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Chimera feels Nationals pain

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Chimera feels Nationals pain

When the Nationals collapsed after leading late in Game 5 of the NLDS on Friday, the story seemed all too familiar for Washington sports fans. Teams falling short of high expectations is not uncommon in D.C. and perhaps no local team has experienced more heartbreak of late than the Washington Capitals. The Caps have won their division four out of the last five seasons and have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs.

Forward Jason Chimera has been on the last three Capitals playoff teams, including the 2009-10 roster that lost in the first round after winning the Presidents’ Trophy. As someone who has felt the disappointment the Nationals now feel, Chimera says he can relate. The winger was actually at Game 5 on Friday night and saw the Cardinals’ comeback in person.

“It was very shocking,” he said. “It was unfortunate for the city because it would have been nice to have a long playoff run. I felt bad for a lot of guys on that team because I know the position they are in and how that feels.”

Chimera and the Capitals’ collapse in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals is probably the best comparison to the Nats’ NLDS loss in recent D.C. sports history. The Caps had the best record in the NHL with 121 points and entered the playoffs as favorites to with the Stanley Cup. They even jumped out to a 3-1 series lead over the eight seed Montreal Canadiens before dropping three straight games to be eliminated.

The Capitals were a young team that encountered a veteran Habs goalie in Jaroslav Halak and a defensive system better suited for the playoffs. Chimera sees a parallel in the St. Louis Cardinals.

“You learn from it. It's hard, it happens, but you gotta take some stuff out of it and learn from it next time,” he said. “If the Cards weren't there they wouldn't have known how to win that game. They just kept chipping away and chipping away and eventually they came back.”

“The Cards are a good team, they've proven it, and they had all the experience on their side. That's I think what helped them.”

Despite the crushing loss in Game 5, Chimera thinks the Nationals have something similar to the Caps in the works, that they could sustain a successful team for years to come.

“I think the Nats got a lot, they are a very young team, they got a lot of the pieces in place that are gonna be here for a long time. I'm sure this won't be the last time they're in that position.  Next time they're in that position they will be better off for it.”

The Nationals certainly had a year to remember and with the best record in the majors and built a significant fan base that is now as strong as ever. Chimera includes himself in that category and says a lot of his teammates now like the team as well.

“They brought a lot of fans on board, it was cool,” he said while wearing a Nationals hat at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “You can see with our team, when we first came in there were 10 guys wearing Nats hats.”

Chimera was at Game 5, but said he couldn’t attend Game 4 because he was at home with his kids. He instead at home on television as the Nationals forced a fifth game on Jayson Werth’s walkoff homer.

“I watched it on TV because I had the kids for the night, my wife was gone. Instead of watching cartoons we were watching Game 4,” he said. “We watched Werth and I was yelling when he hit the home run, the kids were like 'what are you yelling at?' It was exciting, you were right at the edge of your seat. It was a fun game to watch.”

Chimera is on board with the local baseball team, but is no ordinary Nationals fan. Not many have a friend on the team.

“I know Tom Gorzelanny, the pitcher,” he said “We live in the same neighborhood so I've got to know him a little bit. It's nice to kind of pick his brain to know a little baseball too.”

Chimera said he and Gorzelanny talk and “hang out quite a bit” when both are home and have even have exchanged jerseys. Chimera though, of course refers to Gorzelanny’s number 32 uniform as his “sweater.”

Kellie Cowan contributed to this report.

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Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team's opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation. 

Scherzer has been the team's starter on opening day for the past two seasons, but a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger caused him to miss the start of spring training, and the World Baseball Classic. 

Scherzer did, however, make his first MLB spring training start of 2017 on Wednesday. The 2016 NL Cy Young award winner allowed two earned runs on five hits over 4.2 innings. He added four strikeouts and one walk, and reportedly looked just like you would expect from Max Scherzer. 

"To be out there competing, throwing all my pitches, throwing them for strikes, that's a great first outing," Scherzer told Eddie Matz of ESPN after the game. "Finger's good. Finger feels like a finger. I'm getting through that injury. It's behind me now."

With Scherzer set to open the season as the third starter in the rotation, that likely means that Stephen Strasburg will start on opening day against the Miami Marlins, and Tanner Roark will slot in behind him. 

While it's nice to have your ace pitcher starting on opening day, it's not a huge deal to have Scherzer start the season third in the rotation, especially because the Nationals starting rotation is the strength of the team

Related: Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches four scoreless innings to help Team USA beat Japan in WBC

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Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luke Gregerson's final strike breezed past Nobuhiro Matsuda, and the rain-drenched American players celebrated on the field while a soaked crowd roared through the evening mist.

A daylong downpour couldn't dampen this resilient United States club or its fans, who will finally get to root for the home team in a World Baseball Classic championship game.

Brandon Crawford scored the tiebreaking run when Matsuda bobbled Adam Jones' grounder to third in the eighth inning, and the United States reached the WBC final for the first time by beating Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night at rainy Dodger Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen drove in an early run for the U.S., which will play Puerto Rico for the title Wednesday night. Puerto Rico edged the Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings Monday.

"It means a heck of a lot," said McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger. "We've got a great group of guys on this team who have dedicated this time to be able to try and win some ballgames. Sacrifices had to be made, and there are no egos when that door opens. That's what's good about this team. Everybody is a superstar on this team. There are no egos."

The World Baseball Classic final has been played in the United States in each of its four editions, but the home team had never been able to play America's pastime on what has become its biggest international stage. The U.S. only reached the semifinals once before, in 2009.

While manager Jim Leyland's current roster is missing Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and many other American superstars, the All-Star-laden group that decided to participate has won two straight elimination games to earn a chance for the U.S.' first crown.

"Coming into this event, I didn't really want to talk about the fact that the United States has never won it (and) they've never gone to the finals," Leyland said. "I didn't think that was a big deal. I wanted this, for the players, to be a memory. I've talked a lot about it. Make a memory. Hopefully it's a real good one, regardless of the results (Wednesday). I know it is for me. It's been an absolute honor."

To reach the final, the Americans had to persevere through an uncharacteristic Los Angeles rain that drenched the playing field several hours before game time. They also had to beat a gifted Japanese team at its own game: pitching, defense and small ball.

Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a tying homer off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth inning for Japan, but the two-time WBC champions were twice let down by their normally sturdy defense.

McCutchen opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth moments after Kikuchi's two-base error at second. In the eighth, Crawford likely would have been out at the plate on Jones' innocent grounder, but Matsuda didn't field it cleanly and had to throw to first.

"Well, two plays," Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said through a translator. "Honestly, there were some mistakes, and then a run was scored. ... The team that makes mistakes will lose. That's what it means. I cannot blame them, though, for doing that."

Japan won the first two WBC tournaments before losing in the 2013 semifinals, and Kokubo's current team was unbeaten in this event.

"The players really did their very best," Kokubo said. "I really appreciate it. It's do-or-die, one semifinal."

Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before Leyland pulled him on the instructions of the Washington Nationals, who limited Roark to 50 pitches because he hadn't faced live hitters in nine days.

"I felt good enough to stay out there," Roark said.

Gregerson, the Americans' sixth reliever, worked a perfect ninth inning after Pat Neshek escaped a two-on jam in the eighth.

Leyland is confident he'll have a capable bullpen Wednesday after receiving texts from various pitching coaches around the majors on the status of their players. Toronto's Marcus Stroman, the starter, is free to reach the WBC's 95-pitch limit, Leyland confirmed.

Although the crowd of 33,462 strongly favored the team with five California natives in the starting lineup, thousands of Japanese fans showed up early and chanted throughout the game, accompanied by the brass band in the left-field bleachers.

Tomoyuki Sugano, the Yomiuri Giants ace with a seven-pitch repertoire, tossed six innings of three-hit ball for Japan, striking out six and yielding only one unearned run.

But Sugano was matched by Roark, who gave up just two singles and a walk in his four innings, also hitting a batter with a pitch.

After Christian Yelich reached second in the fourth inning when his hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Kikuchi, the standout defensive second baseman, Eric Hosmer worked out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk.

McCutchen had just two hits in his first 14 at-bats in the WBC, but he drove in Yelich with a sharp single to left.

Kikuchi made up for his mistake in the sixth, driving Jones' fastball barely over the reach of McCutchen in right field for his first homer of the tournament.

Japan reliever Kodai Senga struck out the first four batters he faced with a 96 mph fastball and exceptional off-speed stuff, but Crawford then delivered a sharp single before Ian Kinsler doubled to deep left-center.

Neshek got cleanup hitter Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh on a fly to right to end the eighth.