There was a time -- not all that long ago, really -- when the Nationals fielded a lineup that if lucky might scrape together just enough runs to make a fantastic pitching performance hold up.
That was one week ago. It only feels longer.
These days, the Nationals lineup can't stop scoring runs in bunches. With a 9-3 drubbing of Tim Lincecum and the Giants Tuesday night, they extended their recent offensive barrage and made it clear they're no longer a team that relies solely on its pitching staff.
"If they keep hitting the way they're hitting now, I don't see why we can't just run away with this in the second half," right-hander Jordan Zimmermann said. "And if we keep pitching the way we are ... I mean, it's going to be tough to beat us."
It certainly looks tough to beat them right now. Winners in five of their last seven, the Nationals (46-32) now own the NL's best record by 2 12 games, having just beaten up on the club that entered the day with the league's second-best record.
And this burst of offense isn't coming from only one or two players. Sure, the re-emergence of stalwarts Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse has been a key difference over the last week, but that's also opening the door for Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa to step up their games.
"Those guys are obviously well renowned big leaguers," Desmond said of Zimmerman and Morse. "For them to be swinging the bat the way they are, it's contagious."
Tuesday night's game -- which included a 1-hour, 25-minute rain delay in the top of the seventh -- saw the Nationals take down a former two-time Cy Young Award winner who barely resembles himself these days. Lincecum entered with a 5.60 ERA and that number only skyrocketed to 6.08 after he was tagged for eight runs (seven earned) and nine hits in 3 13 innings.
It marked the first time in his illustrious career that Lincecum gave up eight runs.
"That's just lack of command," manager Davey Johnson said. "Some guys were saying he looks underweight. But, to me, with any pitcher if your command is off, you're going to have problems. Hitters get to see more pitches, you're able to time more pitches. Command is the key up here."
No one has timed Lincecum's pitches out as well as Desmond, who singled and crushed a two-run homer (his 14th of the season) to improve to a staggering 9-for-11 in his career against the San Francisco ace.
"He's a good pitcher," Desmond said. "I think I just kind of rise to the occasion when I face him. That adrenaline that we talk about, I can't really fake it. It just shows up. I know he's one of the best pitchers in the game, and that gets my blood flowing a little bit."
The biggest beneficiary of this explosion was Zimmermann, who over the last two seasons has received some of the worst run support in baseball but who has happily accepted the 20 runs the Nationals have supplied him the last two times he's taken the mound.
"It's definitely nice," the right-hander said.
It's also nice for the Nationals to know what they're going to get from Zimmermann every time he's handed the ball. The 26-year-old has now made 16 starts this season and has pitched at least six innings all 16 times. Fourteen of those outings have been quality starts.
"As long as I can stay out there and keep the team in the ballgame and keep it close, I feel like I'm doing my job," he said.