For Nationals, no Morse, no Storen, no offense are no problem

This is how good the fast start is for the Nationals: They have a winning record even though they have no Michael Morse, no Drew Storen and virtually no offense.

Last season, the Nationals scored 3.8 runs a game. This season, through the first 10 games, they were at 3.9.

The Nationals missed a chance at their first four-game sweep since moving to D.C. in 2005 when they lost 8-5 in 11 innings to the Reds at Nationals Park on Sunday.

But while the Nationals have new swagger, the Reds, one of the favorites in the National League Central, aren’t hitting. And Sunday was a classic example of why a team needs to protect its best hitter in the order.

The Nationals intentionally walked the Reds’ former NL MVP, Joey Votto, twice in key situations in the seventh and ninth innings to pitch to Scott Rolen. Each time, Rolen struck out.

In the 11th, when the Nationals were forced to pitch to Votto, he delivered the game-winning hit.

“Finally, they couldn’t walk Joey,’’ Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Rolen went into the game with a .111 average, and if he doesn’t hit this season, Votto is going to be the NL’s leader in walks.

Other notes from around the majors:

* The Dodgers are baseball’s hottest team, but they went 9-1 against a schedule that has the Padres and the Pirates. Considering the Dodgers won six series last September, they do have the potential for staying power. Outfielder Matt Kemp, who lost out to Ryan Braun for the NL MVP, is on a mission, leading the league in eight offensive categories, while Clayton Kershaw, the NL Cy Young Award winner, has not looked himself in his first three starts.

* The Cardinals are a popular pick in the NL Central, even without Albert Pujols, and pitching is the reason why. Jake Westbrook (0.64 ERA), Lance Lynn (1.50) and Kyle Lohse (1.35) are each 2-0. Westbrook made mechanical adjustments in his windup. Lohse’s sinker has been deadly, and he’s going to have a big season. Lynn, a transfer from the bullpen, throws a 98 mph heater with command.

* The Astros, who are in D.C. this week, were the worst team in the NL last season, but at least this season, they are hitting with runners in scoring position: They went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position Sunday, dropping their team average to. 310.

* Miami’s Omar Infante hit the first home run by a Marlin in their new ballpark, lighting up the 75-foot tall home run sculpture, which has spraying water, blinking lights and revolving dolphins. The contraption is going to be the talk of baseball. The Marlins get credit for originality and home-grown flavor, but the sculpture does look like a Las Vegas slot machine. It’s a jazzed-up version of the Liberty Bell that blinks and rocks when a Phillies player hits a home run in Philadelphia.

* The Athletics didn’t expect to have a lot of offense this year, but how long of a season will it be in Oakland? Consider that the A’s got fewer than 10 hits in each of their first 10 games for the first time since 1978, a season when they lost 93 games and were led by Mitchell Page’s .285 average.

* It’s easy to second-guess draft choices after the fact, but when the Pirates were playing the Giants in San Francisco, people were doing just that. The Pirates drafted Pedro Alvarez second overall in the 2008 draft, even though Buster Posey, who went to the Giants, and Eric Hosmer, who was chosen by the Royals, were available. Alvarez is potentially a strong power hitter, but he can’t stop striking out.

* Speaking of Posey, the Giants lost their catcher to a season-ending leg injury a year ago, and now this season, they are dealing with the loss of All-Star closer Brian Wilson, gone for the season with an elbow injury that could require reconstruction. Given that the Giants kept their deep bullpen together in the offseason, they’ll have an easier time surviving Wilson’s injury than Posey’s.

* Thanks for reading.