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Confident Nats can't lose

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Confident Nats can't lose

PHOENIX -- They trailed early by three runs, facing perhaps the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. Their two best setup men were shelved for the evening due to overuse. The relievers who replaced them wound up putting the tying runner in scoring position in three consecutive innings.

Yet, not one uniformed member of the Nationals appeared to break a sweat during Saturday night's 6-5 victory over the Diamondbacks. (And, no, that had nothing to do with the 108-degree dry heat outside Chase Field.)

What gives? Do the Nationals ever worry about losing a ballgame? Evidently not.

"The confidence is at an all-time high right now," right-hander Ryan Mattheus said.

And why wouldn't it be the way things are going for the best team in baseball? This nailbiter resulted in the Nationals' eighth consecutive win, the last six of them coming on the road. They're now 71-43, a full 28 games over .500, knowing they can go 24-24 the rest of the way and still finish with 95 wins.

And maybe most importantly, they've managed to play their very best ball of the year precisely while the team chasing them in the NL East has played its very best ball.

On July 24, the Braves sat 4 12 games behind the Nationals. They've since gone 14-3, a roll that should have catapulted them to the top of the division. Instead, they remain those same 4 12 games back because the Nats have gone 15-4 over the same time frame.

"It's impressive that they're not falling behind at all," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, a former Brave himself. "They're a really good team. They had some streaks earlier in the year where they were struggling. Like you said, they're playing just as good as we are right now, but that doesn't affect us."

Nor does a shaky start from Edwin Jackson, who dug his teammates into an early 4-1 hole, only to watch as they climbed their way out of it during a five-run fifth against Diamondbacks rookie left-hander Wade Miley.

Clutch hits were aplenty during that rally, from Jayson Werth's RBI double to Ryan Zimmerman's two-run single to Michael Morse's RBI double to Jesus Flores' RBI single. This is the norm right now for a Nationals lineup that has transformed from one of the sport's least-productive groups to one of its most-dangerous assemblages of hitters.

On the morning of June 24, the Nationals as a team were hitting .238 with a .304 on-base percentage and .389 slugging percentage. In 45 games sine then, they're hitting a collective .283 with a .339 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage.

Obviously, the return of Morse and Werth from injuries and the reemergence of Zimmerman as a premier offensive player after receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing shoulder has made a huge difference. But manager Davey Johnson believes it's about more than personnel. It's about approach.

"The makeup of this lineup is totally different: It's in attack mode," Johnson said. "They're not up there defending like a goalie. We're out there trying to do some damage, and it's fun to watch. I tip my hat to Rick Eckstein. He's done a great job with the offense and getting a little more aggressive. I know he's been on the gun here in years past, but he's one of the best hitting instructors I've ever met."

That revamped lineup managed to give the Nationals a lead, but a reconfigured bullpen still needed to preserve that lead to ensure this victory. Johnson didn't have Drew Storen or Sean Burnett available after excessive work over the last week, but the manager calmly called upon other relievers to come through with some big outs.

Tom Gorzelanny replace Jackson with two outs and a man on second in the bottom of the sixth and immediately struck out Stephen Drew looking at a 3-2 fastball at the knees. Mattheus then got two important groundballs with another man in scoring position to escape a seventh-inning jam. And Michael Gonzalez pitched around his own wildness to strike out Drew and yet again strand the tying run on second in the bottom of the eighth.

"I just think that speaks about the talent that's down there," Mattheus said. "Sean Burnett got a night off tonight, and Mike Gonzalez threw a perfect eighth inning and got us out of there and got the ball to closer Tyler Clippard. That's big that someone can step in and do that job when Burnie needs a day off. And Drew can close games when Clip's not here. It just speaks volumes for the talent."

And speaks volumes about the confidence oozing out of the Nationals' clubhouse these days. They've held the top spot in their division for 82 consecutive days now. And they're showing no signs of giving it up.

"It's a calm confidence," Clippard said. "Nobody gets too high or too low. Nothing changes. We're not walking around like: 'Oh, we're the best.' We're just keeping our heads down and going about our business, playing each game like it's a must-win game.

"It's a lot of fun, man."

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Nats' bats remain red-hot in freezing cold Denver

Nats' bats remain red-hot in freezing cold Denver

DENVER  -- Trea Turner nearly hit for the cycle for a second straight night, finishing a triple shy, and Bryce Harper had four more hits to run his average to .432 as the Washington Nationals beat the Colorado Rockies 11-4 on Wednesday.

Turner lined one of three Washington homers, with Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy also going deep, to help the Nationals improve to 8-1 on their 10-game trip.

Tanner Roark (3-0) worked his way out of several jams to throw five solid innings. He allowed two runs and struck out four.

Never quite settling in on a cool night, Tyler Chatwood (2-3) surrendered five runs in five innings.

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Turner followed his cycle the night before with a solo shot in the fifth for his second homer of the season. Zimmerman hit a two-run shot later in the inning to give Washington a 5-0 lead.

Harper kept up his torrid pace at the plate with four hard hits, including a double. It was his fifth four-hit game of his career and third this season.

Roark ran into trouble in the fifth when the Rockies loaded the bases. He walked DJ LeMahieu to force in a run and gave up another run on Nolan Arenado's fielder's choice. With two outs and two on, Roark struck out Carlos Gonzalez with a 77-mph curve. Gonzalez broke his bat on the ground in frustration.

For the second straight night, a two-out walk in the second inning to the pitcher came back to haunt the Rockies. After Chatwood missed on a 3-2 fastball to Roark, Adam Eaton followed with a two-run single.

On Tuesday, German Marquez issued a two-out walk that turned into a five-run frame in a game the Nationals won 15-12. They have taken two of three in the four-game series with Colorado

RELATED: NATS PLACE RELIEVER ON DL

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Nationals place Koda Glover on DL due to hip injury

Nationals place Koda Glover on DL due to hip injury

 The Washington Nationals placed reliever Koda Glover on the 10-day disabled list with a left hip impingement.

Glover earned his first two career saves last weekend in New York against the Mets. He's 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 11 appearances.

Manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday he wanted to take a cautious route with Glover because, "we're going to need Koda in the long run."

The 23-year-old Glover was selected in the eighth round of the 2015 first-year player draft.

To take his place, the Nationals recalled left-hander Matt Grace from Triple-A Syracuse. The 28-year-old Grace has a 3.60 ERA in 31 career major league games.

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