National League baseball at its best

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There were no slugfests, no double digit scores, no walk-off hits or homers, but the Nationals' series win over the first-place Braves this week was crisp, fundamental and exciting baseball the way both leagues used to play.

They were the kind of games Jim Riggleman talks about frequently, calling it "clean" baseball with good pitching, solid defense and enough timely hitting to take two out of three from a club that appears to be headed for postseason play.

With a break or two Wednesday night, Washington could have even swept the series.

It all got started under unusual circumstances Tuesday when Stephen Strasburg was scratched and Miguel Batista had to make an emergency start on a few minutes' notice. Batista was brilliant through five scoreless innings and the bullpen was almost perfect for four more. Sean Burnett gave up two hits, Drew Storen and Matt Capps none, and there were no walks and four strikeouts.

Just enough offense was provided by Nyjer Morgan as he singled and stole his way from first to second to third to home, then Ian Desmond drove in two with a second inning single. In two hours and twenty-four minutes the Nats shut out Atlanta 3-0.

Wednesday the Braves prevailed 3-1 behind the excellent Tim Hudson, but had the Nats handled an Atlanta double steal better, Adam Kennedy not hit into a double play with runners on first and third in the third, and had his drive not hit Hudson in the leg in the fifth, our team might have won it. An inch here and a bounce there were the difference in the game.

Thursday saw the triumphant return of Scott Olsen and he handled the Braves with just two earned runs on five hits until the rain came in the sixth. Little things like Michael Morse's ground ball in the second that drove in a run and Wil Nieves' contact for a single in the fourth, gave the Nats three of their runs. Home run blasts by Ian Desmond and Adam Dunn provided the rest. Time of the game: 2 hours and 33 minutes.

Washington made just one error in the series, a questionable scorer's call on a hot shot that got by Desmond in the sixth inning Thursday, so it was a solid performance by the much-maligned Nats defense.

These are the kinds of games the National Legaue has thrived upon for many years, and it's good to see that in 2010, pitching and defense seem to be making a comeback.

It often seems our team plays to the level of its NL East competition, going 5-4 versus Atlanta, 7-5 against New York, 4-5 with Florida and 2-4 to Philadelphia, good enough for an even 18-18 against a very tough division. With the Phillies coming in this weekend, it's time to show them the Nationals are a different team at home.
It takes everyone to contribute to a winning-type ballclub and the Nats are suddenly playing that brand of baseball again. It also helps to have a red hot hitter come in off the bench and get RBI hits, then do the same when he gets the chance to start a few games.

Need I say Morse?