- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2011

Two months ago — maybe even two weeks ago — a game like the one the Nationals played against the Orioles on Friday night would have been out of reach after Baltimore’s fourth run crossed home plate. While the Nationals’ pitching and defense have been their strong suits this season, it was no secret that their offense lagged behind.

But these are not the Nationals of two weeks ago, and they’re certainly not the same ones from two months ago. These Nationals have averaged more than eight runs per game since they’ve returned home on Tuesday and these Nationals didn’t let 18 Orioles’ hits derail their quest for an 8-4 victory, their seventh in a row.

Washington is now tied for third place in the National League East with the New York Mets and are 4 ½ games out in the NL Wild Card race.

“Oh yeah, this game, we had no chance earlier in the year,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “The way they were hitting? The four runs they scored would have been too much earlier because we were scoring one, two or none and we knew we were better than that.”

The Orioles’ 18 hits were the most the Nationals had ever allowed in a victory since relocating to D.C. Starter Jason Marquis allowed four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, but it would’ve been just two had Todd Coffey not allowed two inherited runners to score — and tie the game.  

The Nationals’ offense responded in the sixth with three more runs and Roger Bernadina tacked on an insurance solo-shot in the eighth.

“They were aggressive,” Marquis said of the Orioles hit-parade. “Real aggressive. Obviously with the amount of hits and batters I faced and limited amount of pitches I had thrown, they came out aggressive.

“Days like these, you’ve got to really dig deep and limit the damage and keep the team in the game so they can have a chance to win the game. Ultimately, that’s what I had to do tonight. Not every game is going to be easy.”

The Nationals have won in so many different ways on their current seven-game streak that they are making it look pretty easy, especially offensively.

They collected 10 hits Friday night, with leadoff hitter Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman going a combined 2-for-10 and the red-hot Michael Morse going 0-for-3. Ian Desmond was 2-for-3 with two RBI and Jerry Hairston was 3-for-3 with an RBI. 

“I really think the lineup change has affected all of us,” Desmond said. “I think a lot of players have to give it to Riggleman and to Jayson for accepting it. That’s been really big for us, because Jayson’s up there seeing a lot of pitches to start the game. It’s really turned around the lineup nicely.”

The Nationals will insist that they were playing good baseball long before they began reeling off victory after victory. But until the hitting came around, there was simply no margin for error and it was reflected in their record. Finally, though, that record (34-36) backs up their assertions.

“Guys are tired of hearing about how good they’re playing but we’re not winning games,” Riggleman said. “It’s just the nature of the game. If you play good, eventually you’re going to win games and we’ve done that here lately.”

Two more wins and the Nationals will have climbed back to a .500 record for the first time since May 11. They’re not in the heat of a division race, or a playoff race for that matter, just yet. But there hasn’t been a streak longer than this going in Washington since the Nationals inaugural campaign in the district. 

“Listen,” Hairston said. “It’s a long season. We never want to get ahead of ourselves. Focus on series. If we focus on winning series, hopefully we’ll put ourselves in position where, come September, we’re in the hunt.”

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