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Instant analysis: Nats 3, Rays 2

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Instant analysis: Nats 3, Rays 2

Game in a nutshell: First of all, rest assured there were no pine tar incidents in this one. Just a clean, well-played ballgame featuring a couple of dominant pitching performances. Stephen Strasburg's dominance (seven innings of two-run, 10-strikeout ball) was expected. Chris Archer's dominance (he retired the last 11 batters he faced in his big-league debut) was not. In the end, the three runs the Nats scored in the first inning held up the entire way. Strasburg made it through seven innings on 111 pitches, then turned things over to Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard to close it out and snap the Nationals' four-game losing streak. Oh, and Joel Peralta did manage to retire two batters out of the Tampa Bay bullpen without getting ejected.

Hitting highlight: There weren't many to choose from, since the Nationals scored three runs in the bottom of the first and then did nothing after that. But that early rally did feature a couple of impressive at-bats. It began with Steve Lombardozzi's leadoff double, with the rookie showing off some nice hustle. It continued with Bryce Harper's RBI single to center, with the rookie hustling to advance to second on the throw home. And it concluded with Ian Desmond's two-out RBI single to left. Desmond now has 35 RBI for the season, second only to Adam LaRoche on the roster.

Pitching highlight: Strasburg would probably say he didn't have his very best stuff tonight. Amazing what the guy can still do without it. Though he served up a homer to Jose Molina in the second and then gave up another run in the third on back-to-back two-out hits, Strasburg wound up notching the sixth double-digit strikeout start of his young career. And most impressively, he dialed things up a notch to finish off his night. The right-hander's 111th pitch of the game was a 98 mph fastball blown past Desmond Jennings for his 10th strikeout. People have often tried to compare Strasburg to Justin Verlander. Well, that final inning was a good example. Verlander is known for ratcheting up his fastball a few extra miles per hour in his final inning, and Strasburg showed he could do that, too.

Key stat: Archer walked 5.3 batters per nine innings this season at Class AAA Durham. The Nats managed to draw only one free pass off the rookie over six innings.

Up next: This emotionally charged series concludes Thursday night when a pair of really talented, young left-handers squares off. It'll be Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals, Matt Moore for the Rays at 7:05 p.m.

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Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals

Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals

The Nationals have plenty of questions facing their starting rotation as they enter the 2016 postseason, but they now know exactly what the Dodgers will be rolling out for their NL Division Series.

Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts announced the Dodgers' rotation on Tuesday with Clayton Kershaw set for Game 1, Rich Hill for Game 2 and Kenta Maeda for Game 3. Julio Urias is a possibility for Game 4, though Kershaw could always go on short rest.

That's three lefties, with Maeda the only exception. That's also two rookies in Maeda and Urias.

Kershaw getting Game 1 is no surprise, of course. The three-time Cy Young winner and former MVP is the best pitcher in baseball. He's 12-3 with a 1.65 ERA in 20 starts this season and has 168 strikeouts to just 10 walks.

Hill has also been very good with a 2.05 ERA in 19 starts this season. The Dodgers acquired him in a trade with the Athletics on Aug. 1. Hill actually spent part of the 2015 season as part of the Nationals' minor league system.

Maeda has been one of the best rookies this season with a 16-9 record and 3.20 ERA. Urias is not far behind him with a 3.53 ERA through 17 appearances.

The Nationals are likely to pitch Max Scherzer in Game 1 and Tanner Roark in Game 2. Who pitches Game 3 is less clear, though it will be a choice between Joe Ross and Gio Gonzalez. The other could pitch Game 4, unless the Nats decide to start Scherzer again on short rest.

Stephen Strasburg is unlikely to pitch in the series at all, the Nationals revealed on Tuesday. He remains out with a right flexor mass strain.

[Via the Los Angeles Times]

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Nats pitcher A.J. Cole suspended by MLB, is appealing

Nats pitcher A.J. Cole suspended by MLB, is appealing

Nationals starter A.J. Cole has been suspended five games and issued an undisclosed fine by Major League Baseball for his role in the benches-clearing altercation between the Nats and Pirates on Sunday in Pittsburgh. The rookie has already decided to appeal the ban.

Cole is in line to pitch for the Nationals on Friday against the Marlins. That start is in jeopardy if the suspension is upheld, or he decides to drop it.

Cole, 24, threw behind Pirates first baseman Jung Ho Kang in the third inning of the Nationals' win over the Pirates. It was after Kang faked a tag at third base on a triple by Bryce Harper, a move that led to Harper jamming his left thumb on the play.

Harper has since missed two games with the injury, but X-rays showed no broken bones. He is expected to return to the Nats soon, possibly on Wednesday.

Cole is 1-2 with a 5.09 ERA this season. He has allowed 12 earned runs in his last 16 2/3 innings pitched. Friday would be his final chance to prove himself before the Nats decide their playoff roster, but he may not get it.

[RELATED: X-ray on Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news]

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