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Nats blow big opportunity by letting Clayton Kershaw off the hook

Nats blow big opportunity by letting Clayton Kershaw off the hook

For as much focus that is applied to managerial decisions, defensive mistakes, bullpen collapses, pinch-hit at-bats and pitching gems in the MLB playoffs, postseason games often boil down to one simple premise. If one team is given an opportunity by their opponent, no matter how unexpected that chance may be, they have to take advantage. 

In the playoffs all teams are good. They got to this point in part because they don't do the things that bad teams do to beat themselves. The good clubs commit very few missteps, and the same applies to great players. Clayton Kershaw, among them.

On Friday, in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals were given a window few teams have been offered. Kershaw, he of three Cy Youngs and an NL MVP award, did not have his best stuff. He was uncharacteristically off, still sharpening his tools since returning from a back injury. His curveball missed low in the dirt and that left his fastball more hittable than usual.

[RELATED: Cold bats put Nationals down 1-0 in NLDS]

That allowed the Nats to notch three runs against him and chase him after five innings. That would usually be enough for ace Max Scherzer, a Cy Young winner himself. That would normally represent a considerable break. Not on this night.

The Nationals had Kershaw in a vulnerable state, but could not come away with a victory that probably should have been theirs.

"We had him on the ropes a couple times, the big hit just escaped us," manager Dusty Baker said.

Now the Nationals are down a game in a best-of-five series, just two losses from elimination. They have essentially lost the home field advantage they worked so hard to procure. 

"We worked him really good. We answered back and we knocked him out of the game in five innings," outfielder Jayson Werth said. "Obviously we had some opportunities and didn't get it done."

[RELATED: Nats name starters for Games 2 and 3 vs. Dodgers in NLDS]

Kershaw gave up eight hits after doing that only three times in 21 starts during the regular season. Only twice did he allow as many runs as he offered on Friday night. The Nationals created scoring chances and could have had more, but let him off the hook in several key spots.

Danny Espinosa struck out twice to end innings and left six men on base. Scherzer popped out with the bases loaded to end the second. All three moments had the sellout crowd rocking Nationals Park before all took their seats in disappointment. The Nationals went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine baserunners. 

Scherzer fell just short in a big spot at the plate, but his performance on the mound was what truly hurt the Nationals. He found trouble early with four runs through three innings, three of them on home runs. The Nats ace would recover to go six innings, but those four runs were all the Dodgers needed. Their bullpen took over after Kershaw and combined to throw four scoreless frames.

The Nationals would have more opportunities after Kershaw exited. Like, when Daniel Murphy walked with out in the seventh, only to get caught stealing second soon after. Or, when Clint Robinson doubled with two outs in the eighth before Chris Heisey struck out looking to closer Kenley Jansen. 

Losing to the Dodgers in Game 1 is tolerable, even in a short series. Losing to Kershaw can be even be expected. But losing to him on a day he didn't have his ace stuff is an especially tough pill to swallow.

[RELATED: Nats' Stephen Strasburg throws bullpen for 1st time in injury rehab]

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Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time

HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.

Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.

Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.

Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.

The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.

George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.

Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.

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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

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