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Nats club Cubbies

Nats club Cubbies

All year they've seen their pitching staff lauded for dominant performances and lifting them to the best record in the sport. And all the while, members of the Nationals lineup have wanted to let everyone know they're perfectly capable of winning a game by themselves.

"This is something we were thinking about in spring training," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "We knew we were capable of doing it. Unfortunately, we had some injuries and some streakiness this year. But we haven't had a six, seven-game outburst like this where we go out and score 18 runs. It's nice. We owe the starting pitchers for what they did the first couple months."

Consider the favor returned after Tuesday night's offensive explosion against a beleaguered Cubs pitching staff. Behind 19 hits -- six of them homers -- the Nationals muscled their way to an 11-5 victory that felt even more lopsided.

They're 31 games over .500 again, matching their high-water mark of the year. They've scored at least eight runs in five of their last seven games. And coupled with the Braves' 6-0 loss to the Rockies, the Nationals found themselves at night's end owning a season-high, 7 12-game lead over Atlanta with 27 left on the schedule.

Is this really the same team that one week ago was stuck in a five-game losing streak, with doubts starting to creep in for the first time all summer?

"I think we laughed it off the day we won," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I think teams run into stretches like that, and hopefully that's the last one that we have. The team that we have, we understand that we're capable of winning any ballgame. It's nice to see that we're playing up to our potential again."

They're playing up to their potential thanks to a potent offense that suddenly has more dangerous hitters than available slots on the lineup card.

Six different Nationals have now hit 12 or more homers this season (LaRoche, Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper and Michael Morse). Leadoff man Jayson Werth is hitting .324 with a .404 on-base percentage. Four reserves are hitting .279 or better (Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Chad Tracy. Moore has eight homers in only 136 at-bats.

Thanks to Tuesday's explosion, the Nationals now rank third in the NL with 151 home runs and 254 doubles and fourth with a .261 team batting average.

"Everybody in our lineup's capable of going out of the ballpark," manager Davey Johnson said. "We're in a pretty good place right now offensively. We've been kind of building to it."

The beneficiary of all that support on Tuesday was Edwin Jackson, who wasn't his absolute sharpest (four runs allowed in 5 23 innings) but was good enough (eight strikeouts, including five in a row at one point) to earn his ninth victory.

"There's definitely nobody in the clubhouse that's going to complain about run support," the right-hander said. "It just shows you what this team is capable of doing."

That this all occurred as the Braves were getting shut out by Colorado's suspect pitching staff only added to the wacky tone of the entire evening. Though they've tried to avoid paying too much attention to their lone remaining challenger in the NL East, the Nationals can't help but notice the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.

"Lately, yes," LaRoche said. "When you start seeing the number of games you need to win and they need to lose, you start peeking up there. Again, it's not going to change what we do. But we've got a chance to do something, so of course you do."

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Dusty Baker already preparing Nats rookies for pressure of playoffs

Dusty Baker already preparing Nats rookies for pressure of playoffs

No matter how much MLB regular season experience a player has, that first taste of playoff baseball is always an adjustment. Veterans Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere each spoke about it this past winter when they signed with the Nats. Despite boasting a combined 15 years of MLB experience, both admitted there was an initial shock when they played their first career postseason games last fall. They both mentioned the butterflies and how unexpected that feeling was.

Playoff baseball is just different and, if it took an adjustment for those two, you can imagine what it will be like next week when Nationals rookies like Trea Turner, Pedro Severino and Reynaldo Lopez, as well as youngsters like Joe Ross, take the field for the first time in the postseason. It will be intense and manager Dusty Baker is already talking to his young players about what to expect.

"I've been prepping them every day. I've been telling them 'hey man, it don't matter how old you are, just go out there.' I've been telling them about David and Goliath. I've been telling them about every story I can think of about a young dude that went out there and was brave, whether it was an American-Indian warrior, or what," Baker explained. 

Turner, Severino and Ross will definitely be on hand when the Nationals take on the Dodgers in Game 1. Turner is in the starting lineup, Severino is entrenched as one of the team's two catchers and Ross will be in the rotation.

Lopez is also looking more and more like a lock with the way Baker has been talking about him.

"He could be a one-inning guy, but it just depends. We’d like to try to put him into situations where he’ll most likely succeed," Baker said of Lopez. "Is he ready for that right now? Do you want to find that out in the playoffs?"

Lopez is not counting his eggs before they hatch. He knows he's pitched well lately, with just two earned runs allowed across nine innings in his last two appearances. But he knows his spot is not official yet.

"If God blesses me with that opportunity, I feel like I’m ready and willing to help out the team any way I can to help out the team and hopefully win," he said through an interpreter.

Turner, Severino and Lopez will give the Nats at least three rookies on their playoff roster. There are others with outside chances to crack the final 25, including Koda Glover and Wilmer Difo.

Regardless, Baker will have to rely on some inexperienced players on a stage they've never played on before. 

"It doesn't matter, age at this point. It's how you control your nerves. There are some guys out there, even though they might be veterans, they might be more nervous than some of these kids. Some of these kids, sometimes they don't know what to be nervous about. I'm not afraid to run those kids out there," he said.

[RELATED: Scherzer argues Metro should stay open later for Nats playoffs]

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Jayson Werth out of Nats lineup as they host Marlins

Jayson Werth out of Nats lineup as they host Marlins

Nats (93-67) vs. Miami Marlins (79-80) at Nationals Park

Jayson Werth is out of the Nationals' lineup as they continue their series against the Miami Marlins on Saturday, as the veteran outfielder is nursing back tightness that he suffered in Friday night's loss. Manager Dusty Baker said it was a precaution to keep him out, that they are not worried the injury will persist.

In Werth's place playing left field is Michael Taylor. Ryan Zimmerman is back in the lineup after taking Friday night off. They will play behind Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.86), who will be pitching his final tuneup before the playoffs begin.

Roark has had some trouble with Miami this season. He's 1-4 with a 5.02 ERA against them. Roark was good, however, just two starts ago in Miami when he tossed seven innings of one-run ball.

First pitch: 4:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Miami Marlins - Wei-Yin Chen

NATS 

CF Trea Turner
LF Michael Taylor
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Wilmer Difo
C Pedro Severino
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

MARLINS

2B Derek Dietrich
SS Miguel Rojas
CF Christian Yelich
1B Justin Bour
RF Jeff Francoeur
3B Chris Johnson
LF Destin Hood
C Jeff Mathis
LHP Wei-Yin Chen