PHILADELPHIA -- The Nationals will enter September in excellent shape in the National League East.
They swept the Phillies in a three-game series with Wednesday night's 2-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park. The win maintained a nine-game lead in the division, which is the largest lead for an NL East team entering September since the Braves had a 15-game lead in 2013. The Nationals also close out a stretch where they played 20 games in 20 days and went 11-9.
"I'm proud of these guys, 'cause that's a tough stretch," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "There are some teams that had that same 20-game stretch that didn't do as well. There are a few that did pretty good. The main thing is, we finished strong. I always tell my guys: 'Finish strong.'"
Jayson Werth crushed a solo home run over the batter's eye in center field in the first inning to give the Nats the early lead. Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis tied the game with a solo homer in the fifth, but Wilson Ramos hit a two-out single to right field in the seventh inning to score Anthony Rendon from second base to hand the Nats a one-run lead.
Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez allowed just two hits and one run in six innings to earn the win. The Nats allowed just nine hits in the series against the Phillies, who tied a franchise record with four or fewer hits in three consecutive games (last accomplished Aug. 19-21, 2010).
"We're up and down," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We have our streaks where we're hot and cold. Still, if you look at the season-long statistics, we're still close to the bottom in a lot of categories. So we need to improve in that department."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Another strong outing by Gio: Gonzalez has flown somewhat under the radar among this Nationals rotation lately, but he is putting up a strong second half. Entering his start Wednesday night, he had posted a 3.20 ERA in his past nine starts, while opposing hitters were hitting .219/.278/.385 against him during that span. It was more of the same on Wednesday night for Gonzalez, who has rebounded after a disastrous two-month span between May and June, when he posted a 6.11 ERA.
"He seems to have learned a lot from those few months where he struggled," Nats catcher Ramos said through an interpreter. "He's come back and been pitching very well for us. The key is just learning from those mistakes that he was making during those few months. He's been able to adjust and been pitching extremely well lately for us. Hopefully he continues."
Morgan's best: Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan's season has not gone as planned, but Mackanin said this might have been the best he had ever seen him pitch. He allowed three hits, two runs and struck out five in 6 2/3 innings. He is hoping to finish the season strong to remain in the conversation for a rotation spot next season.
"It was definitely not a bad one," Morgan said. "I definitely want to improve, get out of the seventh inning, finish strong, but it's a good one to build off of."
Werth's power surge: Werth's recent power surge continued with the solo homer in the first inning, his eighth homer this month. Eight is the most homers Werth has ever hit in a single month as a member of the Nationals and matches the eight he had with the Phillies in September 2010. It was also his 20th homer, giving Washington five players with at least 20 homers on the year.
Galvis' unexpected power: Galvis hit seven home runs in 603 plate appearances last season, but he hit his 15th homer of the season in his 512th plate appearance in the fifth to tie the game at 1. Galvis is just the third shortstop in Phillies history to hit 20 or more doubles and 15 or more homers in a season. Jimmy Rollins (six times) and Granny Hamner are the others.
"Not really. Actually, now I'm hungrier. I want to go back there. I know that it takes a lot of work to be there with all those star guys. I know why you would think that it made me feel comfortable because I'm not doing what I was doing before, but no, no, I'm hungry. I want to get better." -- Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera, on if he has become too comfortable since making the NL All-Star team. He has a .656 OPS since he learned he made the team. He had an .833 OPS beforehand.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Werth's homer in the first is the fourth longest at Citizens Bank Park in the Statcast™ era. Only Cameron Rupp (461 feet on Aug. 24, 2015), Ian Desmond (458 feet on June 28, 2015) and Ryan Howard (455 feet on Aug. 12, 2016) have hit homers farther than Werth.
"I've been in some pretty cool places in this ballpark, but never there," Werth said.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: After an off-day, the Nationals begin a three-game series with the Mets on Friday at Citi Field at 7:10 p.m. ET. Right-hander A.J. Cole (0-1,4.97 ERA) will make his first career start at Citi Field and his third start this season in place of the injured Stephen Strasburg.
Phillies: The Phillies open a three-game series against the Braves on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Citizens Bank Park. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80 ERA) faces Braves right-hander Joel De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66 ERA) in the series opener. Hellickson is 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in two starts this season against the Braves.