Nationals lineup provides little relief for opposing pitchers

I remember focusing on it last Saturday night as the Nationals battled the Padres.

Down 2-0 in the top of the seventh, the Nationals got a rally going against San Diego reliever Nick Vincent. With one out, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman smacked back-to-back doubles. Zimmerman’s hit made it Padres 2-1.

Wilson Ramos was next and forced Vincent to throw five pitches. Vincent threw Ramos two sliders and three four-seam fastballs.

Ian Desmond was watching from the on-deck circle. Vincent threw three straight sliders to Desmond. The first one was a ball and Desmond fouled off the second offering.

Vincent’s third pitch was crushed by Desmond for a two-run homer. The Nationals had erased the Padres lead and come back to lead 3-2.

That seventh inning was another example of how relentless this offense can be on an opposing pitching staff. There are no days off, or more specifically, at-bats off when they have to face the Nationals’ starting nine.

Ramos is out with a hamstring injury, placed on the 15-day disabled list June 11.

But with Ramos in the lineup, the offense is about as powerful as it can get. When left fielder Bryce Harper returns in July, it somehow has the ability to become even more lethal.

Span. Rendon. Werth. LaRoche. Zimmerman. Ramos. Desmond. Espinosa.

As I said on Sunday’s “Nats Insider,” there is no place in this lineup to take a deep breath. No place to exhale where a pitcher can take a break. That is the lineup that general manager Mike Rizzo envisioned from the beginning of the season.

Getting Zimmerman to play left field has turned out to be a keen move, getting his bat in the lineup again as his arm gets its strength back.

The starting pitching is on a huge roll, the bullpen has been consistent for a while, the offense is coming around and the defense has eliminated sloppy mistakes. All are clear-cut reasons why the Nationals have won 10 of their last 12 games.

The Nationals have put together 13 extra-base hits in the first three games of the Giants series, outscoring San Francisco 17-5. The three wins reminded me of 2012 when the Yankees turned the tables on the Nationals by winning three in a row in June. The Nationals were 39-21 when that series started. The Giants were 42-21 when this series started. Washington rebounded to win 98 games that season, best in the majors. One can expect the Giants to do likewise.

But the good thing about this surge for the Nationals’ offense is that it didn’t happen at the end of the year. It happened in June. Right fielder Jayson Werth said the Nationals are a second-half team. Can they sustain this most recent run into the second half? It remains to be seen. However, it is nice to see the offense carry its own weight and make life unpleasant for opposing pitchers.

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