Thanks to an offensive surge, the Washington Nationals have an opportunity to not have the worst record in the National League.
The Nationals look to stay hot at the plate Thursday when they wrap up their four-game series with the slumping Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Washington beat Cincinnati 12-7 on Wednesday, moving into a tie with the Reds and the Texas Rangers for the worst record in the majors at 18-29. The Nationals, who started the season 1-8, have won nine of their last 13 games, while the Reds (18-29) have dropped 16 of 21.
Washington’s recent success can been tied to an improved offense. The Nationals rank second-to-last in the National League with 169 runs and last with a .234 batting average, but have scored at least six runs in seven of their last 13 games.
Washington had scored no more than seven runs in any game this season prior to this series, but lost 8-7 on Monday and won 8-4 the following day. Their 12 runs on Wednesday matched their highest output since moving from Montreal after the 2004 season and marked their most since scoring 17 against the Chicago White Sox on June 19, 2004.
“It’s about time we broke out,” said Brian Schneider, who hit one of the Nationals’ season-high four homers on Wednesday. “Our pitching has been carrying us long enough. This is a good park to hit in, and we’d better take advantage of it.”
Ryan Church, who did not start the first two games of the series because of a swollen left forearm, returned to the lineup and had two homers and a career-best six RBIs. He stayed in the game despite feeling his forearm start to swell shortly after homering in the first inning.
“We’re starting to catch up to our pitching,” Church said. “Our pitchers have been doing a heck of a job keeping us in games. Our hitters have been struggling to get the key hits.”
The Reds, meanwhile, fell 11 games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 2005 season. Owner Bob Castellini visited the clubhouse before the game and addressed the team for the first time this season.
“It was very encouraging, very positive, short and to the point,” manager Jerry Narron said.
Matt Belisle (4-3, 4.58 ERA) will hope to shut down Washington’s bats in the finale. He allowed four runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings, but still picked up the win Saturday at Cleveland.
Belisle, who won for the first time in four starts, was coming off his worst start of the season, a 7-1 loss in San Diego in which he allowed seven runs and 10 hits in five innings.
“Hey, we won,” Belisle told the Reds’ team Web site. “That’s all that matters right now. I kind of had a rough day battling with my stuff again. But I made some good pitches in some good spots.”
Belisle is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four career appearances against the Nationals. His only start against them came on May 25, 2005, when he allowed two runs in six innings of a 12-3 home victory.
Washington will counter with Mike Bacsik (0-0, 0.00), who threw six scoreless innings Saturday in his first appearance in the majors since 2004 in Washington’s 3-2, 11-inning loss to Baltimore. He was called up from Triple-A Columbus to replace injured starter Jason Bergmann.
“He couldn’t have written it better,” manager Manny Acta told the Nationals’ team Web site. “He did an outstanding job. He gave us what we wanted. You have to give it up to the kid. He pitched a great game.”
Bacsik went 5-5 in 22 outings, including 15 starts, for Cleveland, the New York Mets and the Rangers between 2001-04. He allowed six runs in 4 1-3 innings in the Mets’ 8-7 win in Cincinnati on July 20, 2002, in his only previous start against the Reds.