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Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night at AT&T Park.

How it happened: This Trea Turner and Bryce Harper combination at the top of the Nationals' lineup has potential.

Turner has been doing his part for over a week now, continuing to look like a player who can lead the Nats to new heights with his production from the leadoff spot. And on Thursday night in San Francisco, Harper followed the rookie's lead with a strong effort hitting behind him.

Turner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run and a steal. After going hitless in his previous five games, Harper smoked an RBI double to score Turner from first in the top of the sixth. As Turner rounded third and charged home, his helmet flew off behind his head, a subtle ode to the man who drove him in.

Turner had one of three straight two-out RBI singles hit by the Nats in the top of the second inning alone. Danny Espinosa got the first to score Wilson Ramos. Tanner Roark then landed the second to score Ryan Zimmerman before Turner brought home Espinosa.

That sequence was the worst moment for Johnny Cueto, who lasted a season-low five innings. Roark, on the other hand, was surgical through seven innings of one-run ball. 

The Nats pitching staff hummed like a well-oiled machine until the bottom of the ninth inning when Jonathan Papelbon took over. He faced one batter - Brandon Crawford - who flew out - before manager Dusty Baker got Oliver Perez warming in his bullpen. Papelbon would stay in to allow two baserunners before getting the hook. That simply does not happen if he had not given up six earned runs in his previous two outings. Clearly the Nats do not have confidence in their closer at the moment.

Perez replaced Papelbon, but didn't finish the inning. He loaded the bases by walking Trevor Brown, then allowed a run on a Gregor Blanco infield grounder that was charged to Papelbon. Blanco hit a laser to Anthony Rendon, who bobbled it before throwing it to second, where Espinosa also bobbled it to botch the forceout.

After Perez, it was Shawn Kelley who came in and shut it down with a strikeout of Angel Pagan with the bases loaded. Papelbon, by the way, has now been tagged with earned runs in three straight outings.

The Nationals won their second straight game after losing six of their previous eight.

What it means: The Nats beat the Giants in their first head-to-head matchup of the season. They moved to 60-42 overall and sit five games up on the Miami Marlins in the NL East with exactly 60 games left to play.

Roark too much for Giants: Roark entered Thursday as the less-heralded of the two starting pitchers, but the Nats right-hander thoroughly out-dueled Cueto in a performance that was typical of his strong 2016 season. Roark went seven innings with one run surrendered on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts on 111 total pitches. It was the eighth time this season that Roark has gone at least seven innings with one earned run or fewer allowed. Only Cubs lefty Jon Lester, with nine such starts, has done that more. Roark moved to 10-6 on the year and currently holds a 2.96 ERA.

Turner lights the fuse: The Nats' issues in the leadoff spot may soon become a distant memory. Turner continued to set the table brilliantly on Thursday night with two hits, a walk, a run and a steal. He fills up box scores like no one else on the Nationals right now and the impact he's having on their lineup as a whole as profound. This was the fifth time in his last nine games that Turner has reached base at least twice and the second straight outing he's been on three times. Turner's steal pushed him to 6-for-6 on attempts this season in just 14 total games. Including the minor leagues, he's 31-of-33 this year.

Turner also fared well defensively. Despite being new to center field and playing in a new ballpark, Turner made all the outs that were hit to him. He even reeled in a leaping catch at the wall for the first out of the bottom of the fifth. Turner backed up all the way to the wall and jumped to catch a Mac Williams flyball. The jump may not have been necessary, but he displayed solid instincts near the wall for a guy who is learning on the job out there.

Harper shows some life: Before Harper's RBI double to the left field corner in the sixth, the reigning MVP was 0-for-19 in his last 21 at-bats. As off as he's looked at times this season, Harper had reached one of his lowest points. The double, though was absolutely crushed and it gave the Nats a nice insurance run against a team that has proven resilient in the past.

Up next: The Nats and Giants play another late one with a 10:15 p.m. ET start on Friday night. Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92) will take the mound for the Nats opposite right-hander Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22).

[RELATED: 'Baseball in the District' - Harper's slump, trade deadline]

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Max Scherzer bounces back from last week's rough start against Atlanta

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USA Today Sports

Max Scherzer bounces back from last week's rough start against Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Max Scherzer allowed five hits in seven innings, and the Washington Nationals tuned up for the playoffs with a 4-2 victory over Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.

Scherzer (15-6) bounced back from his worst start of the season, also against the Braves last week, when he walked six and was roughed up for seven runs in an 8-2 loss.

This time, Scherzer struck out seven and walked only one while throwing 83 of 112 pitches for strikes.

Ryan Madson pitched around trouble in the eighth and Sean Doolittle finished with a perfect for his 22nd save, his 19th in as many chances since the Nationals acquired him from Oakland on July 16.

Ryan Zimmerman had three hits and drove in a pair of runs for the NL East champion Nationals.

Rookie left-hander Luiz Gohara (1-2) surrendered four runs and 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings.

Washington took a 2-0 lead in the third, sparked by Matt Wieters' leadoff double. Trea Turner and Zimmerman had run-scoring singles..

Scherzer retired the first 11 Atlanta hitters before Freddie Freeman reached on a bloop single to right in the fourth. Kurt Suzuki dumped a 3-2 pitch in front of left fielder Howie Kendrick to bring home Atlanta's first run.

Zimmerman added another RBI single in the fifth and Washington finished Gohara in the seventh. Rendon ripped a double just inside the third-base bag to drive in Turner.

Dansby Swanson's fifth-inning double provided Atlanta's other run.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: 2B Daniel Murphy was scratched from the lineup shortly before the first pitch because of hamstring tightness. He was replaced by Wilmer Difo.

Braves: CF Ender Inciarte left after the fourth inning with a sore left thumb. It's been a lingering problem for the speedy outfielder, who was listed as day to day. Lane Adams moved from left field to center after Inciarte departedt, while Jace Peterson took over leadoff spot in the order.

UP NEXT

Nationals: LH Gio Gonzalez (14-7) gets the nod in the second game of the series Wednesday night. He is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in three starts against Atlanta this season, which includes his most recent appearance last week in Washington when he surrendered seven hits and five runs in five innings of an 8-0 loss.

Braves: RH Lucas Sims (2-5) will fill in for Mike Foltynewicz, who was forced to skip his scheduled start after lacerating his right middle finger in his last appearance. Sims has made his last four relief appearances since starting the first seven games of his big league career.

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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.

RELATED: UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

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.