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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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Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Report: Nationals OF Adam Eaton out for season with torn ACL

Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday.

Eaton sustained the injury in Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Mets when he stepped awkwardly on the bag while beating out a throw to first in the ninth inning. He then collapsed and needed assistance off the field.

The Nationals initially announced earlier Saturday that Eaton would go on the 10-day disabled list with a left knee strain. They also have since called up outfielder Rafael Bautista from Triple-A Syracuse.

The Nationals acquired Eaton in a trade with the White Sox in December in exchange for pitching prospects Luca Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.

The 28-year-old Eaton was hitting .297 with a .393 on-base percentage and 24 runs scored for the 16-8 Nationals.

Michael A. Taylor replaced Eaton in centerfield during the Nationals’ 5-3 loss to the Mets on Saturday.

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Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

Bullpen falters again as Nationals drop 2nd straight to Mets

WASHINGTON -- The New York Mets wobbled into Nationals Park this weekend with a six-game losing streak, beset by injuries and lined up to face Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the team with the best record in the majors.

Two days later, things don't look quite so bleak.

Michael Conforto hit two home runs and slumping Jose Reyes also connected, leading the Mets over the Washington Nationals 5-3 Saturday.

"It feels great because they've got a great club and they're red-hot," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

"When you face arguably two of the best pitchers in the game two days in a row and come out with two wins, that's huge for us," he said.

After being swept at home by the Nationals last weekend the Mets have a chance to flip the script on Sunday and even the season series at three games apiece. Even though it's still April, the importance of this series wasn't lost on the Mets skipper.

"We know we've got a long track, we've got to try and get back in the hunt, and that's what we're trying to do, put some wins on the board and try and get back in this thing," Collins said.

The Nationals were still steamed over a no-call involving a steal by Jayson Werth in the fourth inning.

Werth swiped second as Jose Lobaton struck out, and got up and tangled with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera when the throw skipped away. Werth kept heading to third and was thrown out by a wide margin.

Werth argued along with Washington manager Dusty Baker that he should've been awarded the base because of the block.

"I saw him point obstruction, and then he gave some jive explanation that really didn't make sense to me," Baker said of second base umpire Angel Hernandez.

Werth saw the same thing that his manager. When asked after the game about how an umpire can point and not get the bag, Werth responded: "You're asking the wrong person at this point. I clearly don't know the rule."

A request to talk to the umpires was submitted too late to get comment.

Conforto's two-run homer in the fifth gave the Mets a 3-1 lead and his sixth home run of the season made it 4-2 in the eighth. It was Conforto's second multihomer game in the majors -- as a rookie, he did it in Game 4 of the 2015 World Series against Kansas City.

"It's huge," Conforto said about winning the first games of series against Washington's two star pitchers.

"But you know, we had a feeling that this was coming. We have a lot of faith in ourselves. Things were going bad for a bit, but there's no panic in here," he said.

Hansel Robles (4-0) came in to start the sixth and retired five of the six batters he faced, striking out four. Jerry Blevins then took over and fanned Bryce Harper.

Jeurys Familia, pulled Friday night in the ninth while Washington tried to rally, retired three straight hitters to earn his first save of the season.

Familia, who led the majors with a team-record 51 saves last year, began this season serving a 15-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.

Strasburg (2-1) gave up three runs in seven innings. He has gone exactly seven innings in all five of his starts this season.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-3. Zimmerman, who also had two singles, drove in all three Nationals runs and now has 11 homers this season to go along with 27 RBIs.

Zimmerman's shot broke a tie with Andre Dawson to move into second place on the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise list with 226.

Reyes hit a solo shot in the ninth, his second of the season.

Michael A. Taylor had three hits in his first game since replacing the injured Adam Eaton in center field for the Nationals. Taylor doubled in the first and added singles in the third and fifth.

Mets starter Zack Wheeler pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and allowing one earned run while striking out four.

RELATED: ADAM EATON OUT FOR SEASON WITH TORN ACL