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Nationals have something special brewing

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Nationals have something special brewing

The images from the defining moment of Sunday's dramatic, 11-10 victory in Milwaukee were striking and memorable.

Michael Morse with left arm raised as he watched his game-tying home run in the ninth inning sneak over the right-field wall at Miller Park. Davey Johnson doing a little jig from the top dugout step as he watched the ball sail out. Ryan Mattheus, who had put the Nationals in that hole by serving up three homers in two innings of relief making sure he was the very first one to greet Morse and offer his teammate a bear hug.

That moment, perhaps as much as any other this season, revealed why the Nationals aren't just a good team in 2012 but why they may just be something special.

Sure, there's a boatload of talent on the roster, and of course that's the No. 1 reason this club now shares the best record in baseball with the scorching-hot Cincinnati Reds.

But there are other, less-tangible qualities to this assemblage of players and coaches that have allowed that talent to reign supreme: Character and chemistry.

The stat-heads can debate this one for all eternity, arguing whether or not such nebulous concepts make any difference in a team's won-loss record. All that matters is this important fact: The men who wear Nationals uniforms and help create their roster universally believe they are winning right now not only because of their physical abilities but because of their camaraderie and fortitude.

How many times has this team bragged about the manner in which it never gives up on a ballgame? Certainly after each of the 24 games the Nationals have come from behind to win.

How many injuries of significance has this team overcome, not merely replacing the disabled starter with an adequate fill-in but with someone who nearly produced as much as the guy who went down?

And how many times have we heard them talk about having each others' backs, about the importance of all 25 members of the roster contributing to the greater cause, about players who put more stock in team performance than individual accolades?

It's a near-daily theme inside that clubhouse. It's the hallmark of a special team. And it's the biggest reason general manager Mike Rizzo is likely to stay quiet through tomorrow's trade deadline.

Are there a couple of holes Rizzo could fill, a few areas of concern that could use a boost? Yes. The Nationals' catching situation leaves much to be desired. And there's a serious lack of infield depth now that Ian Desmond is on the disabled list.

But Rizzo is incredibly leery of tinkering with the delicate balance of a victorious clubhouse right now. The Nationals aren't just winning games, they're having fun doing it, and the last thing a GM wants to do in the middle of a run like this is disrupt positive mojo.

Players aren't talking about the need to add a veteran catcher or a fifth starter or a backup infielder. They're talking about the gutsy performances Jesus Flores and Sandy Leon are putting together every day behind the plate. They're talking about the manner in which Ross Detwiler has stepped up this season and become the quality pitcher he always was supposed to be, and about the important role they expect John Lannan to play down the stretch. And they're talking about the vital contributions Mark DeRosa makes, not so much on the field but in the dugout and in the clubhouse as he mentors younger teammates who have never experienced a big-league pennant race.

Rizzo sees all this. So does Johnson. They sense what is brewing right now. A season that was supposed to see the Nationals take the next step forward in their long-term plan has seen them take two leaps forward.

The goals have changed. The expectations have been raised. This is a team that can do something special.

They've shown that several times over the last four months, and they really showed it yesterday in Milwaukee.

And the last thing anyone wants to do right now is anything that might screw it all up.

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Nationals acquire utility man Howie Kendrick from Philadelphia

Nationals acquire utility man Howie Kendrick from Philadelphia

The Nationals acquired INF/OF Howie Kendrick and cash from the Philadelphia Phillies for left-handed pitching prospect McKenzie Mills.

Kendrick is hitting .340 this season with a .397 on-base percentage and a .454 slugging percentage. He has eight doubles, one triple, and two home runs in 141 at-bats.

Mills, 21, was an 18th-round selection of the Nationals in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft. 

The deal was to help add right-handed hitting off the bench, and seems to be a shrewd move for the Nationals.

MORE NATIONALS: NATIONALS CLUB 8 HOME RUNS IN 15-2 WIN OVER BREWERS

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Nats hit 8 HRs to blast Brewers 15-2

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats hit 8 HRs to blast Brewers 15-2

The Washington Nationals tied a franchise record with eight home runs, including two apiece by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, and Max Scherzer pitched six innings of three-hit ball in a 15-2 rout of the fading Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.

Washington matched two major league records in a seven-run third inning: Most consecutive home runs (four) and most home runs in an inning (five).

After Harper connected off Michael Blazek (0-1) in the first inning, Brian Goodwin started the long-ball barrage in the third with a two-run drive. Wilmer Difo, Harper and Zimmerman followed with long home runs.

MORE NATIONALS: Watch the Nats hit back to back homeruns 

The streak was interrupted when Daniel Murphy flied out, after which some of the fans reacted with good-natured booing.

Anthony Rendon resumed the fun with a shot to dead center that finally chased Blazek, whose first major league start was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Zimmerman and Jose Lobaton both homered off Wily Peralta in the fourth for a 15-1 lead.

The eight home runs tied the franchise mark set in July 1978 by the Montreal Expos against Atlanta.

Scherzer (12-5) allowed one run and struck out nine to bring his total this year to 201 -- his sixth consecutive season with at least 200, the longest active streak in the majors.

The right-hander had plenty of offensive support, most notably from Harper, who had three hits and four RBIs while extending his career-best hitting streak to 19 games.

Travis Shaw and Lewis Brinson homered for the Brewers, who have lost nine of 11 to drop from first place in the NL Central.

Blazek gave up seven hits, six of them home runs, in just 2 1/3 innings. Peralta allowed seven runs and eight hits in 1 2/3 innings, a performance that raised his ERA to 7.85.

MOVE OVER, HONDO

Zimmerman's two home runs upped his total with the Nationals to 237, tied with Frank Howard for most in Washington history.

Known affectionately as "Hondo," the 6-foot-7 Howard played with the expansion Senators from 1965-71.

ROSTER MOVE

The Brewers added RHP Anthony Swarzak to the roster after obtaining him Wednesday in a trade with the White Sox.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-3, 3.25 ERA) was placed on the 10-day disabled list with an elbow impingement. Manager Dusty Baker expects Strasburg to miss only one start. ... OF Michael Taylor (oblique strain) is almost ready to begin baseball activities, Baker said. Taylor has been on the DL since July 7.

UP NEXT

Brewers: Brent Suter (1-1, 2.84 ERA) takes the mound Friday night in the opener of a three-game showdown with the visiting Chicago Cubs.

Nationals: Tanner Roark (8-6, 4.83 ERA) helps Washington launch a three-game series at home against the Colorado Rockies.