It’s hardly surprising that the Boston Red Sox have won their last four series and are beginning to assert themselves as the AL’s top team.
The Washington Nationals’ back-to-back series victories, on the other hand, were a bit less predictable.
The Nationals have taken two of three from a pair of Boston’s AL East rivals, and now they’ll get a crack at the division leaders Tuesday night as the Red Sox open their first three-game series in the nation’s capital since 1971.
Boston (42-27) has won 13 of 18 games in June, a hot stretch that has expanded its division lead from a half-game over the New York Yankees to four full games.
One of the teams the Red Sox can thank for that is the Nationals (20-47). Losers of 24 of 29 games from May 15-June 14, Washington took its final two games from the Yankees in the Bronx last week, then followed that with wins against Toronto on Friday and Saturday.
The Nationals had their season-high four-game run snapped on Sunday with a 9-4 loss to the Blue Jays, but still felt positive with the Red Sox preparing to make their first visit to Washington since beating the Senators on Sept. 19, 1971.
“You’re going to go through a bad period, and we went through a very long bad period,” manager Manny Acta said prior to Sunday’s loss. “And now certain things are clicking, and our starting pitching has a lot of to do with it.”
The best of those starters has been John Lannan(notes) (4-5, 3.38 ERA), the only non-rookie in Washington’s rotation. Lannan was on the hill for the beginning of the Nationals’ winning streak, allowing two runs and four hits over a season-high 8 1-3 innings Wednesday in a 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium.
“(I wanted to finish the game) really bad - really, really bad,” Lannan told the Nationals’ official Web site. “I got a little adrenaline pumping toward the end and made some pitches that were up. The whole time, I was calm. In that last inning, I was really pumped up.”
Lannan has never faced Boston, but the Red Sox had hardly been in sync offensively heading into their series finale against Atlanta.
After averaging 6.6 runs while winning seven of eight from June 9-17, Boston had scored six runs in its next three games. The Red Sox equaled that total on Sunday as Nick Green’s(notes) walk-off homer gave manager Terry Francona’s club a 6-5 victory.
Green, a non-roster player at the start of spring training now entrenched at shortstop, is hitting .293 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 52 games.
“He’s really done a good job,” Francona said. “It’s gotten to the point where he’s just been a really good player, not a really good non-roster player, a really good major-league player.”
Boston has a 3.24 ERA in June, and its starter Tuesday hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last two outings. Brad Penny(notes) (6-2, 4.94) didn’t get a decision after tossing six shutout innings against the Yankees on June 11, but he had better luck Wednesday against Florida, allowing an unearned run and three hits in five innings in a 6-1 win.
Penny is 12-5 with a 2.54 ERA in 20 starts against the Nationals’ franchise, whom he hasn’t faced since 2007.