Lannan, Werth overcome their Philly demons

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Lannan, Werth overcome their Philly demons

PHILADELPHIA -- For John Lannan, the moment came in the bottom of the third, when faced with a bases-loaded jam he struck out Ryan Howard and got Carlos Ruiz on a comebacker.

For Jayson Werth, the moment came in the top of the ninth, when faced with a riled up Phillies crowd in what had become a one-run game he delivered a two-run dagger of a base hit to silence the angry mob.

And for the Nationals, the moment came a few minutes later, when Drew Storen got John Mayberry Jr. to ground out harmlessly to third base and seal an 8-4 victory that moved this team one step closer to the NL East crown and exorcised some Philadelphia demons in the process.

"A big game, a big outing for John," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "That was a huge win for us."

They're all huge at this stage of the calendar year, each win lowering the magic number -- it's now down to 4 -- and reducing the plausibility of a last-minute flip-flop of teams atop the NL East standings.

Yes, the Braves won again Wednesday night -- their ninth win in their last 11 games -- but they still trail the Nationals by four games with only seven left to play. Each day they fail to close the gap is a wasted day from their standpoint.

The most important thing the Nationals can do right now is win games themselves, something they've done 94 times this season but something they've struggled to do inside Citizens Bank Park. That made this victory all the more significant, especially because of the history of two players who were influential in pulling this one off.

Start with Lannan, whose big-league career began in Philadelphia five years ago with an unexpected ejection for plunking Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in succession and had only gone downhill since then. In seven starts in this ballpark entering Wednesday, the left-hander was 1-5 with a 7.06 ERA.

Lannan, though, has stared down all kinds of adversity during the strangest year of his professional life, so it only felt appropriate to overcome one of his biggest hurdles and beat the Phillies in a game his Nationals desperately needed to win.

With 5 13 innings of two-run ball, Lannan improved to 4-0 in five big-league starts this season, all of them significant wins.

"He's been outstanding for us this year," manager Davey Johnson said. "That's his fourth win up here. Big game against Atlanta, big one here. He's just been a big boost for us."

Though he was mostly sharp during this outing, Lannan did find himself in one big jam when ht loaded the bases with one out in the third. All of a sudden, Howard stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game up on one swing. Given Lannan's sordid history in this place, few would have been shocked had that nightmare scenario happened.

The lefty, though, took a different mindset with him to the mound.

"I've been in that situation here so many times and come up short, so I told myself not to do what I did back then," he said. "I don't even know what I was doing, I just told myself I wasn't going to let it happen because it's happened so many times here. I kind of was fed up with it and kind of just went from there."

So Lannan calmly struck out Howard on a curveball, then snagged Ruiz's comebacker to snuff out the rally and preserve a 5-1 lead.

The Nationals had staked their starter to that cushion thanks to an early explosion against Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick. Three of their first eight batters belted home runs, with Bryce Harper becoming only the second teenager ever to hit 20, Desmond increasing his career-high total to 25 and Kurt Suzuki adding his fifth over his last 22 games.

"The kid got us going again," Desmond said.

Harper may have got them going early, but Werth got them over the hump late with a huge hit just when it looked like the Nationals' lead was tenuous.

After chipping away all night, the Phillies got the deficit down to 5-4 in the eighth and nearly tied the game against slumping reliever Tyler Clippard. Desperate for an insurance run in the top of the ninth, the Nationals wound up getting three, the first two delivered by Werth in dramatic fashion.

Standing in the on-deck circle during that inning, Werth picked up a ball fouled off by Danny Espinosa. The one-time Phillies right fielder turned to toss it to a group of kids seated behind the Nationals dugout but claims he was concerned a group of "unruly middle-aged men that, to me, appeared to be snarling" right behind them.

So Werth tossed the ball into the dugout instead, a move that prompted the entire ballpark to shower boos upon him for the next five minutes, including as he battled through his at-bat against right-hander Justin DeFratus. The boos turned to cheers only for a moment after DeFratus buzzed him with a high-and-tight fastball, then everyone turned silent when Werth laced a 2-2 pitch up the middle for a base hit that scored two runs and gave the Nationals much-needed breathing room.

"I was so excited for him," Harper said. "I wanted to jump up and down and scream. ... These fans going crazy, booing him, telling him he sucks and whatnot. They don't know what they're missing. He's an unbelievable ballplayer, and he's been clutch for us all year. He's what gets us going."

Werth, who forcefully clapped his hands together after rounding first base, wound up scoring moments later when Harper delivered his ninth triple of the season, extending the lead to four runs. He downplayed the booing by a fan base that used to adore him when he manned right field in this ballpark.

"It's really just part of playing in Philadelphia," he said. "That's what makes it great. I had a lot of fun here. I had a lot of good times and wouldn't trade those for the world."

Werth, of course, is enjoying some good times with the Nationals right now. While the Phillies are on the verge of missing the postseason for the first time in six years, he's on the verge of clinching the NL East and embarking on a postseason run with his new club.

Which means plenty more key at-bats for a guy who seems to relish those opportunities.

"I mean, as time goes on here, as we get into October, there's probably going to be even more of that," Werth said. "I've been here before, definitely don't mind it."

Ben Revere starting to resemble the leadoff man the Nats hoped for

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Ben Revere starting to resemble the leadoff man the Nats hoped for

When the Nationals acquired Ben Revere from the Toronto Blue Jays last winter, they knew exactly what they were getting: a prototypical leadoff hitter that sees a lot of pitches, ropes line drives into the gaps and wreaks havoc on the base paths.

Still, every now and then Washington's centerfielder goes out of character in pregame batting practice and simulates his long ball swing, much to the dismay of manager Dusty Baker. 

"Even when I pop them in BP, he gets mad," Revere said. 

But for just the fifth time in his career 2569 at-bats, that power stroke came in handy. Revere enjoyed a rare jog around the bases after his seventh-inning solo home run in Tuesday night's 7-4 win over the New York Mets. The 384-foot blast to right field was his first since joining the Nats — and based on his track record, it's anyone's guess when his second one will be. 

"At least I get my one [home run]," Revere said. "I just gotta get one."

"I'm just hoping he doesn't get that dreadful disease of home-run-itis," Baker added. "So just get back to yourself, Ben."

Luckily for the Nats, Revere has finally started to look like himself after getting off to a slow start, one which included a post-disabled list slump following his Opening Day oblique injury. In the last week, he's hitting .360 with three extra-base hits, five RBI, six runs scored and a pair of stolen bases. 

"He's really been swinging the bat well since that last game in New York [last week]," Daniel Murphy said. "He looks good in there and it's really nice to have him at the top of the lineup setting the table for us."

With Revere rounding into form and other members of the lineup getting hot, the Nats offense finally has a chance to be a more balanced outfit that doesn't solely rely on Murphy and Bryce Harper to do all the heavy lifting. 

That said, don't hold your breath waiting for Revere to be leaving the yard again anytime soon. 

"If I try to hit it in the air, I’ll probably be .250 or Mendoza line .200 hitter," he quipped. "But if I hit the ball on the ground or line drives, I’ll be .300 for a long time."

Harvey struggling, Murphy thriving as Nats-Mets rivalry heats up

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Harvey struggling, Murphy thriving as Nats-Mets rivalry heats up

The NL East division will not be decided in the month of May, but the contrast in fortunes for the Nats and Mets was dramatic on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

Yes, the Nats only lead the Mets by 1 1/2 games in the division after homering them to death in a 7-4 series-tying victory. But they beat them once again with a huge contribution from ex-Met Daniel Murphy and once again at the expense of beleaguered super hero Matt Harvey.

From the moment Murphy left the Mets to sign a three-year deal with the Nationals, it became part of the fabric of one of baseball's best contemporary rivalries. And the way he's played not just overall this season, but in head-to-head matchups with the Mets, has only stoked that fire.

Murphy went 2-for-4 with his seventh homer of the year on Tuesday night and now has two homers in four at-bats against Harvey. He has two RBI in each of his last three games against his former team and has quickly become a pest for the organization he spent 10 distinguished years with.

Harvey, on the other hand, has allowed 11 earned runs combined in his last two starts, both against the Nationals. He is in the midst of a shocking downfall and the Nats are playing a hands-on role.

Only four times did a Nationals hitter swing and miss at a pitch Harvey threw on Tuesday. That matched a season-low. The three homers he surrendered matched a career-high. This is all just one start after the Nats scored nine runs (6 ER) on Harvey, which set a new career mark.

“His velocity started out good," manager Dusty Baker said. "He was 95, 96 miles per hour, then his velocity dropped to 92, 93. His slider wasn’t as sharp as it usually is. You gotta get them when they’re down.”

Murphy, on the other hand, is carrying over the power surge the Mets themselves witnessed last fall. After hitting seven homers in 14 postseason games, Murphy has seven in 45 outings this season. That puts him on pace for 25 homers, nearly double his career-best of 14 set just last year.

Having spent five years around Harvey in New York, Murphy has a unique perspective of his former teammate now facing him from the other side.

"It's tough to tell," Murphy said. "I have all the confidence in the world that he's gonna throw the ball well... I hope it's not against us, or me personally. But we know how good he is, we saw it all year last year. And again, as a pitcher or a hitter, we're never as far away as we think."

Murphy isn't the only player on the Nats who wishes Harvey well, despite his presence in the NL East.

"I know he’s still going to be their go-to guy coming down the stretch and coming down the stretch these guys are going to be right there," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"Fastball seems the same. He’s throwing strikes. It’s baseball. We’ve been getting the key knocks. Nothing we can do about it. Just goes to show that every pitcher in the big leagues is going to have some rough stretches."

"His stuff is electric. To me he's still the same pitcher that comes after you," third baseman Anthony Rendon said. "Like anybody else, you go through a rough patch, and I'm pretty sure he'll find his way out like every other good pitcher does."

Murphy's two hits on Tuesday - the second against reliever Antonio Bastardo - gave him his 23rd multi-hit game of the season. That means more than half of his games this year have featured multiple hits. He's now batting an MLB-best .392. Only one batter (Yoenis Cespedes) on the Mets is hitting better than .283 at this point in the season.

“I've seen some pretty good hitters, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor," Baker said. "[Murphy] hasn’t had a down time the entire year. He’s concentrating. He’s at a very high concentration level. When he’s getting his pitch he’s not missing many. Murph’s been the acquisition of the year in baseball. I’m just glad that we have him.”

Harvey's matchups with the Nats over his last two starts have put his career at a momentary crossroads. After his last outing, Tuesday's start was in question. The Mets ultimately decided to keep him in the rotation, but what about his next start? Will he take the mound?

His previous outing was so bad it convinced Mets fans - who booed him at home five days ago - to organize a social media campaign to bus droves of New Yorkers down to D.C. for Tuesday's game. About a hundred of them gathered in right field and were heard loudly before the game and through the first several innings with chants in support of Harvey.

By the fifth inning there were chants of 'Harrrr-veyyy' coming from the crowd, but not from Mets fans. Nationals fans turned the tables and made for yet another embarrassing moment for the Dark Knight of Gotham.

Harvey, for what it's worth, declined to speak to reporters after his latest disaster. Not facing the New York media who are ready to pounce all over you? That may feel good for a night, but it won't go over well in the coming days. Might be wise to avoid the tabloids, Matt.

Strasburg notches another win as Nats rough up Harvey again

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USA TODAY Sports

Strasburg notches another win as Nats rough up Harvey again

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).