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Nats starting pitching a weakness so far

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Nats starting pitching a weakness so far

From April through September, there was no better team in baseball than the Nationals when it came to starting pitching. Through injuries to their lineup and bullpen, it was their constant, their guarantee.

But now three games into the National League Division Series, starting pitching is all of a sudden a weakness. Nats starters have barely been able to get out of the second inning without digging a significant hole for their team to get out of. In the Nationals' 8-0 loss in Game 3, Edwin Jackson was no different.

Nats manager Davey Johnson sent Jackson to the mound after two shaky starts by his one and two starters Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in Games 1 and 2. And despite Jacksons playoff experience, he couldnt buck the trend of starting the game with trouble early on. Jackson, in fact, missed the strike zone by about a foot on each of his first two pitches.

Johnson acknowledged that maybe Jackson and his teammates were a little jumpy after a pregame celebration of Washington, D.C.s first home MLB playoff game since 1933.

Everybody's excited about the opening ceremonies with all of the dignitaries and the flyover.Got everybody excited, Johnson said. If you get behind early, sometimes it takes the wind out of your sails.

Jackson allowed a run in the first inning off back-to-back hits to Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. Holliday scored all the way from first as left fielder Michael Morse tracked down the ball in the corner.

The second inning for Jackson began with a double by David Freese. Daniel Descalso then singled to move Freese over to third. The next batter, Pete Kozma, took the next pitch over the left field fence for a three-run homer.

Jackson was bitten early just as Gonzalez and Zimmermann were in St. Louis. After experiencing it himself he explained why the Cardinals keep finding success in the first two innings.

Theyre just coming out and being aggressive, he said. Theyre not waiting around for you to get strike one. They are coming out and jumping on pitches early in the count.

In Game 1 Gonzalez allowed two runs, including one on a wild pitch, and walked four batters in the second inning. In Game 2 Zimmermann allowed three runs in the second with four straight hits to begin the inning.

Add their outings with Jacksons day and Nationals starters have allowed 11 earned runs in 13 innings, a combined 7.62 ERA. Thats more than double their combined ERAs in the regular season.

Whatever the Cardinals lineup is doing, they are doing it right. Some of the Nationals position players feel they need to get their bats going early to help the starter in any way they can.

We need to put a couple runs up early, Ryan Zimmerman said. We can give our pitchers some leeway and attack their guys so they dont have so much pressure to make perfect pitches all the time.

Pitching his huge definitely. Having guys going out there and throw strikes and doing well is the key to winning, Bryce Harper said. And hopefully we can get some runs up on the board and really get things going early.

Through three games the Nationals have been outscored 10-2 in the first two innings. Heading to the mound for Game 4 will be Ross Detwiler who is their least experienced starter. Johnson hopes the lefty can get the pitching staff back to where it was just a few games ago, the teams backbone and biggest strength.

We have two more ballgames.Det's capable of pitching a good game tomorrow, he said.

That's been our strength all year.These young guys have pitched great all year. Need a couple more goodpitched games this series.

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Nats weight home field advantage against staying healthy as playoffs near

Nats weight home field advantage against staying healthy as playoffs near

Though they’re still fighting for home field advantage in next week’s division series, the Nationals understand they’re in a strange part of their season.  

Sure, playoff seeding is plenty important. These last regular season games count, et cetera et cetera. But Washington already clinched the NL East title, and already knows its playoff opponent is going to be the Los Angeles Dodgers. So it’s not a surprise that players are willing to admit how difficult it can be to keep their foot on the gas pedal these days.

“Once you win the division, there’s that exhale, that sigh of relief,” said Jayson Werth after Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.”..You kind of let off the throttle a little bit.”

And when a team takes that approach, health becomes the top priority. It’s a mindset that was on full display Friday night when Werth was removed from the game in the seventh inning as a precaution due to back and side tightness.

 “We can't afford to lose anybody else,” manager Dusty Baker said. “So we decided that, it was wet, on the chilly side, and I decided I couldn't take a chance on him being injured too.”

Werth said that team trainers ruled out a strain or a pull, and that he’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the lineup on Saturday afternoon.  

Still, any injury the Nats suffer this time of the year feels magnified, especially given the last week: Bryce Harper jammed his left thumb, Wilson Ramos tore his ACL and Daniel Murphy was shut down until the playoffs with a glute strain. Not to mention that Stephen Strasburg will likely miss the club’s entire October run.

“The biggest thing is right now is to get everybody healthy for the postseason,” Stephen Drew said. “I think that's key. We got some guys out and hopefully we'll be ready for the playoffs.”

So while every team says it’d like to head into the postseason firing on all cylinders, the Nats’ case shows that it’s not always realistic. Bottling up momentum and carrying into the biggest games of the year is the ideal, of course. But sometimes heading into the tournament with all your horses in tact works too — seeding be damned.

“Obviously home field advantage is important to us, and we want that,” Werth said. “But at the same time, we also feel like we’ve done our job a little bit. So there’s a balance there.....you don’t want to do something where you can put yourself in jeopardy, where you can really get hurt.”

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Cole struggles early, bullpen cracks late as Nats fall to Marlins

Cole struggles early, bullpen cracks late as Nats fall to Marlins

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-4 loss over the Miami Marlins on Friday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: If the Nationals want to sew up home field advantage in their first playoff series, they still have more work to do — and only have two more games to do it.

The Nats were unable to help their cause Friday night, falling to the Marlins 7-4 in a rain-soaked affair that began nearly two hours after its scheduled start time.  

While the offense couldn’t come through late, it was starter A.J. Cole that put the Nats in a bind in this one. The 24-year-old rookie right hander forcing Dusty Baker to go to his bullpen early after yielding four runs (two earned) on six hits in just three innings of work.

But all it took was one inning for the Nats to even things up. Anthony Rendon and Stephen Drew opened the fourth with back-to-back solo home runs, and RBI hits by Jose Lobaton and Trea Turner make it 4-4 heading into the fifth.

The bullpen subsequently cracked, however, yielding a runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to give the Marlins a 7-4 edge. The offense couldn’t mount a late rally, and that was all she wrote.

What it means: The magic number for home field advantage in the NLDS remains at two. As of this post, the Dodgers have yet to complete their game against the Giants, so there’s still a chance it could fall to one by Saturday morning.

Rendon reaches homer milestone: With his fourth-inning solo shot, Rendon became the latest Nats hitter join the 20 home run club. In fact, the Nats tied the 1965 and 2003 Braves as the only National League clubs with six players with 20-plus long balls in a season. (Interestingly enough, the Cardinals mathed that feat the Nats later in night after a Matt Holliday home run.)

But back to Rendon: For all the talk that the Nats offense sans Wilson Ramos will suffer, remember that Rendon has been one of the team’s best hitters since the All-Star break. Since then, he’s notched 11 homers, 20 doubles and 51 RBI. In other words, he’s fully returned to his ‘Tony Two-Bags’ form of 2014.

More accolades for Turner: D.C.’s favorite rookie had another one of his patented performances Friday night, going 2-for-3 with an RBI single, a triple and two stolen bases. He became the fourth player in MLB history to notch 10 home runs and 30 steals in less than 100 games, joining Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds and current Nats first base coach Davey Lopes. Since the break, he leads the team in both extra-base hits and steals. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Harper struggles: In his first game back since injuring his left thumb, Bryce Harper looked looked very much like a hitter trying to regain his timing at the plate. In four at-bats, he struck out four times — three of them swinging. It’s just one game, of course, but he and the Nats are quickly running out of time to rev up for October.

Up next: The Nats will continue their quest to gain home field advantage in the middle game of this three-game set. Washington will send Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.86 ERA) to the hill to oppose Marlins lefty Wei-Yin Chen (5-4, 5.02 ERA).