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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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A.J. Cole faces Rockies as Nats look for third straight win

A.J. Cole faces Rockies as Nats look for third straight win

Nats (75-53) at Rockies (60-68) at Nationals Park

It's a quick turnaround for the Nationals and Rockies, who pick back up for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch on Saturday afternoon. Rookie A.J. Cole gets the start following his seven-inning, four-run outing against the Orioles on Aug. 22, his 2016 season debut. Cole will once again see a tough lineup, this time with a bunch of lefties including Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra.

Pitching for Colorado will be Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07). The veteran lefty faced the Nats just two starts ago and gave up four runs in six innings at Coors Field.

Wilson Ramos is back in the Nats' lineup after missing two games. He's hitting sixth behind Anthony Rendon.

First pitch: 1:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - A.J. Cole vs. Rockies - Jorge De La Rosa

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP A.J. Cole

ROCKIES

CF Charlie Blackmon
2B D.J. LeMahieu
RF Carlos Gonzalez
3B Nolan Arenado
LF David Dahl
1B Gerardo Parra
C Nick Hundley
SS Daniel Descalso
LHP Jorge De La Rosa

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Gonzalez on earning career win No. 100 : 'I’m just happy it came'

Gonzalez on earning career win No. 100 : 'I’m just happy it came'

Gio Gonzalez isn’t the type to harp on his accomplishments. After quality outings, he typically deflects praise to his Nationals teammates in postgame interviews when asked to describe his personal performance.

But as much as he tends to downplay, earning his career 100th win in Friday's victory over the Colorado Rockies clearly meant something to him. 

“I’m just happy it came,” Gonzalez said. “I finally showed up and I’m happy I did it here with this organization. Oakland gave me an opportunity and Washington helped me continue that opportunity and I couldn’t be happier to do it with these colors and represent the Washington Nationals.”

The feat came after two no-decisions in his previous two starts, so the third time proved to be the charm. After the game, he had a gathering of family and friends waiting outside the Nats’ clubhouse to congratulate him, some holding gold “100” balloons and others wearing hats featuring the oft-used Twitter emoji of the same number.

“I'm sure it was [on his mind],” manager Dusty Baker said. “…He didn’t want to come out of this game. He was going to get it eventually and we needed it.”

The 30-year-old left hander accomplished the milestone thanks to six innings of two-run ball on just 85 pitches against the hard-hitting Rockies lineup. Gonzalez displayed a lot of what his skipper wanted to see from him: a low pitch count, avoiding the big inning and, as he did later in the game, deliver shutdown frames immediately after the Nats offense scores.

“He threw great tonight," added Bryce Harper. Kept a very good Rockies lineup off balance and did what he needed to do. Stuck with his approach and threw like Gio knows how. Huge for him, that hundredth win. Couldn't be happier for him and his family.”

Historic achievement aside, Gonzalez has quietly turned his season around after a rough patch. In his last nine outings, he’s 5-1 with a 3.20 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. His resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time, as he’s charged with stabilizing the back-end of a rotation that’s in flux due to injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross.

“That's the key to his success,” Baker said. “Not getting runners on base or not walking people and he had a very good game tonight, excellent game. His last couple games, few games have been good. I'm just glad we were able to get him his 100th victory.”

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Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals have quickly gotten the sour taste of their recent four-game skid out of their mouths.

Thanks to a resurgent offense and a quality start by Gio Gonzalez, Washington got back on track with Friday’s 8-2 win over the Rockies, the Nats’ second win in as many days.

True to form, the power-laden lineup didn’t take long to strike. Jayson Werth launched a solo home run, his second in as many days and his 18th of the season, to put Washington up 1-0 in the first inning, and scored again in the third on an RBI groundout by Daniel Murphy.

With the game tied 2-2 in the fourth inning, the Nats wouldn’t create breathing room until the middle innings. The Nats took a lead they wouldn’t surrender when they scored two runs on a Jose Lobaton fielder’s choice in the fourth inning, followed by a Murphy solo home run in the fifth to make it 4-2.

From there, the game was blown open in the seventh inning thanks to a four-spot that was highlighted by an RBI double by Werth and a two-run triple by Bryce Harper that nearly left the ballpark.

The Rockies closed the gap to 8-5 on a Nick Hundley three-run home run in the ninth off Shawn Kelley, so Dusty Baker turned to Mark Melancon to notch the final out and secure the victory.  

What it means: The Nats have won back to back games and have raised their record to 75-53. Pending the result of the Miami Marlins game, Washington could be up nine games in the NL East by the end of the night.

Gonzalez notches win No. 100: The lefty starter wasn’t dominant by any means, but he did what Baker wanted him to do: keep his pitch count down and avoid the big inning. Gonzalez allowed two earned runs on four hits over six innings and 85 pitches, and limited the damage every time the Rockies were threatening. He could have easily gone deeper in the game, but Baker opted to pinch hit for him when the Nats had two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth. Regardless, the performance was good enough to earn Gonzalez the 100th victory of his career. 

Murphy’s milestone: With his 25th home run of the season, a fifth-inning solo shot, Murphy notched his 500th career RBI. It’s a remarkable achievement considering that he currently has 98 RBI on the season, which means roughly a fifth of the runs he’s driven in have come in 2016.

Bryce back? Don’t look now, but Harper is looking very much like the reigning NL MVP these days. He added two more extra-base hits Friday night, including his first triple of the season, and is now hitting an even .400 since his return from a neck injury. His season average has suddenly risen to .254, and with the way he’s going, could get to .260 by the end of the weekend.

Up next: The middle game of this three-game set will take place Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. as the Nats send A.J. Cole (0-1, 5.14 ERA) to oppose Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07 ERA).