Instant analysis: Nats 3, Dodgers 1

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Instant analysis: Nats 3, Dodgers 1

Game in a nutshell: The Nationals' 2012 season will extend to at least a 163rd game. And if you don't think that's significant, you don't fully appreciate the mostly sad history of Washington baseball. With a victory in the first half of today's doubleheader against the Dodgers, the Nats secured their 90th win of the season and lowered their magic number for clinching a playoff berth to 1. Another win tonight would officially secure at least the Wild Card, but even in the absolute, worst-case scenario, the Nationals know they could do no worse than tie for the final Wild Card berth and thus guarantee at least a tiebreaker game the day after the regular season ends. How did they pull off this victory? They got a quality start out of Jordan Zimmermann, even though the right-hander labored through much of his six innings. They scored three runs, even though none was plated via a base hit. And they got some shutdown work out of their bullpen, with Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard recording some big outs down the stretch to secure the win that put the Nationals within one step of the postseason.

Hitting highlight: Who says you need to come through with clutch hits to produce runs? The Nationals disproved that theory in this game, scoring all three of their runs on outs. Kurt Suzuki lofted a sacrifice fly to bring home Michael Morse in the bottom of the second. Ryan Zimmerman scored Bryce Harper with a fifth-inning groundout to second base. And Tyler Moore tapped a slow roller to the right side in the sixth, bringing Ian Desmond home. The Nationals don't usually play "small ball," but in this case they showed some nice ability to produce productive outs, a skill that absolutely helped them earn their 90th win of the season.

Pitching highlight: He was by no means in peak form, but Zimmermann did manage to get the job done. The right-hander put eight of the first 16 batters he faced on base yet allowed only one run. He got better as his start progressed, and made some big pitches when he needed them, ultimately throwing 106 of them over his six innings. Zimmermann has struggled sometimes when working on extra rest, actually feeling too strong and thus losing the sink on his sinker. That might well have been the case today, because he was actually pitching on seven days' rest instead of the usual four, thanks to two off-days and last night's rainout. In the end, the Nationals happily took the quality start they got out of Zimmermann, who certainly needed one.

Key stat: Harper's fifth-inning triple represented his 49th extra-base hit of the season. That's now the most ever hit in a major-league season by a teenager.

Up next: Don't go anywhere, folks. Game 2 begins in 30 minutes. John Lannan takes the mound trying to improve to 4-0, with Josh Beckett hurling for the Dodgers.

Scherzer roughed up as Nats drop second straight to Cubs

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Scherzer roughed up as Nats drop second straight to Cubs

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 8-6 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field:

How it happened: After the Nats enjoyed a brief 2-0 lead highlighted by a first-inning solo home run by Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer's homer problem reared its ugly head once again. 

The barrage began in the second inning when Tommy La Stella took Scherzer deep to tie it up at 2-2. Two innings later, the 31-year-old right hander allowed back-to-back solo shots to Anthony Rizzo and Nats-killer Ben Zobrist. It got worse as Zobrist hit his second of the day, this time a three-run homer, making it 7-2 Cubs and essentially ending Scherzer's outing. 

The Nats wouldn't go away, however, putting together a four-run rally in the eighth thanks to a two-run double by Jayson Werth and a two-run home run by Wilson Ramos. But like Thursday night's loss, it was too little, too late. 

What it means: The Cubs are good. Really, really good. The Nats, while off to a solid start themselves, aren't yet in the class of the North Siders, whose run differential now sits at a ridiculous +98. With Washington dropping the first two games of this marquee series, it is now 5-3 on this 10-game road trip. 

Scherzer gets roughed up: The Nats' $200 million man turned in his worst start of the season against the Cubs — and perhaps the worst start of his tenure in D.C. Scherzer's home run issues continued Friday afternoon, as he yielded four long balls —tied for his career-high in a single start — en route to allowing seven earned runs over five innings.

Scherzer's struggles have gotten to the point where it's hard to ignore that something's just not right. For one, Friday's outing represented the most runs he'd allowed since joining the Nats in 2015. Secondly, he now leads the majors in home runs allowed with nine. And if that isn't enough, he's also having trouble with the strike zone: He's already issued 15 walks in his first seven starts, nearly half of last season's total of 34. 

Murphy's back at it again: The silver lining in Friday's tough loss is that Daniel Murphy is continuing his scortching start to the season. After going hitless Thursday night, the Nats second baseman rebounded big time by going 4-for-4 on the afternoon to raise his batting average to an MLB-leading .406. It feels like this can't last all season, but a month into the season, he hasn't found himself in anything remotely resembling a slump. It's unlikely that Murphy's the next incarnation of Ted Williams, but it's safe to say the Nats may have gotten a bargain when they signed him last winter at three years, $37.5 million. 

What's next: The Nats will hope the third game in this four-game set is the charm as they'll send Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.15 ERA) to the mound on Saturday afternoon to oppose the Cubs' Jason Hammel (4-0, 1.24 ERA). 

MLB Power Rankings: Stability at the top

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MLB Power Rankings: Stability at the top

A month into the season and things are finally starting to even out. The Braves are terrible and the Cubs are historically good. The Beltway has baseball's best rivalry right now and the Philles might be good? See how the rest of the MLB Power Rankings pan out:

30. Atlanta Braves (LW: 30)

Manager Fredi Gonzalez stays until when? Memorial Day? Early June?

29. Minnesota Twins (LW: 28)

Byron Buxton got sent down, which is something I'm sure the Twins totally planned on happening all along. 

28. San Diego Padres (LW: 29)

Hunter Renfroe can't be far away. The Padres have some exciting youth coming through the system. 

27. Milwaukee Brewers (LW:25)

Taking 2 out of 3 from the Angels is a nice? Who knows. ​

26. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 23) 

Remember when they were in the top-15 of these rankings? Good times. ​

SEE THE REST OF THE POWER RANKINGS HERE

Revere makes his return to the lineup as Nats hope to rebound vs. Cubs

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Revere makes his return to the lineup as Nats hope to rebound vs. Cubs

Nationals (19-9) vs. Cubs (21-6) at Wrigley Field 

On Thursday night, the Nationals found out the hard way what makes the Cubs the best team in baseball. Despite a quality outing by Joe Ross, Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist drove in four of Chicago's five runs en route to a 5-2 series-opening win for the home team. 

But the Nats will head into Friday's game with what they hope is a big boost to their offense: Centerfielder Ben Revere makes his return to the lineup for the first time since his Opening Day oblique injury, replacing Michael Taylor atop the batting order. How long will it take him to get in a groove? 

As for the pitching matchup, the Nats will send out their ace Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.55 ERA) to oppose John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA), who was one of the Cubs' big offseason acquisitions. 

First pitch: 2:20 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Cubs - John Lackey

NATS

CF Ben Revere 

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Bryce Harper 

1B Ryan Zimmerman 

2B Daniel Murphy

LF Jayson Werth 

C Wilson Ramos

SS Danny Espinosa 

P Max Scherzer

 

CUBS

CF Dexter Fowler 

RF Jayson Heyward 

LF Kris Bryant 

1B Anthony Rizzo 

2B Ben Zobrist 

3B Tommy La Stella 

SS Javy Baez 

C David Ross

P John Lackey 

 

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