles over seven sparkling innings and lowering his ERA to 1.72 in the process.

That the left-hander did this on the heels of Friday night's 11-inning marathon, with his bullpen needing a breather, only added to the significance.

"Catcher Wilson Ramos was thinking ahead of me," Gonzalez said. "He was thinking nine. And I was just like: 'One step at a time. Let me go out there and try to pound the strike zone and see what happens.' You can't think that far ahead with this lineup. All I was trying to do was match them and try to stay with Worley."

Gonzalez more than matched Phillies right-hander Vance Worley, who was pounded for five runs and 11 hits over six innings, one of those Gonzalez's leadoff double in the fifth. That surprise blast to right-center set the stage for Werth, who belted a 1-0 pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.

Werth's blast drew a roar from the crowd of 39,496 and brought some relief to the right fielder, who had previously stranded seven runners on base in this series against his former team.

"I was a little frustrated," Werth said. "I got some opportunities, but I havent come through. So to get the hit there, it was good."

The Nationals weren't finished, by any means. Ian Desmond clubbed a solo homer to center off Worley in the sixth. Tracy then added a two-run shot, his second home run in as many days, off left-hander Joe Savery to complete the explosion.

Members of Washington's rotation have often talked about the manner in which they feed off each other's performances. Does the same apply to a lineup?

"No doubt about it," Tracy said. "You see that guy in front of you go deep, and it just lets you know that this guy's stuff is not that good today. He's going to make mistakes. It pushes each other."

By the time Ryan Mattheus got Ty Wigginton to ground into a game-ending double play, a loose Nationals squad celebrated in the middle of the diamond with a near-full house cheering on, while a suddenly downtrodden Phillies club (and its fans) sulked away trying to figure out what just happened.

Yes, it's only two games out of 162. But come September, these two teams might just look back on this weekend as a turning point, as the weekend when the Nationals not only took back their ballpark but finally took out the guys who have bullied them for too many years.

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Wilson Ramos to have surgery soon, hopes to be back with Nationals

Wilson Ramos to have surgery soon, hopes to be back with Nationals

All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, a symbol of strength all year for the Nationals, a man physically imposing and tough enough to earn the nickname The Buffalo, walked into the clubhouse in Washington on Thursday with the help of crutches, his right knee still swollen from the fall on wet infield dirt that he suffered three days prior, an awkward landing that re-tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

He made his way through the locker room, as other players smiled in his direction.

One shouted his nickname: "Buffaloooooo." He smiled, a nice reminder of the support he has from his teammates, the support he will need moving forward in what could be another year-long rehab to get back to where he was just a few days ago.

"I feel a little bit more relaxed," Ramos said through an interpreter. "I've had a few days to take a step back and think about it. It's obviously very frustrating for me going through this towards the end. But all I can do is stay positive and make sure I get my rest, rehab properly and come back stronger."

RELATED: WHY RAMOS' INJURY IS DEVISTATING FOR NATIONALS' FUTURE

Ramos, 29, will take the next few days to let the swelling go down. Then, it's reconstructive surgery and after that a long recovery that will keep him away from the Nationals during the playoffs. He will watch from home as they embark on another playoff run and try to finish what he helped start. Ramos will not be able to see their mission all the way through and that, in particular, is crushing.

"I’m going to have to support the team from home because it’s going to be very difficult for me to get around with the knee after the surgery," he said. 

"It’s going to be very difficult [to watch in TV], given the circumstances. I wish I was out there helping the team as much as possible but at the same time, I gotta be a professional and a good team and support the team from home as much as I can so that’s what I’m going to do."

Manager Dusty Baker said he hopes Ramos can still help advise the remaining catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino through phone calls and text messages. Ramos has years of experience working with most of the pitchers on their staff and can be a still be a resource.

“He’s a big part of our team the last couple days when he hadn’t been in the dugout there’s a spot missing in the dugout," Baker said.

It may be the last impact Ramos makes for the Nationals, as he's an impending free agent. And with his rehab likely stretching until late next season, there are many questions about his future.

If Ramos has it his way, he'd love to be back in Washington, where he has played for seven MLB seasons.

"This organization has given me the opportunity to grow play a role as much as I have and I’m very appreciative of tall that. I would love to stay here and keep playing with this team," he said. 

"They’ve given me an opportunity in my career that I haven’t gotten anywhere else. Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not, but if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos has received lots of messages from family, teammates and fans in support. He's trying to keep his spirits up, knowing the difficult road ahead and the uncertainty of his rehab from a second torn ACL. 

It's not an easy situation to handle, but Ramos is happy with what he accomplished this season. He is likely to win the Silver Slugger award for NL catchers and earn MVP votes after batting .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBI.

It was a great year, he just may have to wait a while for the opportunity to build on it.

"I'm very pleased with the season and the way it's gone this year. I've worked hard to put up the offensive numbers that I did this year, especially after a disappointing last season," he said. 

"It's a very frustrating time for me as well right now, going through this situation, but all I can do is make sure I prepare right, rehab right, get stronger. I've gotta look at everything and how everything happens for a reason. I've gotta get the most positive thing that I can out of this situation and keep moving forward."

RELATED: Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

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Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez has plenty to work on before Nats playoffs begin

Gio Gonzalez' seesaw 2016 regular season is officially in the books. Next stop: the NL Division Series where he will face the L.A. Dodgers, likely in Game 3 and possibly with one of the two teams' season on the line. Either way, it will be important.

Over the years, teams have trotted out far less accomplished pitchers in playoff games, ones with nothing close to the track record of Gonzalez. And for long stretches this season, he has been effective, like in July and August when he held a 3.16 ERA across 11 starts.

But a lot has happened since August for Gonzalez, both on the field and off of it. In his five starts since, he's given up 19 runs in 23 innings. That stretch includes his 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday night against the Diamondbacks, when he gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks and threw a whopping 100 pitches.

Just in time for the playoffs.

The Nationals have an unenviable situation without Stephen Strasburg, who is rehabbing a right flexor strain, and with Joe Ross still building his workload. They better hope the version of Gio Gonzalez they see in the NLDS is better than the one they have witnessed over the last several weeks.

“It wasn’t that good, but we didn’t score any runs either. He had a lot of pitches in a short period of time," manager Dusty Baker said after the Nats' 3-0, rain-shortened loss.

"They ran his pitch count up. They didn’t swing at very many balls and it looked like they were trying to wait on his fastball."

Gonzalez will now have to make adjustments in bullpen sessions over the course of the next 12 days. He will have to do that with a lot on his mind. Gonzalez heads to the funeral of close friend Jose Fernandez on Thursday and was pitching with extra emotion against Arizona. 

“He’s an emotional-type guy," Baker said. "I talked to him a little bit about Fernandez and he was pitching for him and for us. Just wasn’t a very good night."

Now Gonzalez will have plenty of time to grieve and recalibrate before he sees the Dodgers. Whether that hurts or helps has yet to be determined.

“It can [help]. Just depends on, not only can it reset him, but after things have subsided some… they say time heals all wounds, but some wounds take longer to heal," Baker said.

"It probably won’t really set in until after the season when he’s back in Miami and around and Jose’s not around. Hopefully, he can have a couple good ‘pens and get it back together because we’re certainly going to need him come playoff time."

Gonzalez does have some success against the Dodgers to build off of. He holds a 1.69 ERA across 32 innings vs. L.A. since 2012 and held them to one run through six earlier this season.

Gonzalez is also just ready for a fresh start.

"You start the postseason with a zero ERA. It's a new series. New way to look at it," he said.

[RELATED: Podcast: Can Nationals win without Wilson Ramos?]

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