PHOENIX -- As much as the Nationals have been winning since the All-Star break, the Braves have stayed right on their heels.Washington entered Sunday's series finale at Chase Field having won eight straight, 10 of 12 in August and 22 of 31 since the All-Star break. But the Nats haven't pulled away in the National League East, as Atlanta has won seven of its last 10 and 20 of 28 since the Midsummer Classic. Put another way: The Nationals were four games ahead of the Braves at the break, and despite a torrid stretch of baseball, particularly on the road, their NL East lead has only increased half a game. "We think there's nothing we can do about it," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I don't want to see anybody change anything. I don't want us to start having to try to play harder or play better because the Braves are winning. If they happen to keep it going, then obviously we need to. "It's impressive that they're not falling behind at all. They're a really good team. They had some streaks earlier in the year where they were struggling. ... They're playing just as good as we are right now, but that doesn't affect us." Manager Davey Johnson noted Saturday night that the Nats could play .500 baseball the rest of the way and still finish 95-67. The Braves, meanwhile, would have to win 29 of their final 49 games to tie Washington with 95 wins. But the Nationals, obviously, have higher aspirations than a 24-24 finish. "We don't need anybody keeping us honest," Johnson said.
Nats bullpen beaming with confidence
PHOENIX -- Ryan Mattheus said Saturday night that the Nationals bullpen's confidence is "at an all-time high." And with the way all seven relievers have proven capable of handling big situations, it's hard to blame them for feeling that way.Mattheus pitched in a key spot in the seventh inning of Saturday night's 6-5 win, getting two groundouts with the tying run on second. Tom Gorzelanny did so earlier, coming in for Edwin Jackson. Michael Gonzalez pitched the eighth for Sean Burnett, walked two hitters and got out of the inning to set up Tyler Clippard's 24th save. Even without Sean Burnett or Drew Storen available, the Nats' bullpen twirled 3 1/3 scoreless innings, despite putting a runner in scoring position three straight innings. "That's great. But I think, seriously, with the way everybody out there is pitching, you could put anybody in that situation," Gonzalez said. "You could put whoever you want. Tommy could have kept going. That's just how confident the bullpen is right now. You've obviously seen the numbers. They're throwing the ball well. "I really feel this bullpen ... just don't mess with it. It's one of those kind of things where everyone is throwing the ball so well the confidence is through the roof. I think that's the thing that's key." Consider this: The seven relievers currently in the Nats' bullpen have ERAs ranging from 1.81 (Burnett) to 3.35 (Gorzelanny). Their overall bullpen ERA of 3.31 ranks sixth in the National League, although that number is inflated by high marks posted by Henry Rodriguez (5.83), Brad Lidge (9.64), Ryan Perry (10.13) and Chien-Ming Wang (10.50). "We've got so many guys that can do so many different things down there. That's what makes it so good," Clippard said. "We don't have a lot of guys who throw 100, but we have a lot of guys that can pitch. That's what those big situations call for, guys that know what to throw in the right situations, and that's what we have."
Flores snaps Nats' drought behind dish
PHOENIX -- Jesus Flores throwing out a would-be basestealer in the bottom of the fourth inning of Saturday's 6-5 win over the D-backs might not have been the most important play of the game. It probably saved Edwin Jackson a few pitches, kept a runner out of scoring position and allowed him to work a quicker inning after laboring through three long ones.But those plays have been few and far between this season for the Nationals, so Flores' throw was appreciated by Jackson and manager Davey Johnson. "I don't know how many straight [opponents] have stolen, 30 or something?" Johnson said. "It was great to get that one and get that monkey off our back." The Nationals hadn't caught a runner stealing this month, and they've only caught two since June 15. Flores has thrown out five of 50 runners this season, and the Nationals' 14 runners caught stealing ranks second to last in baseball, ahead of only the Pirates. They've given up 84 stolen bases, with a 85.7 success rate that is also the second-worst in the Majors. "That throw out at second was huge for us to get out of that inning. He did a great job back there," Jackson said. "Anytime you can battle through with a pitcher and you throw 100-plus pitches through five, it's a credit to the catcher for sticking with you and trying to keep you on track. He did an excellent job."