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Nationals look to complete sweep of Cardinals behind ace Max Scherzer

Nationals look to complete sweep of Cardinals behind ace Max Scherzer

WASHINGTON -- Mike Leake was 22 years old when he broke into the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010.

His skipper was Dusty Baker, who managed the Reds through the 2013 season. Leake won 42 games under Baker from 2010-13.

"It was awesome," said Leake on Tuesday, standing in the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse at Nationals Park. "I couldn't ask for a better first manager. He treated me like a son and I appreciate that."

Leake will face his former manager on Wednesday when he starts on the mound against Baker's Washington Nationals in the series finale in the nation's capital.

The Nationals' starter will be Max Scherzer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last season when he was 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA.

Leake was 9-12 in 30 starts for the Cardinals last season -- his first with the club. He will be challenged by Washington's offense, which had 19 hits against St. Louis in a 14-6 win Monday and then 11 more with three homers in an 8-3 victory Tuesday.

"I feel like I had a pretty good spring. I look forward to facing these guys," Leake said. "It is a tough lineup that can hurt you at any time. You have to be ready for them. I know they are led by a good manager."

Leake has enjoyed success in his career against the heart of the Washington order.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy is hitting just .238 against him in 21 at-bats, while first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has an average of .211 in 19 at-bats. Murphy had four hits and drove in five runs Tuesday.

Right fielder Bryce Harper is just 3-for-13 against Leake, but two of those hits are homers. The best everyday hitter for the Nationals against Leake is left fielder Jayson Werth, who is batting .292 in 24 trips to the plate. He hit one of the homers Tuesday.

"A veteran guy," Cardinals catcher Eric Fryer said of Leake. "In the spring he was effective in getting ahead of the hitters. When he keeps it on the ground, he is very effective."

"I will be watching the first couple of days from the side and if I need further evidence of what I can't see I will go to the tape," Leake said of facing Washington. "I have faced most of these guys."

Scherzer will make his second start of the year after he won at Philadelphia on Friday.

The right-hander from St. Louis went 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs and four hits in his first start of the year.

Scherzer hopes to get support from an offense that has included a rare hot start from Zimmerman, who hit a career-low .218 last season but is batting .367 this year.

"I am just excited to get off to a good start," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday. "Not many times in my career I have gotten off to a good start. Our lineup is so good."

The Nationals own the top batting average in the league, but they lost shortstop and leadoff hitter Trea Turner to the disabled list on Monday. He was replaced as the leadoff hitter by Adam Eaton, who had three hits Monday.

"Our lineup is so good. Eaton jumps right into the leadoff spot," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan. "It is a fun lineup to be a part of."

Related: Daniel Murphy has career night against Cardinals

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Nationals, without their big guns, fall to Mets

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Nationals, without their big guns, fall to Mets

NEW YORK -- Travis d'Arnaud hit two home runs and the New York Mets ended a three-game skid, rallying past a watered-down lineup of Washington Nationals 7-6 on Friday night.

Washington manager Dusty Baker said he needed to "give my big boys much needed rest" with the playoffs nearing, and not a single regular started for the NL East champions. Star Daniel Murphy pinch hit in the eighth and flied out.


The Nationals begin the Division Series in exactly two weeks. If the current standings hold, they would host the World Series champion Chicago Cubs to open the best-of-five matchup.

Adam Lind hit a three-run homer for Washington. It was the Nationals' 203rd home run this season, matching the franchise record dating to 1969 when they were the Montreal Expos.

Howie Kendrick had an RBI double and prized prospect Victor Robles lined a two-run triple in the fifth that put Washington ahead 6-1.

Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley exited in the eighth inning because of an apparent injury. He' has struggled this season and missed more than two months because of back problems.

Nori Aoki had three hits for the Mets, including a go-ahead double in the sixth inning off Joe Blanton (2-4).

Chasen Bradford (2-0) pitched a scoreless inning for the win.

Jeurys Familia, the Mets' third pitcher in the ninth inning, came on to strike out Robles with runners on first and third for his fourth save -- his first since May 5. Familia, who missed three months after surgery to repair a blood clot, entered as part of a double switch, with Kevin Plawecki taking over at catcher for d'Arnaud.

D'Arnaud hit a solo homer in the second and connected for a tying, three-run drive in the fifth that finished starter Edwin Jackson. That gave d'Arnaud a career-best 15 homers and marked his second multihomer game, the other coming in April against Washington.


Mets starter Robert Gsellman allowed six runs in five innings. He moved up a day to pitch in place of ace Jacob deGrom, who was moved back in the rotation until Sunday because of a stomach illness this week.

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Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

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Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

The regular season is winding down and there is no drama in the nation’s capital.

With a stranglehold on the National League East for the entire season, the Washington Nationals were the first team in baseball to earn a playoff spot and their division. Since June, the Nationals’ lead has been hovering around 20 games. Their record against the division is 44-26 with three NL East series forthcoming.

Beyond that, positioning has not been a factor in the National League either. It was a near forgone conclusion that the Nationals were going to earn the No. 2 seed in the NL side of the postseason. There was a slight chance last week that Washington could pass the Los Angeles Dodgers with them losing 16 of 17 games. Alas, the Dodgers took two out of three in their series, solidifying their No. 1 seed hopes.


Dusty Baker then basically threw in the towel for that race. He spread out his rotation to six pitchers and gave his players consistent rest. Focusing on the postseason more than the playoff race, he does not appear to care about their positioning.

With that, the Nationals are all but guaranteed to finish second behind the Dodgers. Floating between four and six games back, there is no sense of urgency.

There is no worry about the team in third either. The Chicago Cubs, as of September 22, sit seven games behind the Nationals and are in the thick of a Divisional race.

Either way, even if the Nationals were to collapse and the winner of the National League Central was to rocket up to second, the Nationals will play against whoever wins the division in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 match-up.

The Central has actually been the Nationals Achilles heel this year. They finished with a 17-13 record vs. NL Central teams. It is not the whole division the Nationals have to worry about though, just the one that comes out.

Entering Friday’s action the Cubs are well on their way to winning the division, according to fangraphs.com. Below are the current odds to win the division:

Chicago Cubs                     97.8%
Milwaukee Brewers          0.9%
St. Louis Cardinals            1.3%

This is slightly misleading though, because the Central could completely flip before the postseason. The lead is 4.5 over the Milwaukee Brewers and 5.0 over the St. Louis Cardinals. However of their final 10 games, three are against the Brewers, four against the Cardinals, all seven on the road.


In the five-game NLDS the Nationals will face one of these teams. Even if it is the defending World Series Champions, you have to like the Nationals’ odds.


Current record: 85-67
2017 Record vs. Washington: 2-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Jon Lester (11-8), Jake Arrieta (14-9), John Lackey (11-11), Kyle Hendricks (7-5), Jose Quintana (6-3)
Top position players: Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 28 HRs, 69 RBIs), Anthony Rizzo (.278 BA, 32 HRs, 107 RBIs)

If these two teams were to meet up, it would be easily the best starting pitching match-up in the National League. Likely the Cubs would only go to four guys, maybe three if they get desperate. With Jake Arrieta on the mind, that would be a dicey move to start the postseason. They have not played to the level that the 2016 did a year ago, but a majority of the position players are still in place and can still put together a run.


Current record: 81-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Zach Davies (17-9), Chase Anderson (11-3), Brandon Woodruff (2-2), Brent Suter (3-2)
Top position players: Domingo Santana (.281 BA, 28 HRs, 80 RBIs), Travis Shaw (.274 BA, 30 HRs, 96 RBIs)

As one of the hottest teams in the first half of the season, the Brewers are only relying on their early success. Their team has quickly cooled off and their number two starter Jimmy Nelson is out the remainder of the season. The rest of the roster is shaky at best as they are trying to stay relevant in the postseason chase. If the Nationals are fully prepared for the playoffs there should be no worries if Milwaukee represents the Central.


Current record: 80-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-3
Last head-to-head postseason series: 2012; Cardinals won 3-2 in NLDS
Starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright (12-5), Carlos Martinez (12-11), Lance Lynn (11-7), Michael Wacha (12-8), Luke Weaver (7-1),
Top position players: Yadier Molina (.276 BA, 18 HRs, 82 RBIs), Tommy Pham (.311 BA, 21 HRs, 168 RBIs)

With both the Brewers and Cubs you know what you are getting, with the Cardinals it could be anything. The starting pitchers have a history of success, just not in 2017. Also how Wainwright comes back will be a huge factor in how the Central race will play out and how their odds in the postseason increase. With a mix of a young and aging line-up, the Cardinals can both win with the long ball and piece runs together by playing small ball. St. Louis is easily the most interesting team of the three and could be the scariest if the Wainwright comes back at 100%.

Both the Brewers and the Cardinals have to rely on each other to win the NL Central. They cannot do it on their individual series's alone.