By the fourth inning, the Nationals led by 11 runs, turning the Phillies pitching staff into mincemeat and allowing everyone to breathe a sigh of relief and just play out the string under no pressure.

But when Saturday night’s game was only two batters into the bottom of the first, when the outcome was still very much undecided, the manner in which the Nationals plated their first run of the evening seemed particularly significant.

Denard Span and Anthony Rendon combined to produce that run, with a little help from A.J. Burnett, setting the tone with a perfectly executed performance.

Span led things off with a single to right, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 28, the longest current streak in the majors. Then he stole second off the slow-to-the-plate Burnett, putting himself in scoring position for Rendon. Who promptly drove a base hit through the right side of the infield, bringing Span home and giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead.

“I had a coach in the minor leagues who would always say: ‘Score first, and the percentages go up of you winning,'” Span said. “That’s definitely our job as the No. 1 and 2 hitters of the team.”

“It sets the table for the guys in the middle,” manager Matt Williams said. “Certainly it helps if [Span] has the ability to steal second base and get into scoring position with nobody out in the top of the first. It just puts pressure on the other club. Anthony stole a base, as well (later that inning). It set our offense in motion a little bit. To score one in the bottom of the first is good for us to get off the schneid, if you will, from last night.”

The Nationals’ top two hitters are doing more than their share right now to pace the Nationals lineup. Thanks to his month-long surge, Span is now hitting .291 with a .349 on-base percentage. With the season two-thirds of the way complete, he’s on pace to score 102 runs. Impressive as that sounds, it actually lags behind Rendon, who is now on pace to cross the plate a league-leading 116 times, while hitting .281 with an .807 OPS.

Of course, a few more overall showing like this, and others in the Nationals lineup will put themselves on pace for some monster numbers by season’s end as well.