Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann grew up in Auburndale, Wisc., a small town about a three-hour drive from Milwaukee. Needless to say, most of his friends back home are Brewers fans. And they probably aren't too happy with their native son right now.

Zimmermann put together his fourth consecutive start with two runs allowed or fewer Monday at Nationals Park as Washington cruised to a 12-2 matinee victory that boosted its chances of winning the National League East title and dealt another blow to Milwaukee's playoff hopes.

Ryan Zimmerman hit his second three-run home run in three games and drove in four runs, and Jayson Werth and Kurt Suzuki each had two RBIs. Zimmermann pitched 6 2/3 innings of four-hit ball, walked two batters and struck out seven.

The Nats improved to 93-60 and inched five games ahead of the idle Atlanta Braves in the NL East with just nine to play. The Brewers, meanwhile, fell to 79-74 and were temporarily three games back of St. Louis, which holds the second and final NL wild-card berth.

"It's definitely good to beat the Brewers," Zimmermann said. "Everyone back home was probably cheering for the Brewers, so hopefully I put them in their place a little bit."

And just like that, a pitcher who had scuffled in August with a 4.39 ERA in five starts even before the worst start of his career -- an eight-run effort Sept. 1 against St. Louis -- is back on track. Zimmermann has allowed six runs in his last four starts (24 2/3 innings). The only damage Milwaukee inflicted upon him Monday was a solo home run by Corey Hart in the second inning.

"[Zimmermann] looked dominant again. He's been tough all year," Werth said. "He has been one of the best pitchers in the league, and he showed it again today."

Zimmermann even had a strong day at the plate. He singled in the third inning, and then -- with runners at first and second and two down in the fourth -- Zimmermann singled to center to drive home teammate Roger Bernadina and start a six-run rally that essentially put the game out of reach.

"They take batting practice every single day. So they should be able to hit," Desmond joked of his team's pitchers. "I don't think there's a pitching staff in the big leagues that does that."

Werth followed with a two-run double, Bryce Harper walked and then Ryan Zimmerman blasted a three-run homer to center off former teammate Marco Estrada. He later singled home another run in the eighth, with a second run scoring on an error. And the organization inched closer to its first division title since moving to Washington in 2005. Its magic number to clinch is now five.

"We had a long ways to go a month or so ago when everyone started talking about it," Ryan Zimmerman said. "We still have a little ways to go. But if we keep playing baseball the way we've been playing, hopefully it'll happen soon."