Michael A. Taylor homers twice as Nats rock the Reds, 18-3

Saturday’s game had progressed all the way to the bottom of the second inning when Anthony Rendon slid safely over home plate in a dirt-soaked flourish, the eighth run the Washington Nationals had scored, the Cincinnati Reds all but vanquished.

It was as if Rendon had to make it look hard somehow, as if the whole afternoon had come too easily to not require some cleanliness toll. For all the winning the Nationals have done this season, few games have gone as smoothly as their 18-3 win over the Reds on Saturday. It was, by their standards, uncommonly pristine, the second-largest offensive output of their season.

“[Friday] was a pretty tough game,” Trea Turner, who reached base six times Saturday, said. “It was fun coming back, but it’s also nice winning by a lot and not making it close.”

About 17 hours after they lurched through 10 grueling innings Friday night against the Reds, ricocheting off missed chances and defensive miscues before emerging with a win, the Nationals simply cruised.

Their offensive explosion allowed Joe Ross ample breathing room, something to which he has become accustomed. He entered the day averaging 9.6 runs of support per start. If he had thrown enough innings to qualify, that would lead the league. That figure is now 10.4 runs per start after Saturday.

The Nationals pummeled Reds starter Homer Bailey for eight runs in 1⅔ innings. Bailey was making his 2017 debut after missing the first three months with injury. His ERA is 43.20.

Ryan Zimmerman drove in the first two runs with a double in the first. The most stunning thing about Zimmerman’s season to date is not that he is producing like an elite offensive first baseman (he has shown himself capable of doing that), but rather his wholehearted aversion to the streakiness that accompanied that production for most of his career.

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He entered this weekend series 5 for his past 30, headed for a cool spell, if not a total polar vortex. But by the time he hit the line drive to right-center to put the Nationals ahead, he was 3 for 6 in this series against the Reds. At game’s end he was third in baseball with 59 RBI in 67 games.

Meanwhile, a seldom-discussed aspect of this Nationals season is the somewhat slow start of Turner, who turned in an MVP-caliber second half last season and finished runner-up for NL rookie of the year. After hitting well over .300 in the second half last season, Turner slid somewhat to start this one — which is not unexpected, a sophomore slump.

But recently, he has started to change games again, both with his legs and his bat. His second hit in two innings drove home Michael A. Taylor to help the Nationals build their lead to three. Turner finished the day 5 for 5 with five singles, a career high. He reached base six times, also a career high, the seventh player in Nationals history to do so. His average jumped to .275.

“I feel like the last few games, I’ve been hitting the ball pretty good, lining out some,” Turner said. “I guess that’s a good sign, and today they fell.”

Daniel Murphy continued to provide big hits whenever necessary, stepping to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the second. He worked Bailey to a full count, then doubled, a result that feels like a near inevitability these days. Zimmerman and Murphy ranked first and second in the National League batting race, respectively, at game’s end.

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The Nationals kept adding. Rendon ended Bailey’s day with an RBI double. Matt Wieters capped the second-inning binge with an RBI single, and two more runs scored when he hit another single in the fourth and the play was extended by a throwing error. Taylor, who did not start the past two games because of an undisclosed injury, had singled and homered by the fourth.

“I needed [the days off],” Taylor said. “My body was a little banged up from diving, running into walls. The time off really helped.”

It certainly seemed to, as Taylor finished the day with two homers, his ninth and 10th, the second multihomer game of his career. He also finished 4 for 5, a triple shy of the cycle.

Afforded ample margin for error, Ross pitched like he hadn’t looked at the scoreboard. When two men reached in the fifth, for example, Ross induced an inning-ending double play ball and slapped his glove as if he had preserved a one-run lead, instead of a 12-0 advantage. He finished seven innings having allowed a run and six scattered hits, walking just one and striking out five.

“The last thing you want to do is . . . relax a little bit, let your guard down,” Ross said, “because next thing you know it’s 8-5, 8-6, and you’re out of the game before the fifth.”

More than once, the Nationals have built a massive lead like Saturday’s, only to see it shrink rapidly in the later innings. But Saturday, Manager Dusty Baker pulled his stars in the sixth inning. He has been reluctant to pull them at all this season, fearing late-inning repercussions. There were none. On a beautiful day, in front of a near-sellout crowd, the Nationals simply cruised, as perfect an afternoon as they will have all season.

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