Bill Ladson

Murphy helps 1st-place Nats build 2nd-half pep

Murphy helps 1st-place Nats build 2nd-half pep

WASHINGTON -- Tell infielder Daniel Murphy that he carried the Nationals into first place in the National League East, six games ahead of the Mets before the All-Star break, and he will stop the conversation and say teammates such as Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and the starting pitching staff played a bigger role in the team's success.

"The list is too many. I'm just a small piece of it. I'm really excited to help us win games," Murphy said after the Nationals edged the Mets, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker sees things a little differently than Murphy. It was Murphy that gave Washington a 2-0 lead over New York in the first inning by hitting a two-run homer against left-hander Steven Matz. Murphy ended up going 1-for-4, but he had a first half for the ages, hitting .348 with 17 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .387 on-base percentage.

"He is unbelievable," Baker said about Murphy. "He is even amazing some of our guys. You have a guy like that who is carrying you, you want other guys that we know can pick it up in the second half. Boy, that was a very good weekend for us."

Double-play partner Danny Espinosa is also amazed by what Murphy has done this season.

Murphy's two-run homer

"His hitting speaks for itself," Espinosa said. "Everything he has done has been unbelievable. He has given us the lead many times. It's real impressive."

By taking three out of four games from the Mets, the Nationals matched the 1994 Expos (54-33) for the most wins prior to the All-Star break in franchise history. Left fielder Jayson Werth believes Baker is the reason for team's success.

"It was a good first half. We played good baseball," Werth said. We still haven't played our best baseball. The team is starting to mesh, things are starting to fall into place. I think Dusty has done a good job of pulling the right strings. He took his time with learning his team and getting to know his team. He was real meticulous how he went about it. He didn't push the issue anywhere. He was real patient. It's one of the things that really set us apart."

During the All-Star break, Baker is planning to go fishing, get a massage "and just chill" in Maryland. But after the break, Baker wants his players to be itching to get back to work starting Thursday.

"We are a good ballclub. We are solid up and down," Espinosa said. "We'll pick up where we left off in the second half and keep playing good ball."

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.