Their closer has blown three saves and put at least two men on base in eight of his last 13 appearances. Their rookie phenom is mired in the first prolonged slump of his life, one that has lasted nearly two months. Their catchers have thrown out exactly one of the last 43 opponents who have tried to steal a base against them.Their All-Star shortstop is out until September. Their highest-paid player just returned from a three-month stint on the disabled list and already had to miss a game because his legs were tired. And their staff ace is going to be shut down for the remainder of the season in about a month.Oh, did we mention the Nationals have baseball's best record and are now on pace to win 99 games in 2012?If you prevented yourself from checking the standings over the past few weeks, you might very well have come away convinced the Nationals are in trouble. They haven't exactly played like the best team in the majors.But this might be the true confirmation of Washington's new-found status as a baseball powerhouse. Even when they're not playing their best, they're still winning more regularly than any other club in the sport.Why? Because they're loaded with superior talent, up and down the roster.The rotation isn't just Stephen Strasburg and four guys who take up space. Jordan Zimmermann has the NL's second-best ERA. Gio Gonzalez has the fourth-most strikeouts. Edwin Jackson has completed seven or more innings seven times. And Ross Detwiler, with another strong performance last night, now boasts a 2.99 ERA (ninth-best in the NL).The lineup is as deep with potent bats as just about any other in the NL. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth ... what team wouldn't take that quintet, or sextet once Desmond returns from his oblique tear? And even when those stalwarts struggle to produce on a given night, Davey Johnson merely turns to someone else for clutch hits, whether it's Danny Espinosa (who drove in all three runs last night), Chad Tracy or Roger Bernadina.And there are few slicker-fielding clubs than this one, from Zimmerman's Gold Glove at third base to LaRoche's steadying influence at first base to Bernadina's game-saving ability in center field. (And if you saw his jaw-dropping conclusion to last night's victory in Houston, you know just how important Bernadina has become to this team.)Point is, the Nationals aren't winning games because of the contributions of one or two big names. They're winning games because night in and night out, they manage to get contributions from just about everybody on the roster.And through the season's first four months, they continue to get better.At the one-quarter pole, the Nationals were on pace to win 93 games. At the one-third pole, the pace went up to 96 wins. At the halfway mark, they were holding steady at a 96-win pace. And now that they're just surpassed the two-thirds mark, they've upped the rate to 99 wins.That's a pretty good sign. While other clubs endure through roller-coaster seasons, riding long winning streaks one week and then falling into the abyss the next, the Nationals have been remarkably consistent.There have been only three 10-game stretches this season in which the Nationals lost more games than they won: April 19-May 1 (4-6), June 15-25 (3-7) and July 8-21 (4-6). That's it. Those don't even qualify as troublesome losing streaks.That most recent downturn ended after the first game of the July 21 doubleheader against the Braves. At that moment, the Nationals had seen their lead over Atlanta dwindle to 1 12 games. Then John Lannan was called up from Class AAA to make a spot start and pitched a gem, and ever since then the Nats are 14-4.Are there some things to be concerned about with this team? Sure. They're by no means perfect, and some questions have been raised in recent days.But there's simply too much talent on that roster to let the little hiccups cascade into major headaches.This just in: The Nationals are the best team in baseball at this moment. And there's nothing fluky about it.
WASHINGTON -- Michael Taylor homered twice among his four hits, Trea Turner finished 5 of 5 with a walk and the Washington Nationals beat the Cincinnati Reds 18-3 on Saturday.
Daniel Murphy had four RBIs for the Nationals. His three-run double highlighted the six-run second inning and Taylor's two-run homer capped a four-run fourth inning. Taylor added a solo shot in the sixth.
Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Wieters each drove in two runs. All of Turner's career-high five hits were singles including run-scoring hits in the second and eighth.
Washington led 13-0 as Joe Ross (4-3) blanked the Reds until Patrick Kivlehan's pinch-hit home run in the sixth. Ross surrendered one run and six hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and one walk.
In his first appearance since Aug. 28, Homer Bailey (0-1) allowed eight runs and six hits with three walks in 1 2/3 innings.
The Reds, who have lost 13 of 14, also gave up 17 runs on May 29 at Toronto.
Washington took the first two games of the series from the Reds after losing three of four.
Cincinnati activated the 31-year-old Bailey from the disabled list before the game. The right-hander had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs in his right shoulder on Feb. 28.
Washington made Bailey's first outing of the season uncomfortable from the start. After Turner and Brian Goodwin opened the bottom of the first with a single and walk respectively, Zimmerman hit a one-out double into the right-center gap, scoring both runners.
Trailing 3-0 in the second, Bailey walked two batters to load the bases with two outs. Murphy cleared them with a line drive into the right-field corner and then scored on Anthony Rendon's double.
Reds reliever Lisalverto Bonilla surrendered five runs on eight hits, including both of Taylor's homers.
Bryce Harper had one of Washington's 19 hits, but he struck out three times before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
Kivlehan added an RBI single in the eighth.
Reds: Bailey was diagnosed with right biceps tendinitis following a one-inning start last August and eventually shut down for the season. He allowed two earned runs over 16 2/3 innings during three rehab starts before his recall Saturday. OF Jesse Winker was optioned to AAA-Louisville to make room for Bailey. ... LHP Brandon Finnegan, on the DL since Apr. 16 with a left shoulder injury, will start Monday, Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Nationals: Taylor's first four-hit game of his career came after being held out the lineup the previous two games with an undisclosed injury. The center fielder also tracked down Scooter Gennett's deep fly ball for a leaping catch just shy of the wall in the third.
Reds: Scott Feldman (5-5, 4.20 ERA) leads Cincinnati with seven quality starts
Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.88) allowed 13 earned runs in 7 2-3 innings over his last two starts.
WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper singled in the winning run in the 10th inning, Brian Goodwin homered twice and the Washington Nationals got a solid performance from their bullpen in a 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.
Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy also homered for the Nationals, who trailed 5-2 in the sixth before coming back to deal the Reds their 12th loss in 13 games.
Trea Turner singled off Raisel Iglesias (2-2) with one out in the 10th and took third on a single by Goodwin before Harper hit a liner that struck the right-field wall on one bounce.
Matt Albers (3-1) pitched the 10th to cap an impressive night for the Nationals' bullpen, a maligned group that blanked the Reds on one hit over the final five innings.
Goodwin homered in the first inning and again in the seventh, the first multihomer game of the rookie's career.
Scooter Gennett connected for the skidding Reds.
Seeking his ninth win, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings, walking two and striking out five. It was only the third time in 15 starts the right-hander allowed more than three earned runs, but it was also the third straight start in which he failed to go six innings.
Reds starter Luis Castillo pitched five effective innings in his major league debut and left with a 5-2 lead, but the Cincinnati bullpen deprived him of the victory. Castillo allowed two runs and five hits, walking five and striking out five.
The 24-year-old rookie was replaced by Michael Lorenzen, who promptly served up a home run to Murphy and gave up a sacrifice fly to pinch-hitter Stephen Drew later in the sixth.
Wandy Peralta took over in the seventh and, like Lorenzen, gave up a homer to the first batter he faced. Goodwin's drive to right made it 5-all.
Early on, Cincinnati dominated.
The Reds batted around in a four-run first inning that featured Gennett's 10th home run, a run-scoring fly ball by Scott Schebler and successive RBI singles from Devin Mesorasco and Jose Peraza.
Goodwin homered in the bottom half, but Mesoraco singled in a run in the third. The two-out bloop landed in front of Wilmer Difo, who was playing center field for the first time in the majors and pulled up as the ball dropped at his feet.