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Strasburg rattled by Rockies

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Strasburg rattled by Rockies

The Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Rockies last night was disappointingfrustratingmaddeningpick another adjective for a number of reasons, but let's focus on the two most significant ones...

1. Stephen Strasburg came undone during what proved to be the decisive bottom of the sixth inning.

How often does Strasburg take the mound with a lead in hand, give it back and wind up taking the loss? Well, in 31 career starts prior to last night, he had never done it.

But in that fateful bottom of the sixth at Coors Field, Strasburg (who one inning earlier had staked himself to a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI double) imploded in a manner we had never seen before.

It began with a Dexter Fowler leadoff triple down the right-field line, then turned scary when Strasburg drilled Marco Scutaro in the head with a 95 mph fastball. Clearly upset by what he had just done, Strasburg pulled his cap off, winced and looked right at Scutaro, wanting to make sure the veteran infielder was OK.

It's never easy for any pitcher to rebound from a moment like that, and Strasburg was no exception, though he didn't get any help from plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Strasburg's subsequent 2-2 pitch to the fearsome Carlos Gonzalez (a 96 mph fastball on the lower, inside corner of the strike zone) was called a ball. Strasburg appeared to have a few words for Hernandez, and MLB's Pitch FX system confirmed it should have been strike three.

But bad call or not, Strasburg needed to shake that one off and make a good 3-2 pitch to retire Gonzalez. Instead, he left a curveball over enough of the plate for Gonzalez to lace the game-tying single to right. A Michael Cuddyer base hit continued the inning, and Todd Helton's sacrifice fly brought home the go-ahead run.

That proved to be the difference in the game, and proved to be a rare occasion in which Strasburg had trouble handling an adverse situation.

2. A struggling Nationals lineup failed once again to take advantage of a struggling pitcher.

The Nats may not find themselves in a more advantageous matchup entering a game all season, with Strasburg in their corner and soft-tossing Jeff Francis and his 8.56 ERA in the other. That didn't exactly play out as expected, did it?

Francis allowed just two runs on five hits in five innings, striking out five while most notably issuing zero walks. Only four of the 21 batters the left-hander faced got ahead in the count. None worked his way into a three-ball count.

Davey Johnson was not pleased at all.

"We've faced some pitchers everybody jumps on, and they look like Sandy Koufax over there," the manager told reporters following the game.

How bad was the Nationals' offensive attack? Strasburg and No. 8 hitter Jesus Flores combined to go 4-for-5. Everybody else went 4-for-28.

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Nats close homestand against Pirates day after clinch

Nats close homestand against Pirates day after clinch

Nats (90-64) vs. Pirates (77-77) at PNC Park

Saturday night was a big party in Pittsburgh as the Nationals clinched their third NL East title in the last five years. On Sunday, they have a quick turnaround with a 1:35 p.m. start to finish off their final homestand.

Rookie A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.68) will get the start as the Nats now turn their sights towards securing home field advantage in the NL Division Series. He's coming off a two-run, four-inning outing against the Marlins.

Right-hander Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 4.11) will pitch for the Pirates. A rookie, Glasnow has never faced the Nationals before.

The Nationals lead the Dodgers, their likely NLDS opponent, by just 1 1/2 games. They need to stay ahead of them to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. If they each finish with the same record, the Dodgers will get the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head record this season.

First pitch: 1:35 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - A.J. Cole vs. Pirates - Tyler Glasnow

NATS

CF Ben Revere
2B Wilmer Digo
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Clint Robinson 
SS Danny Espinosa
LF Brian Goodwin
C Jose Lobaton
RHP A.J. Cole

PIRATES

TBA
RHP Tyler Glasnow

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Dusty Baker on Nats clinching 2016 NL East title: 'I love this team'

Dusty Baker on Nats clinching 2016 NL East title: 'I love this team'

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jayson Werth's wide grin belied the fact that the Washington Nationals right fielder is an old hand at clubhouse celebrations, having played on eight division-winning teams during his 14-year big league career.

Werth's latest crown came Saturday night when the Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

"It's never gets old," Werth said. "Never."

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

"It's such a hard thing to accomplish," Werth said. "You spent six months trying to do it. It's why you go to spring training early, so you can do everything possible to put yourself in positon to win the division."

The Nationals won the division in Dusty Baker's first season as manager. He replaced Matt Williams, who fired following a 2015 season that began with high hopes of Washington reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Baker had been out of the game for two years after being fired by the Cincinnati Reds following the 2013 season, four days after they lost to the Pirates in the NL wild card.

"That's what I came here for," Baker said, standing in a corner of the clubhouse and watching his players celebrate. "I'm telling you -- let these young men have a great time tonight, back to work tomorrow. First step in a four-step process. This step is the hardest to get. I'm just so happy for these guys. I love them. I love this team."

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

"He was really impressive," Werth said. "We still have some questions about our roster going into the postseason. He's a great talent and if he pitches like he did tonight he can really help us."

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered.

Joe Ross allowed one run and five hits over 2 2/3 innings in his second start since missing 2 months with right shoulder inflammation.

Drew's single came after Bryce Harper's sacrifice fly. Harper also drove in a run with a grounder during a three-run fourth that included three errors and increased the Nationals' lead to 6-1. Jayson Werth hit into a run-scoring forceout and Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly.

Wilson Ramos had three hits for the Nationals, and Drew and Werth added two each.