KANSAS CITY - Nobody would suggest the Nationals lineup has functioned as one complete, perfectly in-sync unit at any point yet in this young season. At least one key hitter has been mired in a slump on any given day. And leadoff man Ben Revere has been out since his first at-bat of the season, only now on the verge of rejoining the team from the disabled list.
Yet the Nats have had more than their share of days like this, days when they score runs in bunches and coast to victory, as they did during a 13-2 trouncing of the Royals before a stunned crowd of 38,610 at Kauffman Stadium.
For all the angst over the ineffectiveness of Michael A. Taylor and Danny Espinosa and Jayson Werth, for all the concern about Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman's lack of power, for all the eyebrows raised over Bryce Harper's recent 1-for-23 skid, there remains this fact: The Nationals still are producing at the plate on a collective level.
Believe it or not, there have been more games this season in which they've scored six or more runs (11) than they've been held to two or fewer runs (eight). It may not happen on a consistent basis, but it's happening enough to win a good number of games.
"There's always ebbs and flows to the season," second baseman Daniel Murphy said. "The pistons aren't always firing at the same time. But this is a talented offense that I think is executing our plan on a consistent basis. And if you can do that, you're going to give yourselves a number of opportunities to score with traffic on the basepaths. I feel like we've been able to do that lately."
The Nationals certainly did it this afternoon, bouncing back from a gut-punch of a loss the previous night when Jonathan Papelbon blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. Six batters into this game, they already led 4-0 against Kris Medlen without having made an out.
First-inning offense has been a hallmark of this team since the opener; they've now scored 39 first-inning runs, almost twice as many as any other team in the National League. But unlike some prior occasions when they tried to make their first-inning runs hold up for hours, this time they added on plenty more.
The Nats scored four runs in the third; by that point, every member of the lineup save Taylor had at least one RBI. Then they got homers from Murphy and Harper in the fourth and fifth, plus another string of hits in the sixth that expanded their lead to a whopping 11 runs.
Harper's homer snapped a nine-game drought, hardly a lengthy power slump for most mere mortals but an eternity for the 23-year-old slugger.
"To tell you the truth, it was a terrible swing," he admitted. "But it hit my barrel, so I'll take it. I'm just trying to stay with the approach, stay with what I'm doing. It'll come. It'll fall. I'm not worried a bit."
Murphy's homer, meanwhile, was one of four hits on the afternoon, four hits that briefly left his season batting average at an unfathomable .402. (He did strike out in his final at-bat, so his average is back down to .398.)
The 31-year-old second baseman always had a reputation as a professional hitter, and he took things to a new level last October with his remarkable home run streak to close out his Mets career. This, however, is yet another cut above.
"I'd say the numbers on the board are the best start (I've ever had to a season)," Murphy said. "I don't know if it's the best I've ever felt. I try not to explain it too much. Again today, I think the perfect example is I come up for my first at-bat with runners on second and third and we've already got two runs in. So I'm getting at-bats with guys on the basepaths. When guys are out there, the margins are much smaller for pitchers."
Murphy doesn't like to talk about himself, but his teammates are happy to pick up the slack.
"Incredible," Harper said. "To be able to stay consistent like that, really just drive the ball wherever he hits it, it's just tremendous. The preparation he has day in and day out, in the cage, on the field, staying with his routine, it's something you want every teammate of yours to have, and he's got it."
Murphy has been the one constant every day this season in the Nationals lineup. Harper's two-hit day perhaps was a sign he's back on track. Zimmerman, Rendon and Werth have all started producing big hits in the last week. And Wilson Ramos quietly is hitting .364.
With Revere about to rejoin the club, the Nationals lineup is about to become complete.
"I think we've got a great lineup, one through nine," Harper said. "Even our pitchers, they rake, too. You guys didn't see that the past three days, but they rake as well. Everybody's putting in good at-bats. We're very excited about where we're at as a team right now."