Lannan leads Nats to sweep in New York

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Lannan leads Nats to sweep in New York

NEW YORK -- The storyline, and the comparison, was too obvious to ignore.

Stephen Strasburg was supposed to start Wednesday night's series finale in New York. John Lannan instead took his spot and now will make four starts down the stretch run of a pennant race in place of baseball's most-hyped young pitcher.

Those who try to compare Lannan to Strasburg, though, haven't really been following the Nationals, this year or any previous year. Lannan simply isn't Strasburg. Nor has he ever tried to be.

Truth be told, Lannan isn't like any other member of the Nationals' rotation. He doesn't have Strasburg's dominating repertoire or Jordan Zimmermann's slider or Gio Gonzalez's curveball or Ross Detwiler's fastball or Edwin Jackson's experience. And he knows it.

"This rotation's different," Lannan said. "There's something about it. Every five days when Stephen was in it, it's just different. Day after day, there's no giving up. I go out there and I had to just not try to do what they do. I'm not necessarily that type of pitcher, but I do like to compete. And that's the one thing I did see: them competing. And I can do that."

So that's exactly what Lannan did Wednesday night. He didn't so much dominate the Mets as he navigated his way through their lineup. He threw lots of strikes. He kept the ball down in the zone. He induced a ton of groundballs. And he didn't allow a run over 5 23 innings, paving the way for the Nationals to pull off a 2-0 victory and a series sweep at Citi Field.

And thanks to the Brewers' sweep of the Braves, plus the continued collapse of nearly every NL wild-card contender, the Nationals now boast an 8 12-game lead in the NL East entering this weekend's showdown in Atlanta and a 15-game lead for the league's final playoff berth with only 19 games to go.

"This was a big series," manager Davey Johnson said. "We needed to kinda drive the nail in their coffin here and come into Atlanta with a good frame of mind. And that's what we're doing."

All that angst about the Strasburg shutdown and how the Nats would replace him? Nobody in the visitors clubhouse at the end of the night seemed too worried about that.

"I don't think anybody in here was concerned about what John was going to give us," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We've all seen him enough. ... We don't think he has to prove anything to us. We've seen him pitch. He's done well and he worked his tail off down there in Triple-A, and he comes up and picks up right where he left off, if not better."

Indeed, combined with his back-to-back shutouts in late-August to close out his season with Syracuse, Lannan has now tossed 23 23 consecutive scoreless innings. And in his three big-league starts this year, he's now 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA.

All this from a guy who five months ago was stunningly shipped away to the minors and requested a trade from the only organization he's ever known. Feels like an eternity now, doesn't it?

"If you're not pulling for him, you're not human," reliever Sean Burnett said. "To see what he went through in late March and to deal with what he did and the way he handled it ... he earned a lot of respect in this clubhouse. We're all pulling for him, and a lot of fans are, too."

The Nationals needed Lannan to be as effective as he was Wednesday night, because they weren't offering much support at the plate. Wowed by Mets rookie Matt Harvey, who struck out 10 batters in only five innings, they had to settle for a pair of solo homers and nothing else from what has been the majors' most potent lineup in recent weeks.

Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff blast in the fourth got things started. Desmond's solo shot in the eighth off Jon Rauch provided the insurance.

That still set the stage for a tense bottom of the ninth. With Tyler Clippard unavailable after working the previous two nights, Johnson decided to entrust this lead to Burnett, who hadn't pitched in 10 days due to elbow inflammation.

"I didn't wanna go to Clip or Drew Storen, period," the manager said. "Especially Clip. I wanted to give him a couple days off. If I pitched him today, it would have been four out of five, and I wanted to give him a couple days off and have him fresh for Atlanta."

Turns out Johnson needed Storen to finish this one off after Burnett allowed a two-out single to put men on the corners and bring the potential winning run to the plate.

"Being 10 days and not seeing hitters, that situation -- I was a little geeked up," Burnett said. "But all-in-all, it was alright. Just got a couple balls up."

Storen, who saved 43 games last season as Washington's primary closer but after missing three months following elbow surgery has ceded the job this year to Clippard, wasted little time getting pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy to fly out to center and secure his second save of 2012.

"It's just part of the bullpen life," Storen said. "You just stay on your toes and never assume anything."

That same mentality might apply to Lannan right now. After a surreal year, most of it spent in the minors, he's trying not to assume anything and just live in the moment.

Everyone else can try to compare him to Strasburg. He's just thrilled to have a chance at last to perform for the Nationals in a pennant race.

"Just being on this team right now is incredible," he said. "You can not only see it, but you can kind of feel the chemistry and everything. It's something special, and I'm just proud to be a part of it right now."

Nationals' bats can't come up with enough late in loss to Cubs

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Nationals' bats can't come up with enough late in loss to Cubs

By JAY COHEN, AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) -- Kyle Hendricks pitched six scoreless innings, Ben Zobrist drove in four runs and the Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 5-2 on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series between two of baseball's hottest teams.

Hendricks (2-2) allowed two hits, struck out four and walked two as Chicago began a 10-game homestand with its fourth consecutive win and eighth in nine games.

Zobrist hit a two-run single in the fourth and a two-run homer in the eighth, helping the Cubs improve their major league-best record to 21-6 for their best start since they were 23-4 in 1907.

Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper singled and walked twice against Hendricks, but the right-hander shut down the rest of Washington's lineup. Michael Taylor was stranded at second after a two-out double in the third for the Nationals' first hit.

Jayson Werth hit a long two-run homer in the ninth for Washington, which had won five of six, including a 13-2 victory at World Series champion Kansas City on Wednesday. The Nationals began the day with baseball's second-best record at 19-8.

Joe Ross (3-1) matched Hendricks for much of the chilly night, striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed five hits and walked two.

One rough stretch was enough to send Ross to his first loss since Aug. 16 at San Francisco.

Chicago's first four batters in the fourth reached safely, producing two runs. Tommy La Stella singled, Kris Bryant had a ground-rule double and Anthony Rizzo was walked intentionally before Zobrist's single to right gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

Rizzo was thrown out trying to advance to third on Zobrist's hit, and Ross retired the next two hitters to get out of the inning. But the damage was done.

Clayton Richard and Justin Grimm combined for a perfect seventh for Chicago before Pedro Strop wriggled out of a jam in the eighth.

Zobrist connected for his third homer and Addison Russell added an RBI double in the bottom half, providing some valuable breathing room.

After Werth went deep against Travis Wood with two down, Hector Rondon retired Wilson Ramos on a liner to first for the final out.

Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy was greeted with a round of boos when he came to the plate in the second inning. It was Murphy's first game at Wrigley Field since he hit four homers while helping the New York Mets sweep the Cubs in the NL Championship Series last year.

CHANGE OF PLANS

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward tested his sore right wrist in batting practice and was planning to return to the lineup on Friday if he felt OK. But he ended up playing center in the series opener after Dexter Fowler was ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Vic Carpazza after he struck out looking to end the third.

Heyward, who signed a $184 million, eight-year contract with Chicago during free agency, went 0 for 2 with a strikeout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Ben Revere, who is on the disabled list with a right oblique strain, rejoined the team and could be activated soon. "I'd rather wait an extra day, especially because I've seen too many guys say I'm ready and they come back and they do it again," manager Dusty Baker said. "Hopefully he doesn't injure himself again the rest of the year."

Cubs: C Miguel Montero, on the DL with lower back tightness, hit before the game and manager Joe Maddon said trainer P.J. Mainville was encouraged with his progress.

UP NEXT

Washington ace Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.35 ERA) takes on John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA) in a matchup of veteran right-handers on Friday afternoon. Scherzer is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley. Lackey needs six strikeouts to become the fifth active pitcher with at least 2,000 Ks, joining CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez and Jake Peavy.

Ross' 9 Ks not enough to overcome Zobrist and Hendricks' big night

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Ross' 9 Ks not enough to overcome Zobrist and Hendricks' big night

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night at Wrigley Field:

How it happened: Ben Zobrist came to play. The highly prized free agent signed during the offseason to round out the Cubs infield started things off early, driving in Tommy La Stella and Kris Bryant in the fourth inning on a single to put the Cubs.

Four innings later, with the Nationals unable to make good contact off Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO), Zobrist tacked on two more thanks to a big, two-out home run to left field off reliever Felipe Rivero.

Two batters later, Addison Russell drove in Ryan Kallish on a double off Joe Kelley to put the Cubs up 5-0.

Bryce Harper reached on a walk in the top of the ninth and Jayson Werth cleared the bases on a home run off Travis Wood, but Carlos Rodon shut the door on Wilson Ramos and the Nats, procuring the final out.

What it means: The 5-1 win moves the Cubs' run differential to an absurd +96. It's still an early-season series, but four games in Chicago will help fuel the narrative heading toward the All-Star break. The Nats' bats were cold, but Bryce Harper reaching base four times is a good sign that maybe brief slump is coming to an end.

Ross' standout start: Despite suffering his first loss of the year, Joe Ross tossed perhaps his best game of the 2016 campaign. Although he gave up a season-high two runs, he also recorded a season-high nine strikeouts and allowed just five hits and two balls.

His slider was working early, recording his first three punchouts using his go-to pitch. The 22-year-old hurler continues to dazzle early in the year and his been a pleasant surprise.

He faced his biggest test to date and while he took the loss, his performance certainly wasn't anything to scoff at.

With a 1.23 ERA, he ranks behind just Gio Gonzalez and Jake Arrieta for the league lead. That's good company to keep.

Murphy comes up empty: Daniel Murphy did not record a hit. That may sound a bit odd and with good reason. Thursday night was just the fourth time all season Murphy has failed to get a hit this season. His two strikeouts was also a rareity, just the second-time he's been sent down twice in one outing in 2016. But fear not. Each of Murphy's hitless games have been followed up by multi-hit games with at least one RBI. Friday will be different for sure.

Revere waits again: There was speculation that Ben Revere would make his return to the lineup on Thursday after spending a month on the DL due to a strained oblique he suffered during the first week of the season. But after giving it a go in pregame warmups it was determined that one more day of rest would get Revere back to 100%, and he is expected to be back on the field on Friday, 

What's next: Max Scherzer (3-1, 3.31 ERA) takes on John Lackey (3-1, 4.32 ERA) on Friday afternoon with Lackey needing just six strikeouts to become the fifth active starter with at least 2,000 Ks, joining the likes of Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez, Jake Peavy and CC Sabathia.

Nats open highly-anticipated series with Cubs looking to make statement

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Nats open highly-anticipated series with Cubs looking to make statement

Nationals (19-8) at Cubs (20-6)

After a successful road trip the Missouri whichs aw the Nationals best the reigning world champion Royals and the always dangerous Cardinals, they must do battle with MLB's best team: The Chicago Cubs.

The Nationals and Cubs are both considered top contenders to win the 2016 World Series, and while that is still months away, their first encounter will provide a small sampling of how the two teams stack up.

On top of that, Ben Revere, who suffered an oblique strain in the first week of the season, is expected to make his return to the roster in Chicago.

First pitch: 8:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 869
Starting pitchers: Nats - Joe Ross vs. Cubs - Kyle Hendricks

NATIONALS

CF Michael Taylor

3B Anthony Rendon

RF Bryce Harper

1B Ryan Zimmerman

2B Daniel Murphy

LF Jayson Werth

C Wilson Ramos

SS Danny Espinosa 

RHP Joe Ross

 

CUBS

CF Dexter Fowler

3B Tommy La Stella

RF Kris Bryant

1B Anthony Rizzo

2B Ben Zobrist

LF Ryan Kalish

SS Addison Russell

C Tom, Federowicz

RHP Kyle Hendricks

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