Make it 62 runs in 5 games for Nationals

August 20th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals are without their ace and their closer right now, but a historic stretch of offense can cure all woes.

The Nats’ batting order drove Pirates starter from Monday night’s game at PNC Park in just two innings with a barrage of home runs, and they never fully let off the gas on the way to a 13-0 victory.

Over Washington's past five games, its offense has racked up 62 runs. That’s the most in Nationals/Expos franchise history, coming in ahead of a 58-run five-game stretch in April 2017. It’s also the most in Major League history since the Yankees accomplished the feat twice in 2007.

The Nationals have also scored 13 runs or more in their past three games, becoming the first National League squad since the 1996 Rockies to do that. How do the Nats explain it?

“It’s really hard to explain,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said, knocking on wood.

“Write a book on it, [and] you’ll become a millionaire,” said .

Well, here’s one potential explanation: an increase in home run production to record rates. By the end of the second inning, the Nationals had hit three homers, and went deep in the ninth to up their total in the past three games to 16 -- also a new best in Nats/Expos franchise history.

Leading the charge has been Eaton, who has a blast in each of the past three games -- you know, the ones they scored 13-plus runs in -- and four in his last five. This comes after he hit just seven in his first 113 games.

Eaton attributes it to simply having a healthy base to swing from after spending significant time the past two years on the injured list due to knee and ankle problems in his left leg.

“I finally have legs underneath me,” Eaton said. “I think that’s a big key. It’s hard to swing with one leg. I did that for two years, and it wasn’t fun.”

There’s also a sign in Eaton’s improved pitch recognition and chase rate, according to Martinez. Eaton’s two-pitch at-bat in the first that produced the game’s first homer is a perfect illustration: he sat on a high four-seamer, then powered a middle-cut sinker to right field.

“He’s laying off the high fastballs,” Martinez said. “When he can lay off the high fastballs, he’s a really good low-ball hitter.”

A more overarching explanation for the historic numbers -- maybe somewhat expected -- is a lineup that’s hitting from Nos. 1-9 in the order. and teamed up for a combined seven hits in the seventh and eighth spots on Saturday. The No. 4-8 batters went 13-for-24 (.542) on Sunday, then 11-for-20 (.550) on Monday.

“Everybody in the lineup is really swinging the bat,” Martinez said. “They’re doing that right now. I told them to get some rest, come back and do it tomorrow.”

The incredible run production wasn’t the only history Washington accomplished Monday. Another tidbit came unintentionally, when Robles was plunked in the fourth inning by Bucs reliever Montana DuRapau. That marked the 20th hit-by-pitch of the year for Robles, which ties the Nationals’ highest mark (set by in 2016).

As weird as it sounds, scoring 13-plus runs doesn’t always earn a victory. On Saturday, the Nats lost, 15-14, after a blown save by , who is currently on the injured list.

So in order to punch a win with big offense, solid pitching is still necessary. And without Doolittle or on the active roster, the Nationals’ pitching staff held its own Monday.

threw scoreless ball for 3 1/3 innings, though he was removed early after being struck by a 110 mph comeback grounder off the bat of . (He’s sore, naturally, but X-rays came back negative.) followed and pitched a perfect 3 2/3 innings, drawing high praise from Martinez after the game, and and finished off the shutout.

Given the pitching concerns in the short term, an offensive juggernaut is a great thing to have. But Nats hitters aren’t putting any extra pressure on themselves to pick up any perceived slack. They’re putting the focus on tomorrow, whether it brings a bounty of runs or not.

“That’s just really going to spiral into people forcing the issue,” Eaton said. “I think we did that early on -- force the issue -- and it didn’t work out.

“I think guys are just honestly so focused with their heads down every single day, focused on what they have to do as an individual and as a team and not focused on who’s out, who’s not, who’s up, who’s down. Just continuing to grind.”