Game in a nutshell: While much of the baseball world questioned the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg over the weekend, the Nationals insisted all along they had a capable late-season replacement in John Lannan. And given what Lannan did tonight -- 5 23 scoreless innings -- it's hard to find fault with the Nationals' logic. The left-hander wasn't overpowering by any means, but he threw strikes, kept the ball down in the zone and most importantly kept the Mets off the scoreboard. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond then supplied the offense with a pair of solo homers. And five relievers (Christian Garcia, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen) finished off the shutout. Yes, Burnett pitched the ninth inning to record the save, despite missing the last 10 days with elbow inflammation. With Tyler Clippard having pitched the previous two nights and a couple of left-handed hitters due up for the Mets, Davey Johnson rolled the dice and turned to Burnett. It worked, though it still required Storen recording the final out of the game to give the Nats a series sweep. And with the Braves trailing by a touchdown late in Milwaukee, the Nationals could find themselves with an 8 12-game lead in the NL East by night's end.
Hitting highlight: They tried to produce offense via small ball -- Bryce Harper laid down a sacrifice bunt with two on and nobody out, which wound up failing miserably -- but in the end the Nationals stuck with what has become their forte in recent weeks: the long ball. Zimmerman launched a solo homer to left in the fourth, his 22nd of the season. Then Desmond launched a solo homer of his own to deep left-center in the eighth, his 23rd of the season. That gave the Nationals 35 homers over their last 14 games. And boy were these two needed tonight.
Pitching highlight: Facing added pressure and scrutiny since he was officially taking over Strasburg's start, Lannan remained calm, cool and collected as always. He didn't try to be something he's not and stayed true to what has allowed him to be successful in his career: He pitched to contact and kept the ball on the ground. Twelve of the 23 batters Lannan faced hit groundballs. He issued only one walk (to the last batter he faced). And he made some big pitches when he needed to with men on base. Johnson gave him kind of an early hook (after only 81 pitches) but nobody can complain about the job Lannan did, or has done for the Nationals this year. In three big-league starts, he's now 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA.
Key stat: With his fourth-inning homer, Zimmerman recorded an RBI in his ninth straight game. That's a new franchise (ExposNationals) record.
Up next: The Nationals will fly to Atlanta late tonight, enjoy a day off tomorrow and then open a big weekend series with the Braves. Ross Detwiler faces the red-hot Kris Medlen in Friday night's 7:35 p.m. opener.