PHILADELPHIA -- It has been months since so many different parts of the Nationals have all clicked at the same time, but suddenly, they're playing some of their best baseball of the season.Washington's offense ambushed National League Cy Young Award contender Aaron Nola for three runs in the first inning,
PHILADELPHIA -- It has been months since so many different parts of the Nationals have all clicked at the same time, but suddenly, they're playing some of their best baseball of the season.
Washington's offense ambushed National League Cy Young Award contender Aaron Nola for three runs in the first inning, Stephen Strasburg turned in his best start since coming off the disabled list and the Nationals added a few tack-on runs throughout to beat the Phillies, 5-1, on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival.
Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Juan Soto all homered to lead Washington to its fifth consecutive victory, its longest winning streak since a season-high six-game streak from May 25-30.
"We just have to keep going, keep playing, have good games, keep pitching well and keep hitting the ball well," Harper said. "We've got some young guys playing well. We've got some older guys playing well right now. Our pitchers are throwing the ball well. I think we're all clicking at the same time, scoring runs and pitching well at the same time."
The Nationals are two games over .500 for the first time since Aug. 12, and while this late push is almost certainly too late for a run at the postseason -- they are eight games behind the Braves in the NL East and seven games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card -- they have not shown any signs of quitting as the season winds down. Washington also pulled to within a half-game of Philadelphia for second place in the division.
"Obviously, we're not in an ideal spot, but nothing's over yet," Zimmerman said. "We've got to play it out and try to win each game that we play and see what happens."
Entering Wednesday's game, Nola had Washington's number this season, going 3-0 with a 1.26 ERA in four starts, including back-to-back outings last month that saw him hold the Nats to one earned run while striking out 17. Washington was on Nola from the start on Wednesday. The Nationals tallied a three-run first inning thanks to Harper's 33rd home run and a run-scoring single from Zimmerman. In the fourth, Zimmerman added a solo homer off Nola, who lasted five innings and gave up four runs on six hits.
"I think we just got some good pitches to hit and didn't miss them," Harper said. "Nola's really good out there. We're trying to get some extra runs on him so [Max] Scherzer can win the Cy Young."
Meanwhile, Strasburg looked close to his usual form. Although his fastball has not returned to its usual maximum velocity in the high 90s since he returned from the DL, a sharp assortment of offspeed pitches have still made him effective. Strasburg struck out nine over seven innings of one-run ball. He allowed five hits and didn't walk a batter.
"It's kind of at the point where it's going to take probably an offseason to get the stuff back," Strasburg said. "Instead of trying to reach back for it and not make pitches, you just have to pitch where you're comfortable at and not really look at the [radar] gun too much."
• Strasburg's pitch hits the batter, catcher and umpire
• Soto, who now has three homers in the past two games, connected with a solo homer in the sixth inning, his 19th of the season. That ties him with Mel Ott for the third-most by a teenager. Soto now trails Harper (22) and Tony Conigliaro (24) for the most all-time.
• Soto ties Mel Ott with 19th HR as a teenager
• The Nats had not swept a series at Citizens Bank Park since Aug. 29-31, 2016.
HE SAID IT
"I think, obviously, winning helps a lot. But they've been playing really well for a while now, they really have. We've been in every game. They've battled back in most games. So I'm really proud of them. The fact that we're winning now is a testament to what they're doing and what they've been doing." -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez, on his team's five-game winning streak
Washington interrupts its three-city road trip for a stop home at Nationals Park for a makeup game against the Cubs on Thursday at 4:05 p.m. ET. Joe Ross is scheduled to start for the Nationals, finally making his 2018 debut after missing 14 months due to Tommy John surgery. He took the mound on Friday night and got through 1 2/3 innings before the game was postponed due to rain. Mike Montgomery will start for Chicago.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.