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Benches clear twice as Nats sweep Cubs

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Benches clear twice as Nats sweep Cubs

It had only been 48 days since the Nationals carried a nine-run lead into the sixth inning of a crucial game against the Braves and watched it all crumble away in horrifying fashion. So when they entered the fifth inning Thursday night against the Cubs, leading this time by five runs, they weren't about to ease off the gas pedal.

Thus, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa each stole second base off Chicago rookie reliever Lendy Castillo. And later, Jayson Werth was given the green light to swing away at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded.

It all seemed fairly innocuous, just another example of the Nationals steamrolling the Cubs during what wound up a 9-2 victory and a four-game sweep by a combined score of 31-9. Except for Jamie Quirk, Chicago's normally mild-mannered bench coach, who started jawing at Werth and third base coach Bo Porter and in the process prompted both clubs' benches and bullpens twice to empty and engage in a mild fracas that resulted in the ejections of Quirk and three players.

"I mean, if they get mad at my guys in the fifth inning swinging 3-0 or running, they better get used to it," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.

Just like that, a four-game series that otherwise would have been notable for the beating the 85-52 Nationals put on the 51-85 Cubs ended with a bang, a war of words, hot tempers and a debate on proper baseball etiquette.

"I think I'd be pretty pissed off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all weekend, too, but you can't lay down," said rookie Bryce Harper, who figured prominently in the incident. "The Braves series, they came back after we were up 9-0. So you can't lay low. You've got to keep going, keep grinding, keep coming."

By the time the fifth inning arrived Thursday night, the Nationals led 7-2, having scored 27 runs over their last 20 offensive innings. They kept the pressure up, with Johnson allowing both Desmond and Espinosa to steal second base and later letting Werth swing away on a 3-0 count.

During an ensuing delay while Chicago catcher Steve Clevenger sought a new mitt, Quirk began yelling at Porter, who wound up approaching the visitors' dugout and nearly entering it to engage with his coaching counterpart as both benches and bullpens emptied.

Porter wouldn't reveal details of what Quirk said -- or what he said back -- but defended his strong response.

"When it comes to our players, I'm very passionate."

Quirk wound up getting ejected, with Porter allowed to remain in the game but told in no uncertain terms he needed to return to the coaching box and not leave it again.

"He got very close to being out of order himself," crew chief Jerry Layne told a pool reporter. "Had he got into the dugout and started a fracas, he would have been ejected. But I thought this was all stemming from what Jamie Quirk did, and he started it. So I got the person that started it."

Order was quickly restored and the game continued without incident until the bottom of the sixth opened with Castillo throwing his first pitch well inside and just missing Harper's right hip. Harper took a step toward the mound and said a few words to Castillo, causing both benches and bullpen to empty again.

"Going up in that situation, I thought something was going to happen, because of what happened before," Harper said. "That's just baseball, I guess."

Said Chicago manager Dale Sveum: "Castillo's a Rule 5 kid that's thrown a lot of those pitches today. There was no intention to hit Bryce Harper."

Order appeared to be restored again, and players were beginning to retreat to their respective dugouts and bullpens when another tussle began near first base. By the time everything was cleared, Clevenger (who aggressively shoved Nationals left fielder Michael Morse), Cubs reliever Manny Corpas and Nationals reliever Michael Gonzalez were all ejected.

"You don't come into our house, and you can't mess with our kid brother," Gonzalez said. "That's how we see it."

Through the entire scene, Harper remained on the fray, veteran teammate Ryan Zimmerman by his side and making sure the 19-year-old didn't get let his emotions get the best of him.

"I wasn't going to do anything stupid," Harper said. "I'm just trying to check off everything on my list. I've gotten thrown at, gotten hit, stole home, we're winning, homers, everything that's going on. Just checking it off the list. That's one of them. Just trying to stay calm in that situation and not do anything stupid."

That was the prevailing sentiment for everyone on the Nationals' side: Don't do anything that might jeopardize your ability to appear in the final 25 games of a pennant race by taking the bait from a team playing out the string of a miserable season.

"We got a lot more to lose," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "I think that's why Nationals coaches were trying to get everybody back and say: 'Listen, if one of us does something, it's going to cost us a lot more than one of their guys at this point in the year.' I think for the most part, guys kept their head on their shoulders. It didn't get too out of control. That's not what we need this time of year."

Thus, Jordan Zimmermann took the mound for the top of the seventh and went back to work, striking out a pair of batters to complete one of his best starts in a month and secure his 10th win of the season. Relievers Tom Gorzelanny and Christian Garcia then finished it off, completing a four-game sweep that leaves the Nationals 33 games over .500 and still holding a 7 12-game lead over the Braves in the NL East.

Over in the visitors' clubhouse, the Cubs were again left dazed and demoralized by what the best team in baseball had done to them over the last four nights.

"It's probably one of the biggest butt-whuppings I've ever gotten in my career, as a coach or player," Sveum said. "I don't remember getting manhandled that bad in any kind of series I've ever been a part of."

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Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Nats (76-55) at Phillies (60-71) at Citizens Bank Park

After bouncing back with a 4-0 victory in the series opener, the Nats look to keep it going in Philly on Tuesday night with ace Max Scherzer on the mound.

Scherzer, who is 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA, tossed eight shutout innings against the Orioles his last time out. He last saw the Phillies on June 1 at CBP and gave up two runs in eight innings of work.

Ryan Zimmerman is back in there at first base after taking Monday off. The rest of the Nats lineup is the same.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Phillies - Jerad Eickhoff

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jerad Eickhoff

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

Don't count out the New York Mets just yet. 

The Nationals may be up nine games in the National League East, but their rivals from the Big Apple have slowly crawled their way back into the wild card picture.

The biggest reason why? The return of a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, who missed most of August with a quad injury. In the nine games since he’s been back, the 30-year-old outfielder has slashed .389/.450/.861 with five home runs, including Monday night’s extra-inning walk-off shot against fellow-wild card hopeful Miami Marlins.

"He's that kind of player," manager Terry Collins said via NJ.com. "You expect big things each and every time he goes up. He's one of those guys people pay to see him play. They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up."

After it seemed like the Mets were down and out, the Cespedes’ bat has resuscitated their playoff push. New York is 7-2 with Cespedes in the lineup since August 19, and its offense has averaged nearly six runs a game during that span. So just like 2015 postseason run, it's on Cespedes to lead the way. 

“Every time I see Cespedes at home plate, I feel like he's going to hit a homer," third baseman Jose Reyes said. "That's the way I feel in the dugout. I'm sure the other guys feel the same way. They had the opportunity to see him get hot last year, and for me, seeing him this year, it's unbelievable what he can do on the baseball field. Basically he can do whatever he wants to.”

New York's mini-surge has happened at the right time, with the club just 2 1/2 games out of a wild card spot and nearly a month left in the season. 

“We're going into September," Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us....now we're in a better position."

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Nats creating distance, Harper keeps rolling, can Murphy still win MVP?

Nats creating distance, Harper keeps rolling, can Murphy still win MVP?

Notes and observations from the Nats' 4-0 win over the Phillies on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park…

Roark bounces back: Tanner Roark rebounded nicely from his uneven start against the Orioles last Wednesday to go seven shutout innings with just four hits and a walk surrendered against the Phillies. It was the 16th time in 27 starts this season that Roark has lasted at least seven innings. And it was the eighth time this year that Roark has gone at least seven frames with zero earned runs allowed. No other pitcher has done that more times this year than Roark.

Roark's season ERA is now at 2.87, almost exactly the 2.85 mark he put up in 2014, his last full year as a starter. His ERA+, though, is better at 146, compared to the 131 he had in 2014. And his strikeout rate (7.1 SO/9) is better than it was two years ago (6.3).

Werth hits No. 19: Jayson Werth hit another homer on Monday night, his third in his last four games. He now has 19 on the year, one away from recording the sixth 20-homer season of his career. Werth has seven in August alone which ties the most he's ever hit in a month since he signed with the Nats before the 2011 season. His career-high is eight, set back in 2010 with the Phillies.

Harper gets on again: Bryce Harper didn't get a hit on Monday night, but he did walk and score a run and has now reached base in all 16 games he's played since coming back from the neck stiffness that kept him out a week. In those 16 games he's hit 22-for-61 (.361) with three homers, 17 RBI, 11 walks, 13 runs, six doubles and three steals. His OPS during that stretch is 1.098. That's not a huge sample size, 16 games, but it's more than half a month. If he can be anything close to that for the final month of the season, the Nats' lineup could look a lot different. 

Murphy keeps it up: It has perhaps gone unnoticed by some with the emergence of Trea Turner and the resurgence of Harper, but Daniel Murphy is having another very good month at the plate. With his two hits on Monday, Murphy is now 30-for-93 (.323) with five homers, 22 RBI, 20 runs and a .933 OPS in August. 

Murphy still has the best batting average in the NL at .345, but he has some work to do if he still wants to win the league's MVP award. He's currently tied for third in fWAR with Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. They are both at 4.9, while Kris Bryant (7.6) and Corey Seager (6.9) are far ahead. It seems amazing that Murphy could be hitting .345 with 25 homers and 98 RBI on a first-place team and at this point be third in the MVP race, but that's where he realistically stands right now. Bryant and Seager also lead first-place teams. Bryant is hitting .305 with 35 homers and an MLB-best 109 runs scored, while Seager is batting .323 with 23 homers and also plays plus-defense at shortstop.

Magic number to 23: It's that time of year. With the Nats' win on Monday night and the Marlins having lost their third straight game, the Nats' magic number to win the NL East is now 23. That's pretty low for this point of the season and it could start going down very quickly. The Nats do not play a team outside of the NL East until they go to Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. And the Nats have the best intra-division record in baseball at 36-16.

[RELATED: Turner on playing like a little kid, rest helped Ramos]

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