Zimmerman and Desmond look to continue bashing scheduled starter Chris Volstad 's pitching Wednesday night, while Washington's Gio Gonzalez tries to become the franchise's first 18-game winner in more than 25 years.
Zimmerman, Desmond, Tyler Moore and Jesus Flores all went deep, and Adam LaRoche homered twice in Tuesday's 11-5 victory. The Nationals (83-52), who hit their most home runs at home since moving to the nation's capital in 2005, won for the sixth time in seven games to open a season-high 7 1/2-game advantage atop the division.
Washington's offense has been overshadowed by a pitching staff that has an NL-best 3.28 ERA, but it's come on strong of late, plating at least eight runs in five of seven games."We're in a pretty good place offensively," Davey Johnson said. "I like the lineup we have."
LaRoche, who leads the Nationals with 27 home runs, has hit four in the last four games and is 10 for 20 with five homers and seven RBIs in helping Washington win four of five against the Cubs (51-84) this season.
Zimmerman, meanwhile, is batting .300 with two homers during a season-high nine-game hitting streak, and Desmond is batting .429 with seven RBIs in his last seven. Both are likely eagerly awaiting taking some hacks against Volstad (2-9, 6.06 ERA).
The two each have 25 career at-bats against Volstad. Desmond is batting .560 with a homer and three doubles, while Zimmerman is hitting .520 with two home runs and two doubles.
Jayson Werth is 13 for 26 with 10 runs during a six-game hitting streak, but probably not as excited about facing Volstad. He is hitting .091 with 12 strikeouts in 33 career at-bats, his lowest average against any pitcher he has faced at least 18 times.
Volstad allowed two runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings in Friday's 6-4 win over San Francisco for his second consecutive victory after a 24-start winless streak. The right-hander has not won three consecutive starts since his final three outings of 2010.
While Volstad, who was 0-2 with a 3.30 ERA in five starts against Washington last year with Florida, is just starting to pick up victories, Gonzalez (17-7, 3.10) is tied with three others for the major league lead.
Gonzalez threw a five-hitter while striking out eight in Friday's 10-0 win over St. Louis for his first career shutout. He established a new career high for wins, surpassing last season's total with Oakland, and became the first Nationals pitcher to reach 17 victories. The franchise's last player to win 18 was Bryn Smith for the 1985 Montreal Expos.
The righty, who is 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his last five starts, made his season debut against Chicago, and wasn't particularly sharp, allowing four runs, seven hits and three walks in 3 2-3 innings in a game the Nationals won 7-4.
Alfonso Soriano , who is 2 for 3 with a double lifetime against Gonzalez, has been one of the few bright spots lately for the Cubs, losers of four straight overall and 15 of 16 away from Chicago.
Soriano homered and tripled Tuesday and is batting .333 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his last six games.
"We have to try to come back one day at a time," he said. "We have to come back with more energy and try to get the win (Wednesday)."
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
|June 13, 2012||Ian Stewart||60-Day DL||Left wrist surgery|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|June 02, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Stress reaction in right elbow|
|September 03, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right thumb|
|September 02, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore right ankle|
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Washington Nationals are closing in on their first postseason berth and they're not easing up - even against one of baseball's worst teams.
For the second consecutive game, Washington tied a franchise record with six home runs Wednesday night in a 9-1 rout of the Chicago Cubs .
Bryce Harper hit two homers and Gio Gonzalez won his 18th game. Adam LaRoche kept up his tear at the plate with three hits for the Nationals, who have won four straight and own the best record in the majors at 84-52. They maintained a 7 1/2-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East.
"Good teams take nothing for granted," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "Guys down at the bottom, sometimes they have more energy and more to prove than guys at the top. We've been down there enough. We know what it's like, we're not letting up."
LaRoche has hit three of those 12 long balls, and his streak of reaching base in nine consecutive plate appearances was snapped by a seventh-inning strikeout.
LaRoche also has four singles and two walks in the past two games.
"It's just one of those stretches that nobody can explain. They don't happen too often," he said.
The 19-year-old Harper had his second multihomer game. Previously, only Mel Ott and Ken Griffey Jr. had accomplished that feat as teenagers.
"I don't think anybody's satisfied where we're at right now," Harper said. "We don't want to let down to anybody. We don't want to play at that level. We want to play at our level."
Gonzalez (18-7), who shut out St. Louis on five hits in his last start, allowed only three singles in seven scoreless innings to tie Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for most wins in the majors. Dickey beat the Cardinals 6-2 earlier in the day.
Gonzalez struck out nine and walked none. He has yielded eight hits and no runs in his last 16 innings.
He says being a 20-game winner isn't on his mind.
"We're playing such great baseball, it's selfish of me to think of myself," Gonzalez said. "Individual stuff is nice, but all said and done it's a team thing."
Craig Stammen worked the final two innings and allowed a ninth-inning homer to Anthony Rizzo , his 11th.
Gonzalez did not give up a hit until Darwin Barney led off the sixth with a single past third baseman Ryan Zimmerman .
Starlin Castro singled off second baseman Danny Espinosa 's glove with two outs in the seventh and Welington Castro followed with a single to left. Gonzalez finished the inning by striking out Josh Vitters .
Manager Dale Sveum , whose Cubs have lost five straight, was ejected in the fifth by plate umpire Larry Vanover for arguing balls and strikes.
"I just didn't appreciate him eyeballing our dugout for absolutely no reason at all," Sveum said.
"I just don't think that's right when you're looking in our dugout for no apparent reason at all. Nothing at all to warrant that at all."
The Nationals scored in the first on LaRoche's RBI single.
Washington equaled a club mark by hitting three home runs in the third off Chris Volstad (2-10). Roger Bernadina led off the inning with his fourth of the season. Harper followed with his 16th.
Zimmerman singled and LaRoche hit his 28th home run - his fourth in three games.
Harper hit his 17th with one out in the sixth off Michael Bowden .
Ian Desmond and Espinosa hit back-to-back home runs to start the seventh off Blake Parker .
Volstad allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings. After breaking a 24-start winless streak that began July 17, 2011, he had won his previous two starts.
He was wary of pitching against Washington, which scored at least eight runs in three of four games last weekend against St. Louis.
"They put up runs all over the place against them, too. They're a hot team. A good team and they're hot. It's a tough combo, but you've still got to go out there and make good pitches," Volstad said.
NOTES: Harper's 17 home runs are the third-most by a teenager. Only Tony Conigliaro with 24 and Ott with 18 hit more. ... Vitters is in an 0-for-25 skid. ... Chicago is 17-51 on the road. ... Washington LHP Sean Burnett will be out a few more days with a tender elbow, Johnson said. ... Nationals OF Jayson Werth , who had four hits Tuesday but is 3 for 33 against Volstad, was given the night off. ... Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (9-8, 3.01 ERA) will face Chicago RHP Justin Germano (2-5, 6.30) on Thursday.