Lannan leads Nats to sweep in New York

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Lannan leads Nats to sweep in New York

NEW YORK -- The storyline, and the comparison, was too obvious to ignore.

Stephen Strasburg was supposed to start Wednesday night's series finale in New York. John Lannan instead took his spot and now will make four starts down the stretch run of a pennant race in place of baseball's most-hyped young pitcher.

Those who try to compare Lannan to Strasburg, though, haven't really been following the Nationals, this year or any previous year. Lannan simply isn't Strasburg. Nor has he ever tried to be.

Truth be told, Lannan isn't like any other member of the Nationals' rotation. He doesn't have Strasburg's dominating repertoire or Jordan Zimmermann's slider or Gio Gonzalez's curveball or Ross Detwiler's fastball or Edwin Jackson's experience. And he knows it.

"This rotation's different," Lannan said. "There's something about it. Every five days when Stephen was in it, it's just different. Day after day, there's no giving up. I go out there and I had to just not try to do what they do. I'm not necessarily that type of pitcher, but I do like to compete. And that's the one thing I did see: them competing. And I can do that."

So that's exactly what Lannan did Wednesday night. He didn't so much dominate the Mets as he navigated his way through their lineup. He threw lots of strikes. He kept the ball down in the zone. He induced a ton of groundballs. And he didn't allow a run over 5 23 innings, paving the way for the Nationals to pull off a 2-0 victory and a series sweep at Citi Field.

And thanks to the Brewers' sweep of the Braves, plus the continued collapse of nearly every NL wild-card contender, the Nationals now boast an 8 12-game lead in the NL East entering this weekend's showdown in Atlanta and a 15-game lead for the league's final playoff berth with only 19 games to go.

"This was a big series," manager Davey Johnson said. "We needed to kinda drive the nail in their coffin here and come into Atlanta with a good frame of mind. And that's what we're doing."

All that angst about the Strasburg shutdown and how the Nats would replace him? Nobody in the visitors clubhouse at the end of the night seemed too worried about that.

"I don't think anybody in here was concerned about what John was going to give us," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We've all seen him enough. ... We don't think he has to prove anything to us. We've seen him pitch. He's done well and he worked his tail off down there in Triple-A, and he comes up and picks up right where he left off, if not better."

Indeed, combined with his back-to-back shutouts in late-August to close out his season with Syracuse, Lannan has now tossed 23 23 consecutive scoreless innings. And in his three big-league starts this year, he's now 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA.

All this from a guy who five months ago was stunningly shipped away to the minors and requested a trade from the only organization he's ever known. Feels like an eternity now, doesn't it?

"If you're not pulling for him, you're not human," reliever Sean Burnett said. "To see what he went through in late March and to deal with what he did and the way he handled it ... he earned a lot of respect in this clubhouse. We're all pulling for him, and a lot of fans are, too."

The Nationals needed Lannan to be as effective as he was Wednesday night, because they weren't offering much support at the plate. Wowed by Mets rookie Matt Harvey, who struck out 10 batters in only five innings, they had to settle for a pair of solo homers and nothing else from what has been the majors' most potent lineup in recent weeks.

Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff blast in the fourth got things started. Desmond's solo shot in the eighth off Jon Rauch provided the insurance.

That still set the stage for a tense bottom of the ninth. With Tyler Clippard unavailable after working the previous two nights, Johnson decided to entrust this lead to Burnett, who hadn't pitched in 10 days due to elbow inflammation.

"I didn't wanna go to Clip or Drew Storen, period," the manager said. "Especially Clip. I wanted to give him a couple days off. If I pitched him today, it would have been four out of five, and I wanted to give him a couple days off and have him fresh for Atlanta."

Turns out Johnson needed Storen to finish this one off after Burnett allowed a two-out single to put men on the corners and bring the potential winning run to the plate.

"Being 10 days and not seeing hitters, that situation -- I was a little geeked up," Burnett said. "But all-in-all, it was alright. Just got a couple balls up."

Storen, who saved 43 games last season as Washington's primary closer but after missing three months following elbow surgery has ceded the job this year to Clippard, wasted little time getting pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy to fly out to center and secure his second save of 2012.

"It's just part of the bullpen life," Storen said. "You just stay on your toes and never assume anything."

That same mentality might apply to Lannan right now. After a surreal year, most of it spent in the minors, he's trying not to assume anything and just live in the moment.

Everyone else can try to compare him to Strasburg. He's just thrilled to have a chance at last to perform for the Nationals in a pennant race.

"Just being on this team right now is incredible," he said. "You can not only see it, but you can kind of feel the chemistry and everything. It's something special, and I'm just proud to be a part of it right now."

Zimmerman heating up for Nats, Papelbon can't solve Philly

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Zimmerman heating up for Nats, Papelbon can't solve Philly

Here are a few leftover thoughts from Monday night's Nationals win over the Phillies…

Is Zimmerman finally starting to heat up?

Ryan Zimmerman missed his ninth homer of the season by a matter of inches on Monday night as he watched his long flyball in the seventh inning bounce off the railing in center field at Citizens Bank Park. Instead, it was his first triple since last April and the 20th of his career. A 12-year veteran, Zimmerman is usually good for one or two of them per season.

The triple was Zimmerman's fourth extra-base hit in his last three games and his 15th of the month of May. In April he only had four extra-base hits the entire month. Zimmerman's four XBHs are the most he's had in a three-game span all season. Over his last 19 games he has seven homers, 12 RBI, eight walks, a .355 OBP and a 1.007 OPS.

Zimmerman is still hitting just .244 this year through 46 games and .247/.309/.769 since the start of 2015 (141 G). But perhaps this recent stretch can get him going. All year it has been pointed out how highly he ranks in average exit velocity - currently 11th in MLB at 94.7 miles per hour - and it may now be starting to pay off. 

Papelbon keeps having trouble with the Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon earned his 14th save of the season on Monday night, but once again it was an eventful outing against his former team. Papelbon served up back-to-back doubles to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, the second by Ryan Howard. That brought home Maikel Franco and cut the Nationals' lead to 4-3 with no outs.

Papelbon escaped, but it wasn't easy. Since getting traded from Philadelphia to Washington, Papelbon has blown two saves and has allowed six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings (9.53 ERA) against the Phillies. 

Compare those numbers to what he's done against the rest of the league since joining the Nats and it will make you scratch your head. Papelbon has a 2.09 ERA (9 ER in 38.2 IP) with the Nats against non-Phillies teams. The Phillies are 29th in baseball in runs scored this season, too. There doesn't seem to be a good reason for it, but Papelbon just can't solve his former team.

Roark goes seven strong innings

Tanner Roark continues to bounce back nicely from his May 14 disaster against the Marlins, his worst start of the season. In his three outings since, Roark has allowed just four earned runs in 20 2/3 total innings. In four of his last five starts Roark has gone at least six innings with two runs or less allowed. 

Roark now has a 2.70 ERA, which ranks just third on the Nats but 13th overall in the National League. He places sixth in slugging percentage against (.304) and 11th in the NL in OPS against (.607). One stat that really stands out for Roark is his groundball rate. His groundball/flyball ratio is 1.94, which ranks third in the NL and seventh in baseball.

As good as Roark has been, the Nats are just 4-7 in his starts this season and have lost five of his last seven outings. He's been killed by a lack of run support, ranking fifth from the bottom (100th among qualifying pitchers) with an average of 2.55 runs per game scored by his team. Stephen Strasburg, who is a perfect 9-0 and has seen the Nats win his last 15 starts dating back to last season, is second from the top with an average of seven runs scored per start.

Revere keeps searching for consistency

Ben Revere went 0-for-4 on Monday and is now hitless in three straight games and in five of his last six. He's still not striking out, which is good. Revere only has one strikeout in his last eight games, a span of 30 at-bats, and he has the best contact percentage on the Nats (88.6%). 

And when Revere gets hits, they tend to come in bunches. In each of the last five games he's notched a hit, he's landed at least two in those contests. That gives him a .282/.333/.436 slash-line over the last 11 games. That's not bad, but it has been feast or famine for the outfielder with six hitless outings during that stretch.

Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

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Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

Here is the update from the Associated Press on Bryce Harper's injury after the right fielder left Monday's Nationals win over the Phillies:

Bryce Harper left the game shortly after taking a fastball off the outside part of his right knee in the seventh. The reigning NL MVP went to first base, got doubled off on Murphy's fly out to left and was replaced by Chris Heisey in right field in the bottom half.

"It hurts," Harper said. "Whenever you get squared up like that, it doesn't feel good. We'll evaluate tomorrow and see how it feels. If I don't feel good, I'm not going to play. If I feel fine, then I'll be in there."

Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

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Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

How it happened: Right now, two months into the 2016 MLB season, is there any other player you'd rather have up in a key spot than Daniel Murphy?

The Nats second baseman continued his months-long Ted Williams impression on Monday night with three hits, one of them his eighth homer of the season and another the go-ahead swing in the bottom of the eighth in a 4-3 Nats victory over the Phillies. 

On a night Bryce Harper left with an injury, Murphy helped save the day with three runs driven in. The other was pushed across by Jayson Werth, who tied the game at 2-2 in the eighth to help set up Murphy's heroics. 

The Nationals hung on in the ninth, but closer Jonathan Papelbon made it interesting by allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. Papelbon has surrendered six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings with two blown saves against the Phillies since he was traded from them to the Nats last summer.

Tanner Roark pitched seven solid innings with two earned runs allowed. He earned his fourth win of the season.

What it means: The Nationals moved to 10 games over .500 and 3-4 against the Phillies this season, all three of those wins having come at Citizens Bank Park. The Nats remain in first place with a 31-21 record after 52 games. That puts them two wins ahead of their 2015 pace (29-23 after 52). In 2014 when they won 96 games and the NL East, they were 25-27. And in 2012 when they won 98 games and the division, they were 30-22. The Nats are playing at a 97-win pace right now.

Murphy's big day: Who is this guy? As impressive as Murphy's 2016 had already been, he put in one of his best games as a National on Tuesday. Murphy smacked his eighth homer of the season in the top of the fourth which put him more than halfway to his career-high of 14, which he set just last year. This is in just 50 games, which puts Murphy on pace for about 25 by the end of this season. That would not only far exceed his best season ever, it would significantly change his value as an offensive player. Murphy has six homers in the month of May, a personal career-best for the regular season. The only other month he's hit more was last October when he clubbed seven for the Mets in the playoffs. Murphy also landed a double in the second inning on Monday to notch his 25th mutli-hit game of the season, exactly half of the game he's played. This was all on top of his go-ahead, two-RBI single in the top of the eighth. Murphy is now batting a cool .395 and we're one day away from June. That's just amazing.

Harper leaves with apparent injury: In a sight that will scare the living hell out of any Nationals fan, Harper left in the top of the seventh with what appeared to be a right leg injury. He exited after taking an 88 mile per hour fastball either off his knee or off his thigh muscle right above it. Harper stayed in the game for one play by taking first, but left after getting out on a double play. Murphy flew out and Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel beat Harper with a throw to first before he got back. Chris Heisey replaced Harper in right field in the bottom of the seventh. It could be just a bruise, but Nats fans will certainly worry until they hear otherwise.

Werth's game-tying double: Aside from Murphy's three knocks, Werth was one of only two other Nationals to land a hit on Monday night. For Werth, it was a single to left field that scored Danny Espinosa from second in the top of the eighth. The RBI hit came off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, who also gave up the deciding blow against Murphy. Werth's big swing came just one day after he launched a pinch-hit grand slam in the Nats' win over the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Up next: The Nationals send Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) to the mound for Tuesday's game with right-hander Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) set to pitch for Philly. It's another 7:05 p.m. first pitch.