Balanced lineup delivers for Nats in latest win over Braves

There are going to be nights when the Nationals need to rely on Bryce Harper to carry the load, but they want those to be few and far between. They'd much rather be able to count on the depth of their lineup to produce on a consistent basis, leaving the reigning National League MVP to do his thing without having to do everything.

In that regard, tonight's 6-4 victory over the Braves was a prime example of what this lineup can do, from top to bottom. Harper didn't have a bad night; he got on base twice and stole a pair of bases, as well. But all six runs came off the bats of others, with a host of other members of the lineup playing key roles.

"We've got smart hitters," said catcher Wilson Ramos, who went 4-for-4 and drove in a pair of runs. "A lot of talent, and I know we can hit. A lot of guys in this lineup hit the ball really well. ... We never put our heads down, we're just fighting all the game. We score some runs, we bring runners in. That's the lineup we have. Too much talent on this team."

Ramos was front-and-center with his third career four-hit game, but he wasn't alone. Ryan Zimmerman had two hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly while also making another heads-up play on the bases that set up one of the three runs he scored. Daniel Murphy continued his torrid first week in a Nationals uniform, homering in the first inning and adding another hit (his eighth in 17 at-bats) later. And Michael A. Taylor, just 1-for-16 when the day began, notched a couple of hits and a couple of stolen bases to set the tone.

Thus, the Nationals were able to overcome an uncharacteristically shaky start to the evening by Max Scherzer, who dug his team a 2-0 hole in the first inning and then gave up two more in the second before finally settling down.

"We have tremendous balance," manager Dusty Baker said. "It can't be Bryce and Scherz every night. That's why you have a team."

Murphy-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgMurphy, in particular, has added a much-needed professional approach to the heart of the Nationals lineup. After watching the former Mets second baseman do it to them over the years, they're now finally reaping the benefits of his contact-patience-power combination that has worked to near-perfection so far.

Five games into his D.C. career, Murphy is hitting .471 with four extra-base hits, a team-high seven RBIs, five walks and a hefty 1.591 OPS.

"One of the biggest things you have to look at is the amount of traffic that's on the basepaths," the 31-year-old said. "Anytime you can put the pitcher into high-leverage situations, they're more prone to make mistakes. I've been hitting with a lot of people on base. Like Bryce. And Zim was on base all night tonight. And Mikey Taylor and (Anthony Rendon) in front of me. So good at-bats up and down the lineup."

The club's dynamic 3-4-5 trifecta of Harper, Zimmerman and Murphy - each is hitting at least .313 so far with at least a .474 on-base percentage - has been there since opening day. But those guys have been left stranded on base more than they'd like because of a lack of consistent production from the guys hitting behind them.

Tonight, that problem was rectified by Ramos, whose four hits all came with somebody on base.

The veteran catcher, who entered the day hitting .235 but exited it hitting .381, credited hitting coach Rick Schu for some sage advice over the weekend.

"It helped me a lot when Rick Schu told me to look at videos, because I'm keeping in mind that I can do a good job with my swing," Ramos said. "My adjustment today, I tried to stay to the middle (of the field) all the time. That's when I hit the ball well. Stay to the middle, not try to pull the ball, and I did it today."

When it all comes together like this, the Nationals know they have a complete lineup capable of doing big things. Whether their MVP plays a major role or not on any given night.

"Hopefully before too long we'll have everybody sharp," Baker said. "I'm just sitting back to wait for the day - I hope it comes - when everybody's operating on full cylinders. That's a manager's dream."

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