The Washington Nationals ' late charge at the second wild card has come at the expense of the lightweights of the NL East, and they hope to continue that run Thursday by completing a four-game sweep of the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Washington (76-69) has won a season high-tying five straight and 11 of 15 during a 19-game stretch against the three clubs below it in the division - sub-.500 teams New York, Philadelphia and Miami. After this game, the Nationals will play the Phillies and Marlins seven times as part of a 10-game homestand around a three-game set with eventual division champion Atlanta.
The Nationals have momentum on their side after Wednesday night's 3-0 win - their second shutout in this series. Dan Haren and four relievers combined on a three-hitter as Washington remained six games behind Cincinnati for the NL's last wild-card slot with 17 to play.
"The math keeps getting smaller and smaller," Haren said. "I don't know how many more games we can lose."
Tanner Roark (5-0, 0.94 ERA) will try to follow up a positive first major league start and help the Nationals potentially gain a half-game on the idle Reds. The rookie right-hander scattered four hits in a crisp 71-pitch effort over six scoreless innings in Saturday's 9-2 win at Miami to start Washington's current win streak."The story really was Roark. He really pitched a great game," manager Davey Johnson said. "It's one thing to have great stuff, but he has great command. He throws it like Satchel Paige ."
One of Roark's other nine appearances came Aug. 31 against the Mets (64-80), who reached him for one run and three hits with three walks in 3 1-3 innings. He is trying to become the first rookie in franchise history to win his first six decisions since Kirk Rueter began 10-0 with the Expos in 1993-94.
Center fielder Denard Span will try to extend the majors' longest active hitting streak to a career-high 23 games after getting a first-inning single Wednesday. He has never faced Aaron Harang , who will make his Mets debut.
Harang went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts this year with Seattle before being released on Aug. 30. New York signed the veteran right-hander to a minor league deal the next day, giving him the opportunity to use the season's final weeks as an audition for teams needing a starter in 2014.
"We had some other teams, but the biggest thing here was getting to finish off the season in a rotation," he told the Mets' official website. "Just to finish out my season on a strong note I think was the biggest thing."
Harang is 1-3 with a 3.92 ERA in eight starts versus the Expos-Nationals franchise, suffering a 3-1 loss in his most recent outing on Sept. 19, 2012. Adam LaRoche is 7 for 31 with three homers and three doubles lifetime versus Harang.
Washington's last four-game sweep at Citi Field came Sept. 12-15, 2011.
|September 08, 2013||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Left hip soreness|
|August 22, 2013||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Back stiffness|
|August 17, 2013||Taylor Jordan||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 13, 2013||Wilson Ramos||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left hamstring|
|August 11, 2013||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Right knee|
|August 01, 2013||Ross Ohlendorf||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|New York Mets|
|September 10, 2013||Justin Turner||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|September 09, 2013||Scott Rice||60-Day DL||Sports hernia|
|September 02, 2013||Ike Davis||60-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|September 01, 2013||Ike Davis||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right oblique|
|August 27, 2013||Matt Harvey||15-Day DL||Torn right UCL - out for season|
|August 26, 2013||Matt Harvey||Day-to-Day||Torn right elbow ligament|
NEW YORK (AP) -- As bad as his back felt Thursday, Davey Johnson was all smiles after what most likely was his final trip to New York as a big league manager.
His Nationals made it real easy for him to grin.
Ryan Zimmerman , Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos homered off Aaron Harang in his Mets debut, and Washington beat New York 7-2 Thursday to complete a four-game sweep.
"A lot of fun, a lot of fun," Johnson said. "A lot of good things all around."
The 70-year-old, who is retiring after the season, led the Mets to the 1986 World Series championship and he said he enjoyed his time in the organization, not only with the big league club but also while managing in the minors. He tried to loosen up his back by walking in the outfield before batting practice.
While reminiscing about his days at old Shea Stadium, Johnson switched to the present, saying: "It would make my day if we sweep them here - it would make my year."
And the Nationals obliged, with another power display.
Anthony Rendon also connected for Washington, which outhomered the Mets 13-0 in a series that helped the Nationals remain on the fringe of the NL wild-card race. They moved within 5 1/2 games of idle Cincinnati for the final spot with the rain-interrupted win.
"We're in a place now where we got to win. Usually when you playing that type of baseball where you're forced to win, you either do or you don't. We'll see what happens the rest of the way."
Zimmerman added an RBI double in the eighth after Denard Span extended his career-best hitting streak to 23 games with a leadoff double. The Nationals won 17 of those games.
"It's fun having a guy like that at the top of the order," Zimmerman said.
The Mets have lost nine of 11 and fallen to 64-81, ensuring their fifth straight non-winning record - all at Citi Field.
"There are expectations that come when you're a big league player. And part of those expectations is the ability to execute when you need to. And we're not doing that right now," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Tanner Roark (6-0) allowed two runs and six hits in six innings of his second big league start. Roark pitched six scoreless innings Sunday against Miami.
Johnson said if the 56-minute delay had gone more than an hour, Roark wouldn't have come back in the second inning.
With the win, Roark became the first player in the franchise to win his first six decisions since Jeff Juden in 1996-97 for Montreal.
"After the third inning, I settled down," Roark said. "Offspeed and slider really worked today."
New York signed Harang (0-1) to a minor league deal on Sept. 1, less than a week after the team learned ace Matt Harvey had a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow. Harang allowed the three homers and a single in six innings, struck out 10 and walked one. The right-hander was 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts this year for the Seattle Mariners .
"I felt good with throwing some of my pitches," Harang said. "Besides really the two mistake pitches I felt really good about my day."
It was all or nothing for the Nationals against Harang until Bryce Harper singled to center with two outs in the sixth. Harang gave up only the three homers and struck out 10 before Harper's hit. Span was the only Nationals player that spent any time on the bases - he walked with one out in the third.
Zimmerman homered for the eighth time in 10 games with one out in the first, a drive to straightaway center. The Mets evened the score on Daniel Murphy 's RBI double in the bottom half.
After the delay, LaRoche hit a drive to left-center that Eric Young Jr. appeared to knock back into play with a leap at the wall. But after a video review of more than three minutes, umpires ruled a home run that gave Washington a 2-1 lead. It was LaRoche's fourth homer in 32 at-bats against Harang.
The Mets tied it again on Anthony Recker 's RBI single to left field in the fourth. The Mets might've run themselves out of a big inning when Mike Baxter was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play.
Ramos homered leading off the fifth to put Washington ahead for good. After Recker's hit, Roark retired seven of his final eight batters.
New York had runners on second and third in the seventh but Craig Stammen struck out Juan Lagares to end the chance. Rendon hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh and homered in the ninth.
NOTES: The Nationals' 13 homers were a record for a single series at Citi Field. The Yankees hit seven in 2012. ... Double-A Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez joined the Mets as a coach. He guided Binghamton to 86 wins and a trip to the Eastern League playoffs. ... The Nationals will hold a ceremony to honor the victims and first responders of Sept. 11, 2001, on Friday, when Washington opens a 10-game homestand against Philadelphia.