The sounds of a playoff push, the signs of a potent lineup

Get this: When Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have both been in the starting lineup this season, the Nationals are 44-21 (.677).

That’s a 110-win pace. Not too shabby.

Given the way things have been going lately, the Nats could seemingly win 110 games and still end up taking the National League East by a slim margin. While Washington has won 11 of its last 13, the Braves keep on matching them, and with their 11-inning walkoff win last night, they’ve now won 11 of their last 15.

The battle between the Nats and Braves has made things pretty exciting, even though we still have six weeks left in the regular season. That excitement was plenty evident last night when Morse crushed a grand slam in the fourth inning, causing Nats Park to explode with noise.

Despite the announced paid attendance of 34,827 last night, there were very few empty seats visible, and the crowd went nuts both when Morse’s grand slam left the park and when the outfielder came out for a curtain call.

In those moments, it felt like the playoff chase was on.

“That was live. That was awesome,” Jayson Werth said. “This is what makes it fun. I’ve been in this situation a few times before, and this is what it’s all about. You play all season to put yourself in this situation. This is what it’s all about. This is why you play your whole life, for this situation.”

For the second time this season, Werth found himself starting in the leadoff spot last night, a spot in which he has some, but not a ton, of experience.

In those two games hitting leadoff this season, Werth is 4-for-8 with three runs scored, a double, an RBI and a walk. Very small sample size, but Werth’s ridiculous 2012 on-base percentage of .417 has come over a larger sample size.

In addition, with Ian Desmond back in the six spot in the order, things seemed to flow nicely with Werth hitting out of that leadoff spot, setting the table for what’s become a pretty potent 1-8 in the Nationals order.

“Jayson’s a heck of a leadoff guy,” Davey Johnson said. “He takes a lot of pitches, works the pitcher, he can take you out of the ballpark, his on-base percentage is off the charts and he doesn’t mind leading off.”

Johnson has lauded Werth’s more aggressive approach at the plate this season, which has allowed him to attack pitches over the plate early in the count instead of automatically finding himself in deep counts every at-bat. But Werth still sees 4.3 pitches per plate appearance on average, the most on the team, giving the hitters behind him a good look at the guy on the mound.

“Whether you drive the ball or hit the ball out of the yard or get hit, whatever, I think the most important thing is getting on base for your teammates,” Werth said. “If that means I’m going to hit leadoff and do that, that’s fine. If I’m going to hit sixth and do that, that’s fine, too. I’ll hit anywhere. But I like the way it sets up, especially against a lefty.”

For what it’s worth, Werth’s teammates seem to appreciate the fact that a guy who has spent the bulk of his career hitting more towards the middle of the order is willing to bat atop the order. It’s an adjustment, but one that Werth has made willingly.

“When you can put a guy who has done what he’s done like Jayson Werth in the leadoff spot with no complaints, when he comes out and produces, that speaks volumes about the kind of character we have in here,” Desmond said. “Guys are just willing to do whatever they have to do to by any means. And we’re playing winning baseball. So it’s been great.”

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