ATLANTA — On Tuesday evening, the Nationals fielded a starting lineup that included only one hitter with a batting average better than .250 and five with a batting average worse than .205. This was a source of concern for some who were worried such a putrid April at the plate could be a sign of a summer-long problem.
And then the Nationals went out and scored 13 runs during an historic, come-from-behind victory over the Braves. And then they went back out and scored 13 more runs Wednesday night in another historic performance.
And so now, in the wake of 13-12 and 13-4 victories at Turner Field, the narrative has been flipped onto its head. The supposedly offensively challenged Nationals suddenly can’t be stopped.
“We definitely needed to wake our bats up the past two games,” center fielder Denard Span said. “It’s fun when guys are putting good swings on the ball. The whole cliche: ‘Hitting is contagious.’ I think last night was a good win for us and it carried over to today.”
We won’t know for several more days, probably even weeks, whether Tuesday’s rally from eight runs down — the largest comeback in club history — was a legitimate turning point in the season for the Nationals. But if nothing else, we can probably say it played a crucial role in giving members of this slumping lineup renewed confidence, which was on full display during Wednesday’s blowout win.
How rare were these back-to-back offensive displays? So rare they had never before happened in franchise history. Nope, neither the Expos nor the Nationals had ever scored 13 runs in consecutive games during their 47 years of existence.
It had happened in the history of Washington baseball, but not in a long time, not since the Senators beat the St. Louis Browns 15-7 and 13-1 on May 4-5, 1952.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in everybody that goes up to the plate that they’re going to get the job done, no matter what,” right fielder Bryce Harper said. “And if the guy doesn’t get it done in front of him, it’s a matter of time. We’re having some fun right now.”
Harper used the word “confidence” four times during a 90-second session with reporters after the game. There seems to be a connection between that word and the success of this team, both on an individual and collective level.
“It’s a big part of it,” manager Matt Williams said. “This game is a lot mental. And if you’re not swinging it good and you don’t feel good at the plate, you tend to press a little bit. You tend to get outside of yourself and try to do things you’re not necessarily capable of doing. So, it plays a big role for us. For any team.”
That confidence only increases when teammates up and down the lineup are producing as well. On Tuesday, seven different Nationals batters recorded at least one hit, while six drove in at least one run. On Wednesday, eight different batters recorded at least one hit, while six drove in at least one run.
The contributions came from everywhere. Span homered for the second straight night. Jayson Werth snapped out of an 0-for-14 slump with an RBI single. Wilson Ramos had three hits, drove in a run and scampered around the bases to score twice. Danny Espinosa had four hits and two RBI to raise his season batting average to .277. Dan Uggla again victimized his former team, driving in two more runs to give him eight for the series.
But the biggest hit of all came from, of all people, Jordan Zimmermann.
At the plate with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the fourth of what at the time was a 3-2 Atlanta lead, Zimmermann calmly took three straight balls from left-hander Alex Wood, then two strikes, then fouled off a pitch, then smoked a base hit to left-center, bringing everybody around to score and giving the Nationals the lead for good.
Zimmermann, whose career high for RBI in a full season is four, was the recipient of a few playful jabs as he returned to the dugout. “[Expletive] the DH!” someone supposedly told him.
“Somebody might have said that,” the right-hander said, then throwing his own jab at rotation mate Max Scherzer, who sprained his thumb while at the plate last week. “I like hitting. I’m just not as fragile as some guys on this team.”
The Nationals could afford to joke around Wednesday night. Only 26 hours later, they appeared too tightly wound, on the verge of collapse.
Not anymore. Twenty-six hours and 26 runs later, this group was all smiles.
“We’re a great team,” Harper said. “It was a matter of time before we got going. I think we have a lot of confidence in everybody on this club, and we’re gonna have some fun.”