Quick Links

Nats ready for home cooking

846989.png

Nats ready for home cooking

Much has been made of the Nationals' best-in-baseball road record, which following an 8-2 trip through Houston, Arizona and San Francisco now stands at 41-23. That's a better road winning percentage, by far, than any team in the majors has at home, a stunning fact when you stop and think about it.

One point, however, hasn't been made about the Nationals' prowess away from the District: They've played more road games than anybody in the sport.

Which also means they've played the fewest home games, which could prove quite the advantage as the final stretch of a remarkable season fast approaches.

Indeed, 27 of the Nationals' final 44 games are scheduled to be played on South Capitol Street, a nice little bonus for a club that already has done everything it can to position itself for a postseason berth.

Based on what we've seen over the last 4 12 months, the Nationals are perfectly comfortable playing wherever they are instructed to play. And certainly they aren't going to take for granted all these home games down the stretch.

But as the final leg of the regular season arrives, we are about to find out just what type of environment the Nationals (and everyone else in the sport) can expect from a town that hasn't experienced a pennant race in three generations.

Interest and attention in this team has progressively increased since Opening Day. Overall, the Nationals are averaging just under 30,000 fans per game, which ranks 14th among MLB's 30 clubs.

But the numbers keep getting larger. Over their last 33 home dates, the Nats are drawing an average crowd of 33,053. That's a 32 percent increase from this point last season.

There's every reason to believe those numbers will continue to climb. A six-game homestand against the Mets and Braves would typically draw well regardless. But with the Nationals returning home from the best road trip in club history and holding a four-game lead in the NL East, there's all the more reason for attendance to swell. The same theory should hold true later this month when the Cardinals and Cubs come to town.

It's no secret the Nationals' fan base is growing. MLB announced this week local television ratings are up 67 percent this season, the largest increase in the sport. There's been ample opportunity to watch this team on TV because so many games have been played on the road.

Now, though, the Nationals are gearing up for 27 home games in 48 days. The ballpark should be as electric as its ever been in its five years of existence.

This is when a team and its following establish its true identity, when the bond between players and fans grows and everybody lives and dies with each pitch. It may reach a crescendo sometime in late-September or early-October, when the outcome of every game really matters. And if all goes well, it reaches an entire new level after that.

What will that identity look and feel like? We don't know. Barely anyone in this town has experienced something like this before. It will have to develop organically over the next six weeks.

The process begins tonight. And for those who have waited a lifetime for this, it's not a moment too soon.

Quick Links

Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

WASHINGTON -- On Dec. 19, 2014, the San Diego Padres traded pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later -- it would be Trea Turner -- to the Washington Nationals in a three-team deal that included the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since that trade, the Padres have posted a record of 160-215 while the Nationals are 208-166 after they won 3-0 Saturday as Stephen Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 batters in seven innings and the Washington staff fanned 17.

As a reminder of what could have been, Ross (2-0, 5.32) makes the start Sunday against San Diego right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) in the finale of the three-game series at Nationals Park.

First-place Washington is 30-18 while last-place San Diego is 18-33.

Ross was drafted by the Padres in the first round out of his California high school in 2011. Ross is 2-0 in his career against San Diego with a 2.25 ERA in two starts. Last year, he went six innings and allowed six hits and three earned runs in a win against the Padres.

"I was not around Joe at all," said Andy Green, in his second year as the San Diego manager. "We saw him last year; he is a sinkerballer."

The Padres did acquire All-Star first baseman Wil Myers in the trade.

The Nationals have scored a record 62 runs in the four starts made this year by Ross, more than any other pitcher has received in his first four starts of a season. That included a 23-5 victory at home April 30 against the New York Mets and a 10-1 win Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners.

Ross, who broke into the majors with the Nationals in 2015, was in the rotation last season and made 19 starts before going on the disabled list. He was in line to be the No. 5 starter, but began the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

Chacin is 3-2 in six starts against Washington and has a 3.09 ERA. He has made three career starts at Nationals Park and is 1-1 with a 0.45 ERA while allowing only one run in 20 innings.

The Nationals played their second game in a row Saturday without second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was ill.

Nationals bench coach Chris Speier, filling in for manager Dusty Baker, said before the game that Murphy was ill. Murphy entered the day hitting .316 with nine homers and 33 RBIs.

"He's available. This is Dusty's theory: Usually when somebody comes in and says, 'I'm ready,' then he usually gives him one more day. But he's available," Speier told reporters before the game.

Murphy entered Saturday seventh in the National League in hits with 56, just ahead of teammate Bryce Harper (55). Murphy was also among the league leaders in multi-hit games and road batting average.

Washington shortstop Turner, drafted by the Padres in the first round out of North Carolina State, had two hits, including a homer, Friday and was 1-for-4 Saturday.

Another hot hitter for Washington is center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who hit a homer for the second day in a row Saturday and has four homers in his last 14 games.

"I'm looking for my pitch and staying in my zone," Taylor said. "I'm not trying to do too much."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

Quick Links

Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg downplayed any notion that starting pitchers on the same team attempt to top each other. On the mound one day after Max Scherzer overwhelmed the San Diego Padres, the right-hander did just that.

Strasburg dominated San Diego with a career-high 15 strikeouts while allowing three hits over seven innings as the Washington Nationals beat the Padres 3-0 on Saturday.

Strasburg (6-1) singled and scored Washington's first run on Bryce Harper's RBI fielder's choice grounder in the third inning. Michael A. Taylor hit a two-run homer for the second consecutive game.

San Diego's lineup offered little resistance against Strasburg the day after Scherzer struck out 13 in Washington's 5-1 win.

"Piece of cake, huh?" cracked Chris Speier, who is serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California.

San Diego had six hits and struck out 31 times -- 17 Saturday -- in the two losses.

"I know when you have those type of combinations," Speier said of Strasburg and Scherzer, "they feed off each other. There's a little competitiveness within the starting pitchers that is very healthy. . It's win-win for us."

With four pitches working, Strasburg struck out the side in the third and sixth and had at least two in each of the first six innings. His single matched the Padres' hit total through five innings.

Strasburg previously struck out 14 batters twice including his Major League debut on June 8, 2010. He set a personal best by setting down Franchy Cordero in the seventh.

"It's pretty cool, but there's another game 5, 6 days from now," said the low-key pitcher. "Maybe I'll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow."

The San Diego native is 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA for his career against his hometown team.

Matt Albers pitched the eighth and Koda Glover the ninth for his fifth save.

Clayton Richard (3-6) followed up his complete-game victory over the Diamondbacks on May 21 by allowing three runs and 10 hits over six innings.

One out after Anthony Rendon's leadoff single in the sixth, Taylor drove a pitch over the wall in center field for his fourth homer of the season.

"You stay in a one-run game, momentum's different," a frustrated Richard stated. "We have a different attitude, it changes a lot of things."

Washington has won two straight and five of six.

San Diego is 5-13 since May 9.

San Diego loaded the bases with one out in the first following a single, a throwing error by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Cory Spangenberg's four-pitch walk. Strasburg ended the threat by striking out Austin Hedges on three pitches.

The Padres had two singles in the sixth, but Strasburg recorded strikeouts for the final two outs.

"Sometimes with the best pitchers in the game if you don't get them in the first three innings they get harder and harder to get to," Padres manager Andy Green said. "We had our chance in the first we didn't take advantage of it."

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals players visit local little league baseball teams