- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

For months the Washington Nationals promised they were a better offensive team than they showed. They were a team that could crush doubles and home runs routinely, a team that could hang double-digits on opposing pitchers with regularity. They were missing key parts due to injury and working their way into form. But it would come.

As they sat in the dugout Wednesday night at Nationals Park, perhaps tiring from getting up every few batters to congratulate another teammate on a home run, even they had to admit what that same offense has done recently is a little ridiculous.

In the Nationals' 9-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs — a win that sealed the series, kept their National League East lead at 7½ games and lowered their magic number to clinch a divisional crown to 19 — they became just the third team in the live-ball era to hit six or more home runs in back-to-back games. In their last 24 offensive innings, they’ve hit 13 home runs.

“After about the third or fourth one tonight we were like, ‘What is going on around here?’” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who’s now hit five home runs in the last five days.

“I don’t know what it is. Whatever we’re doing we need to continue to do it everyday. Whether it’s the meals we’re eating, the cage work, you name it. Just one of those stretches that you can’t really explain. They don’t happen too often, but for some reason the last week we’ve just been scoring a ton of runs,” LaRoche said.

More specifically, the Nationals have scored 61 runs in their last eight games, outscoring their opponents in that stretch by 36.

Their pitching staff has allowed three or fewer runs in five of those games, including seven scoreless innings from Gio Gonzalez on Wednesday, en route to his 18th win of the season. But, for the first stretch this season, it has rarely mattered what their arms were doing.

“That’s just men playing against boys right now,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was ejected in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes.

“It’s no fun (facing us),” LaRoche said. “You put a guy on, walk a guy, you’ve got another threat right behind him. And the best part about it is their lineup has to face our pitchers. Right now it’s no fun on either side.”

How well is the Nationals’ offense motoring along right now? They hit back-to-back home runs on two separate occasions Wednesday night.

Roger Bernadina and Bryce Harper combined for the first set, opening a four-run third inning that would also feature LaRoche’s two-run shot. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, the Nationals’ No. 6 and No. 7 hitters, combined for the second set and are collectively honing on 40 home runs this season.

LaRoche opened the game with three straight hits, including his two-run homer in the third, for a streak of seven hits in his last seven at-bats. He walked twice in that stretch and, until a seventh-inning strikeout on Wednesday, hadn’t made an out since Monday afternoon.

And he was just one of four Nationals hitters who posted a multi-hit game.

Bernadina added two hits. Espinosa picked up two as well. Harper, who saw his batting average dip as low as .247 at one point in the season, picked up the second multi-homer game of his career and, with 17 this season, moved into a new historical context. In major league history, only Tony Conigliaro and Mel Ott hit more home runs as a teenager that Harper has this season.

“We were doing alright with the guys we had (earlier this season),” Espinosa said, his batting average a jaw-dropping .036 higher than it was three months ago. “We were still missing two or three guys at the time, but we all said ‘Wait until we get our full lineup.’… The home runs aren’t going to happen like that all the time. But the constant hard contact, that can stay around.”

“It’s a pretty hard lineup to match-up against,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “We struggled offensively a lot in the first half of the year but I knew that we had the talent to hit. We were at that low ebb in Colorado (in June) where we were hitting (.238) as a team. Now we’re up over .260 (at .262). That’s just not one or two guys. That’s everybody.”