Washington scores 18 runs in first two games of series

For five games the Nationals could not score and played a brand of sloppy baseball they were not familiar this 2012 season.

But the Nats have returned home for a holiday weekend and turned their offense on like a light switch. For the second game in a row, Washington crushed the St. Louis Cardinals - this time by a 10-0 score on Friday night at Nationals Park.

It began this four-game series against the Cardinals with 18 runs in two games and has outscored its opponents during the current three-game win streak 26-5. That's a pretty effective way to render the league's top offense irrelevant and put the memory of a five-game losing streak firmly in the past.

"It happened, and we learned from it. There's not many teams, if any, that have gone through the whole season without going through some sort of stretch where you lose four or five in a row," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "The biggest thing is not to panic and not to worry about it too much and just kind of go back and keep doing what we've been doing all year."

The Nats (80-51) are now 6 ? games ahead of second-place Atlanta in the National League East race. The Braves, up a run in the ninth inning, lost a stunner to Philadelphia in extra innings on Friday. St. Louis (71-61), meanwhile, fell into a tie with NL Central rival Pittsburgh for the second and final NL wild-card berth.

Adam LaRoche singled home two runs in the first inning and Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Kurt Suzuki and Jayson Werth all had RBI hits in the third inning to knock Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright out of the game after just 2 2/3 innings. Rookie Bryce Harper continued his recent hot streak with a two-run base hit in the fifth inning. Zimmerman added a two-run homer in the eighth to complete the scoring.

"We're having good at-bats and everybody's hitting in good situations and everybody's coming up clutch," Harper said. "When one guy hits, everybody hits. That's the biggest thing. Everybody's going up there with confidence and we're playing a good team right now. So we got two games left. Hopefully we can sweep it out."

The biggest reason for Washington's offensive explosion? Werth and Harper at the top of the order are on fire. Over their last three games, including Wednesday's streak-busting victory in Miami, the duo is a combined 13-for-26 with four homers, a double, 12 RBI, 11 runs scored, four walks and four strikeouts. Werth's on-base percentage is up to .403 on the season - though it's .667 over these three recent games.

But their contribution was almost overkill on this night. Gio Gonzalez pitched the first complete-game shutout of his career, a nine-inning masterpiece that featured just five Cardinals hits. Gonzalez walked three batters and struck out eight.

Gonzalez improved to 17-7 on the season and lowered his ERA 3.10. The only time he was remotely in trouble came with his team up 6-0 in the fourth inning when he walked the first two batters of that frame. But the first of three St. Louis double-play ground outs helped Gonzalez escape that frame unscathed.

The first nine Cardinals batters went down in order and they didn't manage their first hit until a Yadier Molina double to lead off the fifth. He never made it off second base, however. Another double play in the sixth - a beautiful 5-4-3 started by Zimmerman at third base on a Matt Holliday smash - short-circuited a rally after the first two St. Louis hitters singled. By the end the crowd of 29,499 was chanting "Gio! Gio!" in unison, urging him to finish things off. The left-hander had to take a deep breath and compose himself before doing exactly that.

"It was just one of those things were you can't explain it," Gonzalez said. "It felt like it was a boost of energy, kind of like having a Red Bull right there in the ninth. When they were coming alive, I was just trying to do my best to pound the strike zone."