The Nationals, who moved from Montreal to Washington in the offseason, finished a 5-2 homestand with a 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. They won four of those games by one run, and are five games over .500 for the first time since the Expos were 81-76 on Sept. 22, 2003.
Washington begins a nine-game road trip trailing the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves by a half game.
“Excellent homestand. You couldn’t ask for much more under any circumstance,” manager Frank Robinson said. “I don’t care who we had out on the field.”
Jamey Carroll, batting .324 in 13 starts in place of second baseman Jose Vidro (ankle), went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI for the short-handed Nationals, who have nine players on the injured list.
“This team has a lot of heart. They believe in themselves,” Robinson said. “They believe in each other. They believe they’re going to win ballgames, and they’re going out there and winning ballgames.”
Robinson refused to place much importance on the upcoming series and hopes the Nationals will instead face the nearby Baltimore Orioles on a yearly basis starting next year.
He doesn’t expect the team’s reception in Toronto to be much different than the norm.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “We’re not going to Montreal. We’re going to Toronto. I’m sure there’ll be a few people down from Montreal, ex-Expos fans. But I don’t think there’ll be a significant amount. Hopefully we won’t have any problems going across the border, win some ball games and come on back.”
Claudio Vargas will start for the Nationals on two day’s rest in place of John Patterson (back). The 6-foot-3 right-hander lasted just 1 1-3 innings and allowed six runs in Tuesday’s 8-2 loss to the Brewers.
Robinson is not ready to give up on Vargas, who was making his second start of the season after spending time on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow.
“I think we can get a better read on him after four or five more starts,” Robinson said.
He will be opposed by struggling left-hander Ted Lilly, who has not made it out of the second inning in his last two starts, and is 1-3 with a 14.26 ERA in his last five.
Toronto lost 4-0 to the Minnesota Twins on Thursday to record its first losing road trip of the season (2-4). The Blue Jays, who open a nine-game homestand, went a team-best 10-8 in Interleague play last season. They lead the all-time series with the Nationals franchise 24-19, including a 14-9 mark at home.