ATLANTA -- Even though the Nationals have put themselves into a virtually insurmountable deficit to make the postseason, it is becoming clear they feel like they still have a lot to play for. Whether individual performances or personal pride is the motivation, Washington wants to finish this disappointing season strong.Powered
ATLANTA -- Even though the Nationals have put themselves into a virtually insurmountable deficit to make the postseason, it is becoming clear they feel like they still have a lot to play for. Whether individual performances or personal pride is the motivation, Washington wants to finish this disappointing season strong.
Powered by home runs from Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, who both reached base four times Sunday, the Nationals ambushed Braves starter Sean Newcomb from the beginning of his outing and rode that early lead to a 6-4 victory Sunday afternoon at SunTrust Park. The Nats won two out of three games against the division-leading Braves this weekend, and have now won seven out of their last nine games overall.
With two weeks to play, however, Washington still trails Atlanta by 7 1/2 games in the National League East. The Nationals are 6 1/2 games behind Colorado for the second NL Wild Card.
Harper put the Nationals on the board in the first inning, crushing a fastball from Newcomb that caught too much of the plate over the wall in center field for a two-run homer. It was Harper's 34th home run of the season as he continues his second-half turnaround and begins approaching some personal goals. Harper now has 97 RBIs, 97 runs scored and 118 walks on the year as he closes in on becoming the sixth player since 2014 to record 100 of each in a single season.
"I think it's a bummer we're not winning ballgames," Harper said. "That was the biggest thing on my mind. I'm not really worried about my numbers or anything like that because I am who I am. That sounds bad, but I am. Any given night I'm able to go out there and do some things for this team that are special, and I was able to do that again today."
Meanwhile, Rendon has continued on a steady, consistent pace that has become his trademark. He clubbed his 20th homer of the year Sunday, reaching the mark for the third consecutive season, while also reaching base for the 25th consecutive game. Rendon is batting .330 during that span, which dates back to Aug. 21, the longest streak by a Nationals' player this year.
"He understands the game, and he understands himself as a hitter," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "He has a game plan every time he goes up there. He hits the ball where it's pitched, stays on the ball, can pull the ball, does all kinds of good things. Watching him play is a lot of fun."
After struggling in his three most recent starts, Tanner Roark turned in a solid bounce-back outing. He limited the Braves to two runs -- on a homer by Tyler Flowers in the fourth -- on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. Roark made a quick departure after the game, heading to his home in Atlanta to be with his pregnant wife, and was not available to the media.
When Roark got into a jam in the sixth, he was bailed out by Tim Collins and Wander Suero, who tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings of his own. They have emerged as two relievers Martinez can rely on for big outs. After Charlie Culberson tagged Greg Holland for a two-run homer in the eighth inning, Juan Soto helped improve his case for the National League Rookie of the Year by driving in an insurance run in the ninth, giving Sean Doolittle some cushion as he secured the save.
"We've had a lot of injuries, and a lot of ups and downs," Rendon said. "But we're going to just keep on trucking 'til the end, until they tell us to go home."
Soto went 2-for-5 with an RBI and reached base for the 21st consecutive game, tying Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle for the second-longest on-base streak by a teenager since 1920. Hall of Famer Mel Ott owns the record, reaching in 22 straight games in '28.
HE SAID IT
"He's a competitor. He never gives in. I look at his numbers and see a lot better pitcher than what the numbers show. I've admired him from afar, the player he is and how he competes and what he does." -- Braves manager Brian Snitker, on Roark
"He's been playing for a while, so he understands the longevity of the season. He could have easily pressed really hard early in the year, but he knew he had a lot more at-bats and a lot more games to play. He just continued to work, and it finally clicked for him." -- Rendon, on Harper's season
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Rendon showed off his abilities in the field as well as at the plate on Sunday. With no outs in the fifth, Preston Tucker drove a grounder against the shift, forcing Rendon to range far to his right. The Nats' third baseman made a leaping throw to barely beat Tucker at first. The Braves challenged, but after review, the call stood.
The Nationals wrap up their road trip with a brief two-game series in Miami beginning Monday night at 7:05 p.m. ET at Marlins Park. Erick Fedde will aim to build off the best outing of his career -- 5 2/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts -- when he makes his first career start against the Marlins, opposing starter Trevor Richards. Harper is also approaching 100 RBIs for the first time in his career and could achieve the feat this week.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.