PHILADELPHIA -- There was nothing on the field Wednesday night hiding the fact that the Nationals' 7-2 win over the Phillies was a matchup of one team's veteran ace and the other's youthful No. 5.
Max Scherzer was dominant from the outset as he led the Nats to a three-game sweep of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. He pitched eight innings and struck out 11. The only runs he gave up came on a Tyler Goeddel two-run homer to left in the seventh. It was the 39th time in Scherzer's career he's struck out at least 10. The Nats considered removing him from the game after the seventh but Scherzer convinced them to leave him in the game for one more inning.
Adam Morgan was effective early, needing only 65 pitches to get through five innings. But Washington torched him for four runs in the sixth. Home runs from Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa did the damage. The Nats tacked on one more after Daniel Murphy tripled and was driven home on a Ryan Zimmerman sac fly. Murphy couldn't be cooled off this series, reaching and scoring twice on Wednesday and finishing the series 6-for-12 with four RBIs and four extra-base hits -- just two fewer than the Phillies had as a team.
"Adam Morgan, he seems like he's on the verge of getting through it, but then he makes mistakes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Too many mistakes out over the plate, up in the zone."
Philadelphia has now lost six straight and 10 of its last 12. With Wednesday's loss, the Phillies fell under .500 for the first time since they were 9-10 on April 24. They entered the series in third place in the NL East, 3 1/2 games back of Washington. The Nationals' sweep not only gives them breathing room over the Mets, but also knocked the Phillies into fourth place behind the Marlins.
"We know where we need to go," Mackanin said. "We know we're not there. We'd like to be where the Cubs are with their young players."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Max poetic: It is becoming a customary start for Scherzer where he dominates for much of the game, accumulating strikeouts and keeping hitters off-balance. But when he does get hit, the ball leaves the yard. At times he can pitch to both extremes, and have games where he strikes out 20 (such as May 11 against the Tigers) or allows four homers (as he did May 6 against the Cubs). But Scherzer was stellar for much of his eight-inning performance Wednesday, where he held the Phillies to five hits and struck out 11, making the one mistake to Goeddel for the home run.
"The few bad outings he's had, he's basically leaving pitches over the plate, which has been obvious," Ramos said. "But when Max is Max, he attacks the zone and throws a lot of strikes and is very aggressive. And it just shows with an outing like today why he's had a lot of success, because of his aggressiveness."
Phlashing the leather: The Phillies have put on a defensive spectacle this series, despite getting swept. Each night they turned in better plays than the last. Goeddel's throw to double off Bryce Harper on Monday. On Tuesday, Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis combined to turn "one of the best double plays you're ever going to see," according to Mackanin. But the Phils put a bow on their defensive performance in the series finale. Galvis first made an impressive sliding, over-the-shoulder grab in shallow center. David Lough followed with a diving catch to rob Scherzer in the fourth, and topped that off with a tumble in right field foul territory on a Jayson Werth pop in the seventh.
Morgan efficient ... until the 6th: Morgan needed only 65 pitches to get through the first five innings, allowing two of six baserunners to score. But Washington blew the game wide open in the sixth, its first two batters reaching before Ramos homered them in. Espinosa followed two batters later with a solo shot to make it 6-0. Morgan left having allowed six runs on nine hits, though he did strike out six.
"He's got stuff. There's a lot of guys that have stuff," Mackanin said. "But in order to be successful, you can't make mistakes. You have to keep the ball down in the zone and hit the corners."
"It's keeping the ball down," Morgan said. "It's a simple fix, but it's easier said than done." More >
Power strokes: One has been one of the Nationals' hottest hitters, and the other has struggled for much of the season but appears to have found his power swing. Ramos, who is hitting .338, hammered his third hit of the night over the right-field fence for a three-run blast, giving him four RBIs. Two batters later, Espinosa homered for the fourth time in the last seven games.
"That's what you want. You don't want to just depend on one part of the order that comes through every 2 1/2 innings," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You try to stack your lineup on guys and how they're going -- who's kind of hot, who's kind of cold -- then back them up with guys that can offset other guys. So we're not hot yet. But we're winning some games in the meantime." More >
"He's a kind of guy where you have to go in there because if you don't, he's gonna hit it. It was not intentional. I was trying to get in there to open up the outside of the plate." -- Morgan, on Murphy's reaction to being hit with the first pitch he saw Wednesday
With one down in the third, Murphy poked a Morgan fastball into shallow center. Galvis and Hernandez both gave chase, and Galvis made a spectacular, sliding, over-the-shoulder catch. He quickly got up and fired the ball to first, where he came within a replay review of a highlight-reel double play. But when the Phillies challenged the safe call at first, it was upheld upon further review. The review took 2 minutes, 15 seconds. Mackanin is 10-for-19 on challenges this season.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: After an off-day on Thursday, the Nats travel to Cincinnati for the second leg of their three-city, nine-game road trip which begins on Friday night at 7:10 p.m. ET. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will take the mound, trying to bounce back from the two worst outings of his season where he has allowed 13 runs in 9 2/3 innings.
Phillies: The Phillies host Milwaukee for four games at Citizens Bank Park beginning Thursday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Jerad Eickhoff (2-7, 4.07 ERA) starts for the Phillies, opposing the Brewers' Chase Anderson (2-6, 5.00 ERA).