Coming off yet another thrilling victory, the surging Washington Nationals are running away with the NL East.
They figure to become all the more dangerous if Gio Gonzalez can find his form.Gonzalez takes the hill as the Nationals go for a team record-tying 10th consecutive victory in Thursday's series finale against the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.Washington (72-53) stayed hot with Wednesday's 3-2 win thanks to Anthony Rendon's pinch-hit RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was the fourth walkoff victory in five games for the Nationals, who are enjoying their longest winning streak since matching a franchise record with 10 straight in June 2005."It's absolutely epic. That's the best word I can put out there," left fielder Bryce Harper said. "It's been incredible. This team has a lot of fight, a lot of heart. We never die."Harper had a season high-tying three hits and scored the winning run as Washington increased its division lead to seven games after Atlanta lost at Pittsburgh."It's gratifying for (the players), it's exciting for them," manager Matt Williams said. "It's not a whole of fun in the dugout for the staff, but that's OK."The Nationals now turn to Gonzalez (6-9, 4.06 ERA), who is 0-5 with a 5.20 ERA in his last seven starts. He managed to avoid losing a career-worst sixth consecutive decision after Washington stormed back in Saturday's 4-3 walkoff win over Pittsburgh. The left-hander allowed three runs, seven hits and two walks before exiting after five innings."I made pitches that I wanted to make, just tough breaks," he told MLB's official website. "I got ground balls that I wanted, they just found the hole. I got broken bats, and they found hits. So that's just baseball. That's how it's going for me this year. You've got to keep grinding, keep grinding."Gonzalez has won both his starts against the Diamondbacks behind a 2.03 ERA. Mark Trumbo is 3 for 12 with six strikeouts against him and Aaron Hill is 2 for 10.Hill is mired in a 3-for-29 slump after going 0 for 4 on Wednesday. All-Star catcher Miguel Montero has also struggled of late with six hits in his last 31 at-bats.The Diamondbacks, hitting .192 in this series, have dropped five in a row by a combined 28-11 score and lost two of the three games in Washington after pulling even late."Of course it's disappointing," manager Kirk Gibson said. "They've got it rolling and they overtook us again."Wade Miley (7-9, 4.46) takes the mound for Arizona looking to snap a three-start winless funk. The left-hander pitched well Saturday but took the loss in a 2-1 defeat at Miami, yielding both runs -- one earned -- and striking out nine over seven innings."That's when you've got to focus more," Miley said after committing one of Arizona's season-high four errors. "We're all human and make mistakes. It's my job to pick them up. That's really what you try to do."Miley is 1-2 in four starts against the Nationals despite a 2.59 ERA. He's had a rough time against Rendon, who is 5 for 6 in their matchups.
Since July 31 (a span of four starts), opponents are hitting .377 against Gio Gonzalez on pitches ending in the lower half of the zone. The Diamondbacks are hitting .226 on pitches in the lower half of the zone during that span, the fifth-worst rate in MLB.
From Elias: The Nationals are the first team with five walk-off wins over a 6-game span since the 1986 Astros and the seventh overall to do it in modern MLB history.