Game in a nutshell: What is it about the Marlins that brings out the worst in the Nationals? It's a mystery. So is Ricky Nolasco, who entered today's game with a 4.64 ERA but tossed a 2-hit shutout to again beat the Nats (he went the distance against them on Aug. 28, and if you go back to his previous start before that, the Nats now haven't scored a run in their last 22 innings against the right-hander. Miami's lineup, meanwhile, feasted on Edwin Jackson for six runs in 4 23 innings, though two of the runs scored when Bryce Harper lost a flyball in the sun. That's pretty much the kind of afternoon it was for the Nationals, who finished the season 9-9 against the Marlins but 77-45 against everyone else in the majors. They still closed out quite an impressive homestand, going 8-3 against the Cardinals, Cubs and Fish.
Hitting lowlight: Davey Johnson gave two of his regulars (Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond) the day off, but given the way this lineup produced throughout the homestand, you'd think they were still capable of putting together a couple of rallies. Not with Nolasco on the mound. He carried a no-hitter into the fifth until Michael Morse sent a solid single to left. He faced the minimum into the seventh, until Greg Dobbs committed an error at third base. And he carried a one-hitter into the eighth, until Giancarlo Stanton lost a flyball in the sun. That was the extent of the Nationals' offense in this game.
Pitching lowlight: Starting on his 29th birthday, Jackson gave up six runs over 4 23 innings. It wasn't entirely his fault -- the Marlins picked up three straight, two-out, groundball singles up the middle in the top of the second, and then Harper lost that ball in the sun -- but the right-hander didn't help his own cause, either. He walked Donovan Solano to lead off the fourth inning, setting the stage for a two-run rally. And he gave up a leadoff single (followed by a stolen base) in the fifth to set up another run. Jackson surely has had worse outings than this, but he's had much better ones, too.
Key stat: In 20 career games at Nationals Park, Stanton is hitting .392 with 11 homers, 20 RBI, a .456 on-base percentage, a .924 slugging percentage and a 1.380 OPS.
Up next: The Nationals hit the road for a six-game trip through New York and Atlanta. They'll open at Citi Field on Monday, with Gio Gonzalez facing Mets rookie right-hander Collin McHugh at 7:10 p.m.
Nats (17-7) vs. Royals (13-11) at Kauffman Stadium
The Nationals rolled through St. Louis this weekend to secure their first sweep of the Cardinals since 2007. It was an impressive series against a team that led baseball with 100 wins last year. And now, on Monday night, they will face another of MLB's most talented clubs.
The Nats begin a three-game set with the defending champion Kansas City Royals with an 8:15 p.m. first pitch. Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42) and right-hander Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34) are the scheduled starters.
Gio is pitching his fifth game of the 2016 season and is off to the best start of his career. The Nats' southpaw is holding opponents to a .196 average and .489 OPS. The Royals, though, will be his biggest challenge to date.
Gonzalez will pitch to Jose Lobaton per usual, though Wilson Ramos is back from the bereavement list. The rest of the Nats' lineup is as expected with Stephen Drew in there as the designated hitter.
First pitch: 8:15 p.m.
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzalez vs. Royals - Edinson Volquez
CF Michael Taylor
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Jayson Werth
DH Stephen Drew
C Jose Lobaton
SS Danny Espinosa
(LHP Gio Gonzalez)
SS Alcides Escobar
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Christian Colon
RF Paulo Orlando
(RHP Edinson Volquez)
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You're going to lobe this story. Wait, sorry, you're going to love this story.
Before the Nationals' weekend series against the Cardinals that started on Friday, a former player and current pal of Dusty Baker named Kirk Rueter stopped by to say hello. It was there when things took a turn for the weird, according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale.
As a pitcher under Baker with the Giants, Rueter apparently developed a reputation for having incredibly good fortune. With that in mind, Baker — whose team had just been swept at home by the Phillies — wanted to take advantage of his penchant for luck.
So he had his buddy walk through Washington's clubhouse and told his roster to rub his ears.
Yes, this is a thing that happened.
The bizarre superstition, of course, seemed to work, considering the Nats took all three games from St. Louis, an organization that has given them fits before. Next up is a four-game tilt in Kansas City. Rueter better bring his ears.
MORE NATIONALS: WHY NATS PITCHERS THROWING MORE PITCHES ISN'T WORRISOME
Bryce Harper's hot start to the 2016 season has earned him the NL player of the month award for the month of April.
The Nats slugger saw his batting average dip to .286 by month's end, but finished April with nine homers, 24 RBI and six steals. Harper eclipsed the 100 career homers mark on April 14 and at one point hit a home run in four consecutive games.
Other highlights from Harper's April include an eight game RBI steak, a six game streak of hitting home runs at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Harper's first career pinch-hit homer and his first two career grand slams. His first grand slam was on career homer No. 100.
The reigning NL MVP, Harper has won NL player of the month one other time in his career, in May of 2015. Max Scherzer also won the NL pitcher of the month award twice last season, in May and June.
Harper, 23, is batting .273/.390/.679 this season in 24 games. He was the co-NL player of the week for April 11-17 with Nolan Arenado of the Rockies.
Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles won the AL player of the month award for April.