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Nats are a model of consistency

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Nats are a model of consistency

Some 5 12 weeks ago, the Nationals opened what they knew would be as daunting a stretch of baseball as any team was likely to face this season: 33 consecutive games against opponents from only the NL East and AL East, all of them boasting winning records at some point.

Well, that stretch -- it wound up as only 32 games because of a rainout against the Braves -- finally came to an end yesterday in Baltimore. And what did we learn about the Nationals throughout it all?

If anything, we learned this club is remarkably consistent, and that should be a harbinger of things to come.

When the stretch began on May 18, the Nationals were 23-15, a half-game back of Atlanta in the NL East. Their pitching staff boasted a 2.94 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, best in the majors. Their lineup had produced a .243 batting average, .316 on-base percentage and .699 OPS, ranking in the bottom third of the league.

How did they do during this stretch? Well, their record was 18-14, which was good enough to catapult themselves into first place and a 3 12-game lead over the Mets. Their pitching staff, meanwhile, posted a 2.96 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, still best in the majors. And that lineup continued to struggle, hitting a collective .231 with a .288 on-base percentage and .680 OPS that still ranks among the lowest in the league.

Honestly, there's not that much difference between the way the Nationals performed during their first 38 games and during these latest 32 games. Which should be viewed as an encouraging sign.

Against tough competition every single night, they continue to pitch better than anyone else in the sport. Sure, it would be nice if that lineup produced just a bit more and gave the pitching staff a little bit of cushion -- that would've come in handy during yesterday's 2-1 loss at Camden Yards -- but this is a team that nearly halfway through the season has established it can win in spite of its sub-par offense.

If there's been one disturbing trend, it's probably the Nationals' overall struggles against baseball's other elite clubs. The three best teams they've played this season are the Yankees, Dodgers and Orioles. Their record against those three clubs is 2-10. Against everyone else in the sport, they're 39-19.

The good news is that they're beating the teams they're supposed to beat. The bad news is they're not beating the kind of teams that might stand in their way come October.

Then again, if the worst complaint Nationals fans have right now is that their team looks good enough to get to October (but perhaps not good to get through October), this franchise has made some gargantuan strides over the last 70 games.

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Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

RELATED: 2017 MLB Power Rankings

The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.

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The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

Gio Gonzalez had some worrisome moments on the mound Tuesday night, including when a friend sitting in the first row behind the Washington Nationals' dugout was hit in the head by a flying bat.

"Next time in the front row everyone will be wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.

The friend later said he was fine, and Gonzalez felt good too after pitching seven innings to beat the Miami Marlins 12-3.

Gonzalez (7-1) allowed three runs, including two on Marcell Ozuna's 19th homer , but struck out eight and won his fourth consecutive decision.

"Exactly what we needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "Gio's throwing the ball great."

He had plenty of support even before a five-run ninth. Bryce Harper started the scoring with a two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Daniel Murphy had two RBIs and hit his 12th homer . Stephen Drew had three hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs with a double and a single.

Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, improved to 7-3 in 13 starts against his hometown team with an ERA of 2.19. He had a cluster of friends and relatives in attendance, and that's where Justin Bour's bat went when it slipped from his hands on a swing in the fifth inning.

"It's good to have friends here, but put them somewhere safe," Gonzalez said.

He said his pal who was hit received a souvenir later as compensation for being clubbed.

"Bour gave him a bat, which is pretty cool on his part, because we want the fans to come back," Gonzalez said.

The left-hander said it was too early to talk about the possibility of pitching in the All-Star game, which will be played in his hometown next month. His teammates are rooting for it.

"Gio has been great," Harper said. "I'm hoping he pitches like this the rest of the first half and gets the start here. It would be incredible to see."

The NL East leaders went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but it was still 0-0 when Edinson Volquez (3-8) walked Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner in the third inning, and they advanced on a double steal.

With two outs, Harper tried to bunt on the first pitch -- a curious move by the slugger -- and pushed it foul. He golfed the next pitch into center for the Nationals' first hit to put them up 2-0.

"I don't hit Volquez very well," Harper said. "If I can lay a bunt down with a guy at third and get a knock and score a run ... but it worked out."

Pitching to Harper backfired for Miami, so the next time he came to bat, when the Nationals again had a runner in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly opted for an intentional walk. Zimmerman foiled the strategy with a two-run double.

"They've got a good lineup," Mattingly said. "They put you in a box in a number of ways."

Volquez allowed a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

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