For much of this season, the Washington Nationals offense has lied dormant, languishing at the bottom of the National League in most categories.  But Tuesday their leader returned and seemed to flip a switch in this team, as an eight-run outburst Tuesday night gave way to a 15-hit, four homer, 10-0 shellacking of the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, before 27,130 at jubilant Nationals Park.

The Nats winning streak reaches five games, the longest since August 2009, and inches them one step closer to the elusive .500 mark at 32-36.  The Cardinals, who came into the game tied for the lead in the N.L. Central, have lost five straight.

Not to be forgotten in the offensive fireworks, veteran starter Livan Hernandez pitched his finest game of the season: a complete game, three-hit shutout of the N.L.'s leading hitting team.  Livo did not walk a batter and struck out six.  In fact, Hernandez lowered his ERA to 3.77, earning his fourth win against eight losses.  He allowed just one batter to reach as far as second all night.

Often the hard luck loser this year, Livo had all the runs he needed last night.  The complete game was his 50th of his career and ninth complete game shutout.

Washington got to Cardinals starter Kyle McClellan in the second, when Michael Morse hit his 11th home run of the season.  That was just the beginning, though, as Ryan Zimmerman drove in his second run since rejoining the team Tuesday with a single up the middle that plated Jayson Werth in the third.

Things turned ugly for McClellan (L, 6-3), making his first start since being activated from the D.L., in the fourth inning.  Morse and Danny Espinosa both doubled to start off the inning, and Ivan Rodriguez singled to right, scoring Morse.  After a Livo sacrifice -- from the No. 8 spot in manager Jim Riggleman's order -- Ian Desmond bounced a ball to third that Albert Pujols could not handle, and Espinosa scored.

A batter later, Roger Bernadina continued his hot stretch, dumping a ball into left that Jon Jay couldn't get to, and Pudge came around to cap the three-run frame.

Deposed closer Ryan Franklin relieved McClellan, though Cards manager Tony LaRussa will think twice before calling his name again.  The Nats got one off Franklin in the sixth, as Desmond singled in Pudge from third, once again after Livo had sacrificed the runner up a base.

But that wasn't the end.  In the seventh, Michael Morse hit a colossal two-run shot over the visitor's bullpen and into Section 101, and Espinosa followed on the next at bat, clubbing one off the facing of the upper deck in right field above the Nats bullpen.  It was the first time Nats have gone back-to-back since August 2010 when Morse did the deed with the departed Jason Maxwell.

Jayson Werth, who was the only National position player to go hitless into the eighth inning, corrected that by adding a solo home run to left center as icing on the cake.

All that was left was for Livo to complete the game, and in the ninth he had no trouble at all.  He struck out Tyler Greene and Mark Hamilton, and coaxed a pop-up from Colby Rasmus to Zimmerman to end the game.  Livo needed just 105 pitches to dispatch St. Louis, and after the last was mobbed by his teammates and even received a pie in the face from Thursday's starter and clubhouse prankster John Lannan for his accomplishment.

The Nats have banged out 18 runs and 28 hits in the last two games, an almost inconceivable thought when they were slogging up and down the west coast last week, playing 2-1 games like that was the objective.  Is it mere coincidence this outbreak has happened with the return of the Face of the Franchise?  Entirely possible.  Zimmerman has contributed but one hit a night to the attack. 

But perhaps the entire team -- maybe the whole organization, fans included -- has taken a proverbial sigh of relief just seeing No. 11 back at his customary third base spot, hitting third in the order.

THE GOOD:  Four players had multi-hit nights, but the star was Michael Morse.  He went 3-for-3 with two home runs and three RBIs, upping his batting average to .312.  Hot streaks don't get much hotter than the one Morse is riding right now.

THE BAD:  The Cardinals defense.  They made three errors, including two by out-of-position Albert Pujols at third base.  LaRussa assumes he's the smartest man in whatever room he's in, but he's out-thinking himself putting Prince Albert in a can over at third.

THE UGLY:  Ryan Franklin.  He was throwing meatballs up there.  Charlie and Dave on the radio remarked how everything Franklin was throwing was right over the heart of the plate, like he wasn't even trying to get guys out.  Guess what?  He didn't get guys out, and he now has an 8.17 ERA this season.

THE STATS:  15 hits, zero walks, three strikeouts.  5-for-10 with RISP, six LOB, two GIDP. No errors, making

NEXT GAME:  Thursday against St. Louis at 7:05 pm from Nats Park.  John Lannan (4-5, 3.60) faces Kyle Lohse (7-3, 2.67).

NATS NOTES:  Before the game, the Nats sent ineffective starting pitcher Yunesky Maya back to Syracuse, and recalled frequent flyer reliever Collin Balester back for the pen.  The team is expected to activate LHP Tom Gorzelanny from the D.L. to start Sunday against Baltimore.

The Nats extended their errorless streak to 122 2/3 innings across 13-plus games, extending their franchise record streak.