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Starting rotation has been surprise weakness for Nats in NLDS

Starting rotation has been surprise weakness for Nats in NLDS

What many argued were the biggest concerns for the Nationals heading into the NL Division Series have yet to really hurt them.

Their bullpen, even after allowing two runs in Game 4, has been exceptional.

Their offense has not been plagued by the issues that killed them in 2014. And their defense, though not perfect, has largely been good.

No, in fact the biggest weakness for the Nationals so far in the NLDS has been the very thing they are built to do best, the foundation of their roster that is supposed to carry them this time of year. So far, starting pitching has been a major problem.

Even without Stephen Strasburg, they should theoretically be in good shape. They have All-Star Max Scherzer, who has a Cy Young on his record and should contend for the award this year again. Tanner Roark could have easily been an All-Star and posted the sixth-best ERA in baseball this season. 

Gio Gonzalez, though mercurial, had been good against the Dodgers this year and boasts playoff experience. And Joe Ross is a promising young talent who also fared well against L.A. this season.

RELATED: DODGERS' JOC PEDERSON STARES DOWN DUGOUT AFTER ... DOUBLE?

The Nationals had the second-best rotation ERA (3.60) in baseball in 2016. But through four NLDS games, their starters have allowed 13 runs - including five homers - in 17 1/3 innings. Only Scherzer has made it through the fifth inning and Ross on Tuesday couldn't get out of the third.

The Nats have serious rotation issues at the moment and it could cost them their season if they persist. If it weren't for their stingy bullpen and potent offense, their season could very well have been over by now.

"It's put a lot of pressure on my 'pen and on us to make the decisions," manager Dusty Baker said. 

The Dodgers' rotation hasn't exactly been great, either. Their starters have allowed 16 runs in 19 innings so far. The Nats are batting .321 as a team off of them.

It has been an ugly series for starters on both sides, even Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who has now allowed eight earned runs through 11 2/3 innings in two starts. 

But the Nationals have not been able to fully take advantage. Now they have one last chance to change that with Scherzer on the mound for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday in Washington. If there is anyone who can reverse that trend, it's him.

*Quote transcript from ASAPsports.com*

RELATED: GAME 5 TRANSIT IS GOING TO BE A NIGHTMARE

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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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