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Daniel Murphy, pitching staff key in why Nats took care of Mets in 2016

Daniel Murphy, pitching staff key in why Nats took care of Mets in 2016

When looking at how the Nationals flipped their fortunes to retake control of the NL East from last year to this one, Daniel Murphy is a good place to start. The Met-turned-National absolutely killed his former team. He had hits in all 19 games against them and batted .413 with seven homers and 21 RBI. Take away Murphy's games against the Mets this year and his season batting average drops 11 points.

No one in the Nats' lineup played anywhere close to Murphy's level against the Mets this season. Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos combined for 32 RBI in the season series, but Rendon hit .279 and Ramos hit .250.

The Nationals went 12-7 against the Mets and Murphy was the major difference.

"When I think oh, it might be good to give him a day, he’ll come out and get two or three hits," bench coach Chris Speier said. "I know he really wants to play against these guys. If you’ve seen him day in and day out, he’s a grinder. He doesn’t give at-bats away, and he hits the ball hard more consistently than anybody that I’ve seen this year."

Tanner Roark, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg all pitched lights-out this season vs. the Mets. With his seven shutout frames on Wednesday, Roark held a 1.27 ERA through 21 1/3 total innings across four outings against them. Strasburg allowed just four runs with 30 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings (1.83 ERA) and Scherzer gave up just two runs in 20 2/3 innings (0.87 ERA) with 29 strikeouts.

The Nationals' starting rotation stepped it up in their big matchups with the Mets, and so did some in their bullpen. Blake Treinen tossed seven scoreless frames in seven appearances. Felipe Rivero, who has since been traded to the Pirates, threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Even Jonathan Papelbon, who is also gone, had three clean outings and two saves.

Add it all up and the Nats kept the Mets to just 50 runs through 19 games, an average of 2.63 per contest. That's a good recipe for success.

The Nats actually lost two of their six series vs. the Mets this season, but were never swept. Conversely, the Mets were swept by the Nats in Washington on June 27-29, then lost three of four to the Nationals in New York on July 7-10. 

That stretch in the middle of the summer was when the Nats really took control of the NL East. They left that series up six games and by the time they met again on Sept. 3, the Nationals were up 10 1/2. Even dropping two of three to the Mets in that three-game set meant little for the division race. The Mets just delayed the inevitable and then lost more ground - 1 1/2 games - in the eight days before they met again for their final matchup this week.

Going 12-7 against the Mets was a sharp change from what happened last season when the Nationals went 8-11, a record that was skewed by two wins in the final, meaningless series of the season. 

This year the Nats took care of business.

"It's real big. It's the last time we're going to play them," center fielder Trea Turner said. "It could be a lot different situation."

Now the Nationals embark on their final 16 games of the season with the Mets in their rearview. There is a chance they meet again in the playoffs, but for now it's basically just a matter of time before they pop champagne to celebrate a division title.

"I think everybody is very excited about it being very close and I think that's part of why we've been playing very well the fact that we are very close to clinching a playoff spot," catcher Wilson Ramos said through an interpreter. "The emotions and the way we were playing out there you can tell that we're all tasting a little bit."

[RELATED: Nationals' 2017 regular season schedule released]


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The sound of Bryce Harper's first spring training HR is beautiful


The sound of Bryce Harper's first spring training HR is beautiful

It's that wonderful time of year again — when baseball teams flock to warmer climates for spring training and the regular season is practically around the corner — and Bryce Harper is already killing it.

It took the Washington Nationals a few games to brush away their offseason cobwebs and get back into gear, but since the beginning of March, they're riding a five-game win streak as of Sunday the 4th.

They are 6-4-1 in spring training going into Monday's matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Since Thursday, the Nats have taken down — in order — the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, defending World Series champion Houston Astros, the Detroit Tigers and the Mets again. Sunday's 6-2 win against the Tigers was in large part thanks to Harper's bat, as the star of the team drilled his first home run of spring training. 


Turn up the volume for this one because the sound of Harper's contact with the ball is just beautiful — and perhaps enough to get you pumped for the March 29 opener.

Harper blew this ball away in the bottom of the third for a two-run homer with Howie Kendrick on base. He also had a single in the fourth and finished the game with three RBI.

Gio Gonzalez was the winning pitcher for the Nats. 


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Per usual, Max Scherzer strikes out Tim Tebow on three pitches


Per usual, Max Scherzer strikes out Tim Tebow on three pitches

We are fortunate enough to live in a world where we can watch a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (attempt to) hit against a three-time Cy Young pitcher in a Major League Baseball preseason game.

Max Scherzer took less than a minute to strike out Tim Tebow, who was batting cleanup for the Mets in a spring training game Friday. You can watch the whole at-bat here:

It looks like Tebow and Scherzer are starting to develop a pattern - last year’s matchup between the two went down the exact same way.

Tebow was able to redeem himself later in the game with his first hit of the year against Nats prospect Erick Fedde. He will likely begin the season with the Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies, but Mets GM Sandy Alderson said he believes Tebow will eventually see some at-bats in the Majors.