Nats breathing easier after week of lopsided victories

The 162-game season can be a meat grinder much of the time, with tense contests, tough decisions and constant roster-tinkering required for a team to navigate its way through six months and emerge on top.

So when a team can enjoy a week like the Nationals just did, five times holding a lead of five runs or more en route to victory, it offers a much-welcomed respite for all those involved.

"I'll tell you, it's good for the manager," Dusty Baker chuckled following the Nationals' 8-0 win over the Phillies today. "It's great for the manager."

Baker has been pretty loose this week, and why not? His team has won nine of its last 12 games, and in the last seven days alone it has led games by the scores of 8-0, 9-4, 11-0, 10-5 and 10-5.

That takes pressure off everybody, and that has produced a good vibe in the dugout and in the clubhouse.

"Any time you can get a big lead on a team and kind of hit cruise control all the way to a win, that's big," first baseman Clint Robinson said. "That kind of takes pressure off the bullpen, it lets starters be comfortable, go out there and do what they need to do to throw up zeroes. It's not a secret that when there's no pressure on you, it's a lot easier to perform than when there is pressure. ... Big wins are always fun. I'd much rather have those than the close ones."

Some of these large leads have turned into nailbiters - remember Sunday's game in Cincinnati, in which the Nationals led 10-5 in the seventh but then needed Jonathan Papelbon to escape a self-made, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth to sneak out of town with a 10-9 victory - but for the most part they have remained lopsided throughout.

Michael A. Taylor white close.jpgAnd today's game was no exception. The Nationals took a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second, thanks to RBI singles from Stephen Drew, Michael A. Taylor and Bryce Harper and a perfect squeeze bunt from Tanner Roark, then kept adding on the rest of the way.

"When you get four runs early, it takes a lot of weight off your shoulders," Roark said. "You can ease in a little bit."

Roark did just that, churning out seven scoreless innings on 105 pitches to improve to 3-0 this season against the Phillies. And he took advantage of contributions that came not only from regular members of the Nationals lineup but several reserves given an opportunity to start this matinee.

Robinson, who gave Ryan Zimmerman a day off at first base, led the way with three hits. Drew, starting at shortstop in place of Danny Espinosa, drove in two more runs (giving him seven RBIs in a span of 15 plate appearances). And Taylor, given a chance to start in the outfield with Jayson Werth sitting, went 3-for-5 with a double and his own RBI single.

That continued a longstanding trend of significant production out of the Nationals bench, a source of pride for the five men who typically comprise that group.

"We're all ... I'd like to use the term 'gamers,' I guess," Robinson said. "We do what we need to do to stay ready. We're three months into the season now and we know the gig. So guys do what they have to do to stay ready, and we're lucky enough to go out and have some good games and be productive."

It helps when they can be part of an effective rally like the one the Nationals strung together in the second inning this afternoon. Among the key moments: back-to-back, two-out, two-strike RBI singles by Taylor and Harper.

"I think (we're) just trusting the guy behind you, trying to get it to the next guy," Taylor said. "Not trying to hit that grand slam or three-run home run."

The Nationals have hit their share of those, too. You can't open up five-run leads every night with nothing but singles.

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