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Nats shut out again by Marlins

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Nats shut out again by Marlins

It was only 12 days ago when Ricky Nolasco was handed the ball by Ozzie Guillen to face the Nationals and didn't give it back to his manager until he had completed a five-hit shutout.

When the 29-year-old right-hander was again handed the ball by Guillen on Sunday afternoon, members of the Nationals certainly were familiar with his repertoire and though that would have played to their advantage.

"Normally, I would say yes," Adam LaRoche said. "But I guess not in this case."

No, not at all. Nolasco didn't just enjoy another successful outing against the Nationals. He shut them out again, this time allowing a scant four hits while once again going the distance during an 8-0 throttling of the previously red-hot, best team in baseball.

"He did the exact same thing," LaRoche said. "He was the exact same pitcher. We knew what we getting. We knew what he has. He just locates to the point that you look up and its 0-2, 1-2 in your at-bat and you're grinding. Tip your hat to him. He did a great job."

It would be one thing if this appeared to be a downward trend for the Nationals lineup, except that doesn't appear to be the case at all. After Nolasco's previous gem in South Florida, the Nationals proceeded to score 84 runs over their next 11 games.

Then came Sunday's series finale, when they didn't produce a hit off Nolasco -- owner of a 2.75 ERA against Washington this year, 4.79 against everyone else -- until the fifth and didn't put two men on base in the same inning until the ninth.

"The guys say when he wants to, he's one heck of a pitcher," manager Davey Johnson said.

It didn't help that Johnson fielded a lineup minus two key regulars: Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. Zimmerman was given a rare day off; Desmond asked out to give his lingering hamstring strain a rest.

Truth be told, the Nationals might have missed those players' presence in the field more than at the plate, especially Desmond.

With Danny Espinosa shifted to shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi taking over second base, Johnson sacrificed some range up the middle. That proved costly when the Marlins rapped out three consecutive, two-out, groundball singles up the middle to ignite a second-inning rally.

None of the grounders made for an easy play, but it was hard not to think Desmond at shortstop and Espinosa at second base might have had a better chance to snag at least one of them.

"No doubt. No doubt," Johnson said. "But those guys out there can play, too. Espi's played a great short, Lombo a great second. Those were just some well-placed balls, hard-hit."

The seeing-eye singles proved especially costly moments later, when Nolasco stepped to the plate and lofted a flyball to deep center field. Bryce Harper had to run a long way but was in position to make the catch, only to lose the ball in the sun at the last second and watch it fall harmlessly to the ground for a gift, two-run double.

That wasn't the only time the sun wreaked havoc with outfielders on Sunday. Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton also missed a routine flyball, and center fielder Justin Ruggiano nearly did as well before recovering in time to make the catch.

"It was just a big, bright blue sky, with a very large sun," Jayson Werth said. "It's hard to explain. If you're not out there every day, you wouldn't even notice. But it was tough to see, no question."

The three runs Miami scored in the top of the second weren't much the fault of Edwin Jackson, but the Nationals starter (celebrating his 29th birthday) didn't enjoy a strong afternoon. He let three more runs score later and wound up getting pulled with only two outs in the fifth, having been charged with six earned runs on nine hits, two walks and a hit batter.

"I've just got to do a better job of making pitches out of the stretch with men on base," Jackson said, "a better job of damage control."

By the time Jackson departed, the damage was done. When Stanton launched his 10th homer in 20 career games on South Capitol Street in the top of the seventh, the Nationals trailed by a touchdown.

By day's end, their offense never even advanced into the Red Zone.

Thus made for something of an awkward scene in the clubhouse, the laughter and playfulness that usually comes on the day veterans make rookies dress up for a train ride to New York -- this year's costume: leotards made to look like those worn by the U.S. Olympics women's gymnastics team -- offset by the sting of a lopsided loss and the realization their lead over the Braves in the NL East is down to 5 12 games with 22 to play.

"I don't look at it as we beat ourselves today; we got beat," LaRoche said. "We caught a good pitcher on his game, we were a little bit off ours. Overall it wasn't a sloppy game, it was just good old butt-whupping."

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Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Scherzer seeks redemption

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Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Scherzer seeks redemption

ATLANTA -- In his last start, only his second in the major leagues, Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara outpitched Washington Nationals ace and Cy Young contender Max Scherzer.

On Tuesday, he gets to try it again.

Gohara (1-1, 6.30 ERA) is queued up for a rematch with Scherzer (14-6, 2.59) and the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series at SunTrust Park.

Washington (90-59) has clinched the National League East title for the fourth time in six years. Atlanta (67-81) was mathematically eliminated from playoff consideration after its Sunday loss to the New York Mets. The two teams have split 16 games this season, with the Braves winning two of three last week in Washington.

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Gohara showed why he is in contention to join the Atlanta rotation on a full-time basis in 2018. The big left-hander from Brazil, who went from Class A to the majors in one season, beat the Nationals 8-2 on Wednesday. He allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits in six innings, striking out six. He didn't issue a walk.

In that start, Gohara located his four-seam fastball -- something he couldn't do in his major league debut against Texas.

"The kid gets locked in and really competes," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "And that's what I heard about him from guys that played with him, the guys that have had him, been around him. They say once he gets out there, he's trying to beat you. That's legit stuff right there, too."

Scherzer endured his worst start of the season against the Braves last week. He gave up a season-high seven runs on seven hits and a season-high six walks in six innings. He threw 116 pitches, part of the plan to stretch him out for the postseason.

"For the first 100 pitches, I felt like I was executing pitches the way I wanted to," Scherzer said. "Then, after pitch 100, that's when the wheels fell off and I was searching for everything. Sometimes that happens. I don't think anything's broken. My arm feels fine. There's nothing wrong here. This is why I needed to pitch that deep into the game, so I can shake off some of that rust."

The big hiccup for Scherzer came when he allowed a grand slam to Braves left fielder Matt Kemp. However, on Tuesday, he isn't likely to face Kemp, who has missed the past two games after leaving the Friday contest with a strained hamstring.

In 16 career appearances, 14 starts, against Atlanta, Scherzer is 6-5 with a 4.04 ERA. In 2017, he has made four starts against the Braves, going 1-2 with a 4.91. He was 4-0 against Atlanta a year ago.

The hottest batter for the Braves has been center fielder Ender Inciarte, who is 10 hits shy of becoming only the seventh player in Atlanta franchise history to reach 200. The last Brave to get 200 hits was Marquis Grissom, who had 207 in 1996.

Washington's Ryan Zimmerman is on the verge of a 30-homer/30-double season. Last week, he joined Adam Dunn as the only Nationals player to post two 30-homer seasons with the club.

 

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MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

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USA Today Sports

MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

Two weeks remain in the regular season for the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and the rest of Major League Baseball.

Already, the Nationals have clinched a spot in the MLB postseason, while the Orioles are still clinging to an outside chance of making it through to one of the two Wild Card spots. If Baltimore were to make the surprise climb they would likely be the third team from the AL East to make the MLB postseason.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Washington is joined by the Los Angeles Dodgers as the only two teams to have claimed a playoff berth in the National League. This past weekend the Dodgers took two out of three in a pivotal series from the Nationals to hold on to the top seed. The lead is now up to 6 games for Los Angeles after it was down to only 3.5 games in the middle of the week.

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The Dodgers have not clinched their division yet but with their turnaround in Washington this past weekend it is only a matter of time. Leading the Arizona Diamondbacks by 9.5 games, the Dodgers magic number is only four. With 96 wins, Los Angeles also would be the team to hold home-field advantage throughout the postseason, including the World Series.

Only the National League Central Division has an interesting battle as the year winds down, but the Chicago Cubs maintain a four game edge over the Milwaukee Brewers. Right behind the Brewers are the St. Louis Cardinals, two games back. There is brief two-game series for the Cubs in Tampa Bay before back-to-back road series against the Brewers than the Cardinals. Within a week, this division could be flipped over. It is a near lock that the division winner will be the No. 3 seed.

Arizona is likely to clinch one of the Wild Card berths this week. Colorado currently holds the second spot, and they're 2.5 up on the Brewers.

If the season were to end today, here is how the National League bracket would look:

Wild Card Round (Winner-take-all):

No. 5 Colorado Rockies (82-68) at No. 4 Arizona Diamondbacks (87-63)

National League Divisional Series (Best-of-5):

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (96-53) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Washington Nationals (90-59) vs. No. 3 Chicago Cubs (83-66)

Wild Card Race:

Arizona Diamondbacks:  +5.0
Colorado Rockies:              ---
Milwaukee Brewers:        -2.5
St. Louis Cardinals:          -4.5
Miami Marlins:                -12.5

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Thanks to their improbable 22-game winning streak, the Cleveland Indians now sit atop the American League. They hold a slight 1.5 game lead over the Houston Astros for the top seed and home-field advantage in the AL. Both of these teams have already handily clinched their divisions holding on to the No. 1 and 2 seeds.

The incredible run by Cleveland has also put them 3.5 games behind the Dodgers for home-field throughout the entire postseason.

As it does seemingly every year, the American League East will come down to the wire. The New York Yankees trail the Boston Red Sox by only three games with their season series already wrapped up. Of the Yankees final 13 games though, 10 are at home where they are 43-28 on the season. Boston only has seven at home and six on the road. New York also faces an easier stretch playing opponents with a combined .487 win percentage compared to Boston’s .501.

Unlike the National League Wild Card, which is essentially down to four teams, the American League is wide open. Ten teams are mathematically still alive including the Oakland Athletics who are 17 games under .500. New York or Boston will likely take the top Wild Card slot with the Minnesota Twins currently holding down second. The Los Angeles Angels (2.0 games back), Seattle Mariners (4.5 games back), and the Kansas City Royals (5.0 games back) are giving chase.

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It will be tough for the Twins to hold on to the final spot with 10 of their final 13 games being on the road. First up for them is a three-game series in the Bronx. The Red Sox and Orioles also start a three-game series in Baltimore with much on the line for both teams. 

If the season were to end today, here is how the American League bracket would look:

Wild Card Round (Winner-take-all):

No. 5 Minnesota Twins (78-71) at No. 4 New York Yankees (82-67)

American League Divisional Series (Best-of-5):

No. 1 Cleveland Indians (93-57) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Houston Astros (91-58) vs. No. 3 Boston Red Sox (85-64)

Wild Card Race:

New York Yankees:     +4.0
Minnesota Twins:          ---
Los Angeles Angels:     -2.0
Seattle Mariners:         -4.5
Kansas City Royals:      -5.0
Texas Rangers:             -5.0
Baltimore Orioles:       -5.5
Tampa Bay Rays:          -5.5
Toronto Blue Jays:       -8.5
Oakland Athletics:      -12.0

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