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AP - Sports

The Washington Nationals have a lot of work to do to become a factor in the NL postseason race, but they're on the brink of their best stretch of the season.

Ian Desmond is a key reason why.

Desmond looks to continue his offensive barrage in order to help the Nationals record their longest winning streak in over a year Thursday against the San Francisco Giants.

Washington (59-60) is the reigning NL East champion, but 14 games back of first-place Atlanta. The team is also 8 1/2 games behind Cincinnati for the league's second wild-card spot.

The Nationals are showing signs of potentially closing the gap on the Reds, winning five games in a row behind a .325 average and 33 runs.

They haven't put together a longer run since reeling off eight straight victories from Aug. 4-11, 2012.

Desmond has been vital to the recent surge, going 10 for 19 (.526) with four doubles and seven runs over the past five games. The shortstop hit a solo homer in Wednesday's 6-5 win over San Francisco (52-67) after collecting three hits and two runs Tuesday to open this three-game set.

Another big offensive effort seems likely since Desmond owns a .441 average with three doubles, three homers, six RBIs and 11 runs over his last 10 home meetings with the Giants.

Desmond and the Nationals haven't needed to do much offensively with Dan Haren (7-11, 4.99 ERA) on the mound.

The right-hander has won his last three starts behind a 1.29 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a .157 average. He had been 0-8 with a 6.18 ERA over his previous 11 starts, a stretch that included a stint on the disabled list for right shoulder inflammation.

Haren continued to put that injury - and poor stretch - behind him, yielding two runs and four hits in seven innings of a 9-2 win over Philadelphia on Friday.

"Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was pretty messed up," Haren told the team's official website. "But baseball is an incredibly humbling game. When you're up, it'll just knock you right down. I couldn't have really gotten much lower than I did when I was on the DL. I mean, I was a bad start or two away from getting released, probably.

"That's just the truth of it, I think. I definitely feel way better the way I'm pitching now, and this is more me."

Haren is facing the Giants for the first time since a loss with Arizona in 2009.

San Francisco has lost three in a row, going 5 for 26 with runners in scoring position.

Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.71) will make his second start since breaking his hand in an 8-0 win against the Nationals on May 20. The right-hander fouled a ball off his hand in the fifth inning, and was sidelined for nearly 12 weeks.

Before the injury, Vogelsong earned the win by allowing three hits in five innings.

He labored through six innings and 103 pitches in his return Friday, giving up two runs and issuing three walks in six innings of a 5-2 loss in 10 to Baltimore.

"I missed it. It felt great to get back out there and pitch again," Vogelsong said. "I just tried to think about the stuff I need to do to make pitches."

Vogelsong is making his first start in the nation's capital, and he's 0-2 with a 7.07 ERA in three road outings.

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