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Nats cap dramatic first-half turnaround

Their 10th win in 12 games has them leading NL Wild Card race
@JamalCollier
July 7, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The All-Star break might be the only thing that can slow down the Nationals. Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick doubled home the go-ahead runs in the eighth inning. Brian Dozier and Victor Robles hammered solo home runs to extend Washington’s franchise-record streak to 21 straight games with a

WASHINGTON -- The All-Star break might be the only thing that can slow down the Nationals.

Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick doubled home the go-ahead runs in the eighth inning. Brian Dozier and Victor Robles hammered solo home runs to extend Washington’s franchise-record streak to 21 straight games with a dinger. Patrick Corbin delivered another dominant pitching performance with seven shutout innings and 11 strikeouts, the fourth straight start he has tossed seven innings and allowed one run or fewer.

And the Nats won again on Sunday afternoon, beating the Royals 5-2 at Nationals Park, to close out the unofficial first half of the schedule with their 10th win in the past 12 games. After a roller-coaster first half, the Nationals are rolling into the break as the hottest team in baseball, currently commanding the top spot in the National League Wild Card race with an overall record of 47-42.

Box score

“I love how we overcame a lot of things the first month and a half, and how we finished,” Dozier said. “We knew things had to turn, and we made it happen, and we finished into the break really well.”

To say the first half was full of ups and downs would be a massive understatement.

At their lowest point, the Nationals were 19-31 after being swept by the Mets in a four-game series at Citi Field near the end of May, and they were owners of the fourth worst record in MLB and second worst in the National League. They were perhaps the most disappointing team in baseball, with a manager on the hot seat and speculation swirling about the Nats as potential sellers at the Trade Deadline.

Since May 24, however, they have been the best team in baseball, going 28-11 over their past six weeks. They finished Sunday with the third best record in the NL and plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about their postseason chances.

“I think we knew we were capable of playing this way, but in order to make up those games, some other teams have to cooperate as well,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “It's awesome that we played as well as we played, but when you would glance up at the standings every couple of days just to see what else was going on, and every time it seemed like, ‘Oh my gosh, we just made up like two or three games.’ That almost gives you that confidence and helps you continue that momentum.”

Now the Nationals are in the midst of one of the best stretches in team history. They form a dancing line in the dugout after home runs -- a celebration created by outfielder Gerardo Parra, who has injected new life into the clubhouse -- which saw Dozier dancing for teammates after his homer in the second inning. They shared a laugh at the expense of ace Max Scherzer, who thought Rendon’s RBI double to bring home Adam Eaton in the eighth inning was a walkoff hit. Scherzer ran to greet Eaton at home plate, then realized nobody else had emptied out of the dugout. A video of that premature celebration played on a loop in the clubhouse after the game.

“I can't tell you how much I love being a part of this team,” Doolittle said with a laugh. “The way that we've battled over the last [six] weeks, really coming together, picking each other up, grinding it out, it's been fun.”

As much as the Nationals deserve credit for digging themselves out of their early season hole, they acknowledge they have much loftier expectations. They begin a nine-game, three-city road trip out of the break, which includes three games in Philadelphia and four in Atlanta, the two other contenders in the NL East.

Washington has been playing well to climb right back into the playoff race, but the Nats know they will be tested right away coming out of the break.

“When you look back as a player, you never say, ‘Oh man, I hit .300 before the All-Star break,'” manager Dave Martinez said. “You look at the big picture, which is at the end of the year. Let’s be mindful of that. Yeah, we’re playing good, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.