Instant analysis: Nats 5, Mets 1

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Instant analysis: Nats 5, Mets 1

Game in a nutshell: Looking to bounce back from a rough weekend against the Marlins, the Nationals didn't waste much time pouncing on Collin McHugh. They roughed up the Mets rookie right-hander for three homers during an eight-batter span in the third and fourth innings, jumping out to a 5-1 lead. They actually were held hit-less by the New York bullpen after that, but rode Gio Gonzalez's effective start and scoreless innings of relief from Ryan Mattheus, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to secure a fairly easy victory. Gonzalez became the majors' first 19-game winner, and the Nationals opened a six-game road trip in strong fashion. Their magic number for the NL East is down to 16; their magic number for the final wild card berth is 9.
Hitting highlight: The Nationals' scoring barrage took a break yesterday, but it was back in full force for the opener of this series. They blasted three homers -- Kurt Suzuki's solo shot in the third, Ryan Zimmerman's two-run shot a few batters later, Ian Desmond's two-run shot in the fourth -- and none was a cheapie. Desmond's was especially impressive, a real clout into one of the bullpens in right field. It was only the latest example of the shortstop's newfound stroke to the opposite field: Seven of his 22 homers this season have been hit to the right of straightaway center. Only one of Desmond' 22 career homers prior to 2012 was hit in that direction.
Pitching highlight: It looked like it might be a long night for Gonzalez when he walked his first batter of the night, then issued another free pass to David Wright moments later. And truth be told, the left-hander wasn't sharp at all. He wound up walking five and throwing only 58 of his 104 pitches for strikes. But he did come through with big pitches when he needed them and wound up with strong overall results: one run allowed on three hits over six innings. The only real blemish on his pitching line: Scott Hairston's solo homer in the fourth. Gonzalez's quality start proved more than enough to earn him win No. 19 on the season, making him the first MLB pitcher to reach that milepost in 2012.
Key stat: Desmond's 22 homers this season are the most ever by a Washington middle infielder, a span that includes the 1901-71 Senators and the 2005-present Nationals.
Up next: Gonzalez became the majors' first 19-game winner tonight. New York's R.A. Dickey will try to join him tomorrow. The knuckleballer goes up against Jordan Zimmermann at 7:10 p.m. in a matchup of two of the best right-handers in the NL this season.

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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