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Mike Leake out duels Max Scherzer, Cardinals beat Nationals 6-1

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USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leake out duels Max Scherzer, Cardinals beat Nationals 6-1

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Going up against the 2016 NL Cy Young winner and facing the prospect of stumbling to their worst start in 20 years, the St. Louis Cardinals played their best game of the young season.

Mike Leake outpitched Max Scherzer, Stephen Piscotty homered and had five RBIs, and the Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-1 on Wednesday to avoid a three-game sweep.

After yielding 22 runs in the first two games of the series, St. Louis dodged its first 2-7 start since 1997.

"Leake did a tremendous job on the mound and we played good defense," Piscotty said. "It was a good win, and we needed it."

Leake (1-1) gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked none over seven shutout innings. The right-hander allowed hits to the first two batters, then picked off a runner before getting 19 straight outs. The streak ended when Daniel Murphy singled with two outs in the seventh.

By that time, St. Louis had taken a 3-0 lead against Scherzer, who yielded only one earned run. He did, however, throw three wild pitches -- two in the third inning -- after tossing only two all last year while going 20-7.

Scherzer (1-1) allowed three runs, four hits and two walks in six innings. He struck out 10, the 50th time in his career he reached double figures in strikeouts.

"At the end of the day, even when you get punched in the face, you still do some things well," Scherzer said. "I was able to get a lot of swings and misses and was able to get my cut slider into lefties really well.

"Other times, I pitched ineffectively. This doesn't feel great, but I'm in a situation where I'm ready to go forward with my next start and pitch well."

With Leake leading the way, the Cardinals rebounded from a three-game skid in which they were outscored 30-9.

"It's ideal," Leake said of his performance. "It's what you ask for from a starting pitcher after you've been beat down for a couple games."

RELATED: THIS 2017 BALLPARK FOOD IS INSANE

Leake permitted only two runners past first base and reduced his ERA to 0.60.

"What a great day -- seven shutout innings against this team," manager Mike Matheny said.

After Leake was pulled, Adam Eaton hit an RBI single in the eighth inning and Washington put runners at the corners with two outs before Brett Cecil got Bryce Harper to line out to third.

Piscotty's drive in the ninth ended any remaining suspense. He also had run-scoring singles in the first and fifth innings in tying his career high for RBIs.

St. Louis used a walk and a double by Piscotty to go up 1-0 in the first inning.

In the bottom half, Eaton doubled and took third on a single by Anthony Rendon. Not long after that, a replay requested by the Cardinals revealed that Leake picked off Rendon.

"That's a game changer," Matheny said.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker agreed, noting, "We had him on the ropes and then the pickoff."

Leake subsequently struck out Harper and retired Murphy on a comebacker.

St. Louis took advantage of an error by shortstop Wilmer Difo to score two unearned runs in the fifth.

PERALTA STRUGGLES

Matheny is exercising patience while waiting for three-time All-Star Jhonny Peralta to break a hitting slump.

Peralta is 3 for 20 with eight strikeouts and no walks.

"He's run against good guys making good pitches," said Matheny, who sat Peralta on Wednesday. "We have to let him run the course."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cardinals: 1B Matt Carpenter returned to the starting lineup after back tightness limited him to a pinch-hitting role on Tuesday.

Nationals: Placed INF Stephen Drew on the 10-day DL with a strained right hamstring. The injury occurred Tuesday night. He's been replaced on the roster by INF Grant Green.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: The team intended to travel by train to New York on Wednesday night, take Thursday off and start a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.

Nationals: Following an off day Thursday, Washington opens a three-game series against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.