- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

MIAMI | The reason behind the Florida Marlins‘ complete dismantling of the Washington Nationals this season is both maddeningly difficult to comprehend and not all that surprising on closer inspection.

A Marlins team that is hovering just above the .500 mark shouldn’t dominate the Nationals quite to this extent - 12 wins in 14 head-to-head matchups following Saturday night’s 4-2 win at Dolphin Stadium - and the disparity leaves some members of Washington’s clubhouse scratching their heads in disbelief.

“I don’t know,” center fielder Lastings Milledge replied when asked why Florida has his team’s number. “It’s a good question.”

Really, though, the answer is right there on the stat sheet. It’s underneath the column entitled “HR.” The Marlins hit home runs. The Nationals do not.

“They’ve got eight guys with 20 home runs,” Nationals reliever Joel Hanrahan said.

Hanrahan’s number is a tad exaggerated. Only five Florida players have surpassed the 20-homer mark this season. But it sure feels like anyone manager Fredi Gonzalez sends to the plate against Washington is capable of hitting the ball out.

In the 14 games between these two clubs this year, the Marlins have clubbed 23 homers. The Nationals have totaled nine. For the season, Florida has 192 homers to Washington’s 110.

“Power kills, and they have it,” manager Manny Acta said. “We have to put together a few hits to score a few runs, and with just one swing they put two on the board.”

That was Florida’s path to victory Saturday night. An otherwise evenly played ballgame went in favor of the home team because of a pair of two-run homers early off Tim Redding. Washington’s lineup, meanwhile, was kept within the confines of the park for the second straight night.

Like the Nationals as a whole, Redding (10-9) hasn’t enjoyed much individual success against the Marlins this season. The right-hander entered with a 6.20 ERA in four previous starts, and that number didn’t include the six unearned runs he surrendered in an April 7 loss at Nationals Park.

“I don’t really know what the approach to them is, because they have my number this year,” he said. “They’ve been able to hit the ball around the ballpark on us as a team all year. You’ve just got to hopefully catch them on a day where your stuff as a pitcher is electric and they’re popping up a lot of balls instead of hitting them out.”

They weren’t popping them out Saturday night.

Jorge Cantu, who became the Marlins’ fourth infielder to reach the 25-homer mark during Friday’s victory, added another to his total with a two-run shot off Redding in the first. One inning later, Hanley Ramirez duplicated the feat, sending a two-run shot into the left-field bleachers for his 30th homer of the year.

Just like that, the Marlins led 4-0 and Redding looked headed for a long night. But the veteran did manage to settle down following the inauspicious start, kept the opposition from scoring again before he left after the sixth and actually gave the Nationals a chance to come back.

“I didn’t make two pitches,” Redding said. “I mean, I didn’t make more than two, but the two pitches I didn’t make that they wound up hitting cost us four runs.”

Overpowered by Florida right-hander Josh Johnson for much of the night, Washington’s lineup didn’t put forth much resistance. Johnson struck out five of the first 10 men he faced and carried a shutout into the sixth.

Finally, with two outs the Nationals mounted their first rally of the game. Back-to-back singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Milledge brought Elijah Dukes to the plate, and the club’s most-productive offensive player nearly brought his team back to within a run. Alas, his moon shot to left grazed the wall and came back into play, though Washington happily took the two-run double.

That’s as close as the Nationals would get. A quartet of Florida relievers finished off what Johnson started, and Washington was dealt yet another loss to a division rival it just hasn’t been able to figure out in 2008.

“The power has a lot to do with it, but stats don’t lie,” Acta said. “They also have pitched better than us. … They have outplayed us.”

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