New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova, left, reacts after...

New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova, left, reacts after being pulled during the eighth inning. (June 17, 2012) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- A series in which the Nationals hoped to make a statement didn't go as planned.

The Yankees?

It would be almost unfair if they started hitting consistently with runners in scoring position.

At this point, it seems to be their lone problem.

Continuing their torrid play, the Yankees, with home runs by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano backing the outstanding pitching of Ivan Nova, completed a three-game sweep of the NL East-leading Nationals with a 4-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 41,442.

It was the Yankees' ninth straight victory and 19th win in 23 games.

"It's always good when you have everything coming together," said Cano, whose 12th homer of the season, a shot to centerfield off lefthander Tom Gorzelanny, made it 3-1 in the seventh. "We have a great team."

Facing starter Edwin Jackson (3-4), Granderson produced a 2-1 lead in the fifth with his 21st homer as the Yankees (40-25) swept their third straight series, all against NL East teams. The last time they swept three straight series of at least three games was June 30-July 12, when they took three from the Phillies and Orioles and four from the Rays.

Said Joe Girardi, "You just feel like your guys are going to get it done when you're playing as well as we are."

His team opens a three-game series against the Braves -- who were swept by the Yankees last week in Atlanta -- Monday night at the Stadium.

"When you get a winning streak, you want to keep it going," said Mark Teixeira, who had three hits, including two doubles, and a sacrifice fly. "Pitching's contagious, hitting's contagious and we've just been enjoying playing the game the last few weeks."

Girardi said of achieving the streak against teams that were playing well -- the Mets, Braves and Nationals -- "If you pitch, you're probably going to win. It just tells you how well we're pitching."

Derek Jeter added: "It starts with our pitching. Even when we haven't scored a lot of runs, they've kept us in the games."

Nova (9-2, 4.32) was the latest pitcher to star in a rotation that's been churning out good starts the way this city churns out political discord. The unit is 11-1 with three no-decisions and a 2.05 ERA in June.

Nova won for the fifth straight start, allowing one run and seven hits in 72/3 innings. The righthander, who walked one and struck out four, has won 21 of his last 23 decisions.

Nova tipped his cap to the vocal delegation of Yankees fans in attendance as he left the mound with two outs in the eighth. "I feel really good," he said. "I've got five in a row but we have nine in a row. I'm so happy with the way we've been throwing the ball. Everyone's doing the job."

Girardi said Nova "made a couple of mistakes today, and that was about it. He had good command of his fastball, had a good curveball today. His slider was OK and he got quick outs."

Boone Logan retired Adam LaRoche, who had homered and doubled off Nova, to end the eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth for his 13th save in 14 tries.

"I think it was a great experience for the ballclub, playing the Yankees," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, whose team is 38-26. "That's a good way to get a quick education, and I thought we did all right.''

For the Yankees, the day's only blemish was their 0-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position, making them 2-for-30 the last two games here. They came in hitting .221 this season with RISP.

"We're not happy about that," Teixeira said. "I wish I could tell you the issue. We just have to be better at hitting with runners in scoring position, but our pitchers have picked us up. Our pitchers have picked us up all year, and if it's not for them being so good, we're not in first place right now."

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