Very little about this Washington Nationals season has unfolded as expected. Four days from August they sit three games under .500 and 81 / 2 games back of first place in a weak National League East. Their talented lineup has dragged down the rest of the team. Mediocre opposing pitchers have baffled Nationals hitters. One of their biggest offseason acquisitions a leadoff hitter is no longer their everyday leadoff hitter. Their highest-paid pitcher is enduring one of the worst seasons of his career.

On Saturday after a busy and eventful week the Nationals flipped several season-long trends on their heads in a 4-1 win over the New York Mets. The offense erupted for three home runs including a two-run shot by Bryce Harper. The lineup finally solved middling Dillon Gee after poor hitting displays against him all season. Denard Span snapped a long four-month power drought with his first home run of the season. Dan Haren tossed seven strong innings another encouraging development in his second-half improvement.

The Nationals began the second half of their season in horrid fashion: a six-game losing streak the demotion of their former closer Drew Storen and the firing of hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Entering Saturday a 2-7 stretch since the All-Star Game had created a larger feeling of uneasiness about this team. But much like spot starter Ross Ohlendorf did the night before Haren stemmed the tide. Haren said the Nationals’ morale hit a season low following an 11-0 drubbing by the Mets in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader.

“We don’t have any time for hitting rock bottom anymore” he said. “That’s it. If we’re going to hit rock bottom that was it and we have to go from there.”

Haren whose performance could be one of the determining factors of the Nationals’ second half allowed only one run on three hits two of them in the sixth inning. He commanded his fastball better than in past starts keeping his pitches mostly low in the strike zone. He maintained a larger gap in between his fastballs which averaged 89 mph and his 85-mph cutters and 83-mph split-fingers. He needed 103 pitches to carve through seven innings walking into the dugout after the 21st out to the applause of a frustrated fan base. The two hardest hits balls he allowed — towering shots by David Wright — went foul. Saturday was Haren’s first win since May 9.