Nats set to face inconsistent Wainwright

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Nats set to face inconsistent Wainwright

With 2012 Cy Young candidate Kyle Lohse having pitched in the N.L. Wild Card game, the St. Louis Cardinals will trot out right-hander Adam Wainwright against the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS. Wainwright was once one of the games best young pitchers, but returned this season from Tommy John surgery and has yet to regain his form as an ace.

Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season due to the surgery and watched from the dugout as the Cardinals won the World Series without him. He had finished in the top three of National League Cy Young voting in the previous two seasons and their victory without him was a testament to their organizational depth.

Wainwright finished 2012 with a winning record and a sub-4.00 ERA despite struggling for much of the year. The Cardinals showed great patience in sticking with him after a terrible start to the season. Wainwright allowed at least four earned runs in four of his first seven starts and sat 2-4 with a 6.16 ERA on May 12.

The 31-year-old saved his season by going 7-3 with a 2.75 ERA through July and August. Still, over the course of this season he has shown he isnt the same dominant pitcher he once was.

The differences in the old Wainwright and the new one lie in pitch selection. Wainwright has adjusted to throw more off-speed pitches after a slight dip in velocity with a career low fastball usage at 41.8.

Wainwright uses a cut fastball now much more than he did in the past, throwing it 14.2 of the time. His primary breaking ball is the curveball, which he uses for almost a quarter of pitches.

In 2012, when Wainwright won he was dominant and when he lost it was at times ugly. In losses this season Wainwright allowed 56 earned runs in 69.0 innings, good for a 7.30 ERA. In games he won Wainwright held a 1.94 ERA with just 13 walks in 97.2 innings pitched.

Wainwrights two starts against the Nationals in many ways exemplified his season as one was great and one was quite the opposite.

On August 31 the Nationals handed Wainwright one of his worst starts of the season and it came in the middle of perhaps his hottest stretch. Wainwright had allowed two runs or less in eight consecutive starts before a complete disaster in Washington. The Nationals dropped six runs in 2 23 innings before Wainwright was yanked as he earned his 11th loss of the season in a 10-0 blowout at Nationals Park.

Wainwright rebounded nicely against the Nationals at Busch Stadium in his final start of the season. He worked six innings of one run ball and set the Cardinals up for an eventual 12-2 victory. The right-hander allowed just six men on base in his 14th win of the season.

His solid showing against the Nationals was a nice close to his regular season after a rough month of September overall. Wainwright had allowed at least four earned runs in three of his previous five starts.

The Nationals will face Wainwright where he had his best start against them and where he fared better for much of the season. Wainwright went 10-6 with a 3.73 ERA in St. Louis, markedly better than his 4-7, 4.20 line on the road.

One thing that may work in the Nationals favor is the fact that Wainwright hasnt pitched since seeing them on the 28th. He was much better this season on four or five days of rest as with at least six days off between starts he posted a 5.21 ERA in three games.

Wainwright missed the postseason last year, but has appeared in ten playoff games in his career. He has one career postseason start, an eight-inning outing against the Dodgers in the 2009 NLDS. Wainwright allowed just one earned run on a homer to Andre Ethier in the game, but the Dodgers ended up winning in the second game of their three game sweep.

The Nationals have had mixed results against Wainwright this year, but the pitcher may have the advantage at home if his 2012 stats hold up. But looking at how inconsistent he has been overall, they may know early which Wainwright has shown up for Game 1.

Highlights: Sebastian Salazar recaps Week 7 in NWSL

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Highlights: Sebastian Salazar recaps Week 7 in NWSL

Week 7 of the National Women's Soccer League season is in the books - and what a week it was.

We saw the Houston Dash vs. Washington Spirit match postponed due to weather, and got a glimpse at how NWSL squads will deal with their U.S. Women's National Team absences later this summer. 

CSN's Sebastian Salazar takes you around the NWSL for highlights from all four league matches this weekend as well as last week's international friendly between Seattle Reign FC and Arsenal Ladies.

WATCH ALL THE HIGHLIGHTS OF WEEK 7 IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE

Stats you need to know in advance of Nationals' road trip

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Stats you need to know in advance of Nationals' road trip

BY RICH GOLDBERG (@GoldyStats)

After dismantling the Cardinals 10-2 in the series finale on Sunday, the Nationals hit the road for a nine-game road trip that will see them take on their N.L. East rival Philadelphia Phillies, the N.L. Central cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds and the suddenly ice-cold Chicago White Sox.

CSN researcher Rich Goldberg details the five stats you need to know before the Nats start June off on the road.

RELATED: CONSISTENCY KEY TO STRASBURG'S HISTORIC START

1. Bryce Harper has a 6-game home run streak at Philadelphia.

The only other visiting player to do that in Philadelphia? Hall of Famer Ernie Banks back in 1955.

 

2. Wilson Ramos is hitting .336 and leads all MLB catchers.

The previous 5 seasons, Ramos batted .270, .246, .250, .265 and .252 through the end of May.

 

3. Daniel Murphy has a career .406 batting average (26 for 64) at Great American Ballpark.

That is Murphy’s highest BA at any ballpark with a minimum of 4 games played.

 

4. Tanner Roark is 1-4 with a 8.27 career ERA in 5 road games (4 starts) at Philadelphia.

Roark has the fifth worst ERA by a visiting player at Citizens Bank Park, with a minimum of 4 starts. Roark pitches Monday against the Phillies.

 

5. Stephen Strasburg is the first pitcher in Nationals/Expos history to begin a season 9-0 and he’s 9 strikeouts away from his 1000th career K.

Strasburg is scheduled to start Saturday against the Reds.

Nats' Strasburg's consistency continues with franchise-best 9-0 start

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Nats' Strasburg's consistency continues with franchise-best 9-0 start

Exactly when Stephen Strasburg reached a turning point over the last nine or so months depends on whom you ask and where you look. 

Based solely on the numbers, Strasburg has been a different pitcher ever since he returned from the disabled list last August. In his 21 outings since Aug. 8, 2015, Strasburg is 15-2 with a 2.31 ERA, 182 strikeouts and 28 walks in 140 innings pitched.

For Jayson Werth, there was a noticeable change in Strasburg this spring training.

"He came in and he just had a good feel to him. He looked a little bigger, like he was in real good shape. He was talking a lot, which is always a good sign from him. He doesn’t always say too much," Werth said. 

"It just kind of felt like he was going to have a big year. So far, so good. He’s looked great. Obviously, I think the contract has helped… free agency can mess with some guys’ heads sometimes. He’s not going to have to deal with that."

For batterymate Wilson Ramos, the change in Strasburg is in the details. It's in his health and the way he works around trouble during his starts.

"He’s got a different mindset," Ramos said through an interpreter. "I know in the past his injuries have affected his performance out there. He’s always been a great starter for us. But before this year, it seemed like when he gets behind a run or two his morale would drop. This year, he stays optimistic out there and keeps attacking hitters no matter if he gives up a run or two. He’s very aggressive and it’s shown. He’s doing a great job for us out there."

Whatever the reason or the timing, Strasburg has found a new level of consistency this year, as the Nationals have won all 11 of his starts and at a perfect 9-0, he has the best record to begin a season in franchise history. That bests the 8-0 start for Pedro Martinez back in 1997 when he was with the Expos.

All of Strasburg's last 15 outings have resulted in a Nationals victory. This season he's gone at least six innings in all of his starts and only three times has he allowed more than two runs.

In Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals, Strasburg did what he's become increasingly prone to do. He allowed just one run across six innings and scattered six hits and two walks. The lone run came on a Brandon Moss homer in the fourth inning and that was the only extra-base hit he allowed on the day.

Almost every time the Cardinals threatened, he quickly stopped the bleeding and got the Nationals' defense off the field. 

"He's certainly earning his money," manager Dusty Baker said. "This is big for him, for him and us. He's been trying to figure out probably for a couple years why he's not a big winner because he has the stuff to be a big winner."

Becoming a 'big winner' requires some help, of course, and Strasburg is getting plenty of it. In his 11 starts this season the Nationals are averaging seven runs per game. 

That will take the pressure off.

"The guys swung the bats good today. I was just happy to give them a chance," Strasburg said.