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Hamels handles Harper, Nats

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Hamels handles Harper, Nats

PHILADELPHIA -- Lost amid the intentional plunking, the acknowledgement of the intentional plunking and the backlash that followed the intentional plunking was one minor fact.

Cole Hamels is good. Really good.

"He's one the best pitchers in baseball," Bryce Harper said. "He's 7-1 for a reason."

Hamels is indeed 7-1 now thanks to another dominant performance against the Nationals Wednesday night, resulting in a 4-1 victory for the Phillies.

While everyone else wanted to see what would happen when Hamels and Harper squared off for the first time since their emotionally charged encounter on national television 2 12 weeks ago, the Philadelphia left-hander just went out and did what he does best.

Hamels carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, escaped a potential jam in that frame, then departed after eight scoreless, lowering his ERA to 2.17 in the process.

"It wasn't in my head at all," Hamels said of his tiff with Harper. "I had nine guys that I had to face, so it wasn't on my mind."

As was the case earlier this month in the District, the Nationals went up against Hamels with an opportunity to sweep the Phillies and make a definitive statement against the franchise they've sought to overtake in the NL East the last five years. And as was the case in that previous encounter, they were shut down by the lefty, unable to get comfortable at the plate against his assortment of pitches.

"When he's throwing 93-95 and has got that cutter working, his change-up can be devastating," said Danny Espinosa, who broke up the no-hitter attempt with a sixth-inning double. "He was throwing hard tonight, and his change-up was around 82. So when you have that much of a difference between your fastball and your changeup, that's kind of tough."

Perhaps the only member of the Nationals lineup who didn't look fazed against Hamels was Harper, who went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk and struck a flyball to deep left field in the top of the first that didn't quite carry enough. Said Harper: "I think I should've hit that ball out."

The 19-year-old's single to right in the sixth, on the heels of Espinosa's double, looked like it might get the Nationals on the board at last. But third base coach Bo Porter waved Espinosa around, and Hunter Pence fired a bullet to the plate to get him on a bang-bang play.

Espinosa got up limping a bit, and he had his lower right leg wrapped in ice after the game, though he insisted he was fine.

Porter's decision to send Espinosa was perhaps a questionable one, and it looked worse when Ryan Zimmerman followed with what would have been an RBI single. Manager Davey Johnson, though, seemed more upset that Harper didn't advance to second on the throw home, a move that might have allowed him to score on the subsequent Zimmerman single.

"I think Harper should have been on second base," Johnson said. "High throw. We would've been in better position."

The Nationals had one more opportunity to get to Hamels when Jesus Flores tripled to open the eighth, though they stranded him on third base, with Harper grounding out to end the inning and send Hamels to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd of 43,926.

At that point, the Nationals trailed 4-0, starter Edwin Jackson having surrendered three runs and closer-turned-mopup man Henry Rodriguez having served up a homer to Shane Victorino.

They did get one run back in the ninth when Adam LaRoche homered off Jonathan Papelbon, but it was far too little and far too late to alter the outcome of this game.

Thus, the Nationals missed yet another opportunity to sweep a series. Despite putting themselves in position to do it nine times already this season, they've yet to finish the job.

"We wish we could've got that sweep, definitely," Harper said. "But to get two out of three against them, I think, was huge."

At the end of the night, the Nationals can still boast about taking four of six games from the Phillies so far this season, not to mention their standing atop the NL East and Philadelphia's current standing at the bottom of the division.

"I think it's close. I think we've got them, though," said Phillies manager Charlie Manual, not particularly known as a math whiz.

For all the attention thrust upon this burgeoning rivalry with Philadelphia, the Nationals know they face an even bigger test this weekend in Atlanta against a Braves club that could be tied with them for first place come gametime Friday.

"The NL East is really good," Harper said. "Great pitching, great hitting. Everybody tries to battle every day. The Phillies are who we're probably going to go after the next couple years. They're good. And we're good. It's all good. Whatever."

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?

RELATED: 2018 SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.

RELATED: FORMER NATS PITCHER ARRESTED WITH MORE THAN 40 POUNDS OF SUSPECTED COCAINE

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

RELATED: NATS REVEAL 2018 SPRING TRAINING TV SCHEDULE

He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.

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