The distance between the Washington Nationals and the rest of the National League did not come into focus Tuesday night, because that kind of thing takes longer than one game to surmise. But that gap, at the moment, surely exists. What other conclusion is there? The San Francisco Giants carried the league’s second-best record into Nationals Park and dropped a two-time Cy Young winner on the mound. Four innings in, the Nationals led by eight runs.
The Nationals’ 9-3 thumping of the Giants added further validation to their status, in the standings, as the best team in the National League. Their surging offense battered right-hander Tim Lincecum over 31
3 innings, scoring eight runs and lashing nine hits, the biggest among them a two-run homer by all-star shortstop Ian Desmond. Jordan Zimmermann did not let the Giants breathe for six innings, holding them to two runs (one earned) with his relentless mix of fastballs and sliders in the strike zone.
The Nationals are at least two games clear of every National League team and at least 31
2 games ahead of every team in their in division. They are perhaps the best Washington baseball team in 80 years. Their recent offensive performance hinted that what comes next may top what’s already happened.
“If they keep hitting the way they’ve been hitting,” Zimmermann said, “I don’t see why we can’t run away with this thing in the second half.”
The Nationals have scored at least five runs in each of their past seven games, a 5-2 stretch, and in five of them they’ve scored at least eight. Tuesday night, continuing a ragged season that has left him with a 6.08 ERA, Lincecum faced 21 Nationals batters, and 11 of them reached base. Every Nationals starter except Jesus Flores got a hit.
“When the middle of the lineup starts swinging the bat like it’s capable of doing, the rest of the guys are starting to jell,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That really puts the icing on the cake and takes the pressure off everybody in the lineup. Everybody can trust each other in the lineup and don’t have to do too much. Anybody in our lineup, especially our all-star shortstop, they’re just swinging the heck out of it. But we’re not doing anything I didn’t think we were capable of doing.”
Ryan Zimmerman has turned back into a star after a cortisone shot to his aching shoulder. Michael Morse knocked off the rust comes with missing 50 games. Jayson Werth could return within a month. They held on to first place as 15 players hit the disabled list, thanks to the best pitching staff in baseball, and now the team they envisioned is coming together.
“I mean, we’ve weathered a pretty rough storm,” Johnson said. “The schedule and who we play come the second half doesn’t look that daunting to me.”
Danny Espinosa went 3 for 4 with a double off the tippy-top of the center field fence, all three hits from the left side of the plate. Espinosa was hitting .190 as a lefty entering Tuesday, but he was feeling better and Johnson had seen improvement. The three hits gave Espinosa tangible proof.