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Nationals hit three homers to win third straight game against Mets

Nationals hit three homers to win third straight game against Mets

NEW YORK -- Trea Turner hit a leadoff homer and the Washington Nationals backed Stephen Strasburg with three long balls Saturday, beating the New York Mets 7-4 to stay undefeated at Citi Field this season.

Adam Lind added a two-run shot and Jose Lobaton also went deep for the NL East leaders, who can finish a four-game sweep Sunday afternoon. Washington is 6-0 in Queens this year -- part of an impressive 24-12 mark on the road -- and has won 12 of 16 at the Mets' home ballpark since the start of last season.

Yoenis Cespedes homered and had four hits for third-place New York, which dropped 11 1/2 games out of first. The banged-up Mets (30-37) expected to challenge rival Washington at the top of the division, but injuries and poor pitching have taken their toll in a race that no longer looks competitive.

Strasburg (8-2) permitted two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings, rebounding from his worst start of the season. He struck out five and walked two.

Four relievers from a much-maligned bullpen finished up, with Enny Romero getting five outs for his second save. The left-hander gave a huge fist pump after Cespedes grounded into a game-ending double play.

Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon each had an RBI double for the Nationals, who have won seven of nine meetings with the Mets this season. Washington hit three homers for the second straight matchup and turned four double plays -- one night after spinning three behind ace Max Scherzer.

The Nationals scored once in each of the first four innings against Seth Lugo (1-1), including on a two-out throwing error by third baseman Wilmer Flores. Turner's fifth career leadoff homer and third this season, on Lugo's second pitch, was the third the Mets have allowed in their past five games.

After trailing by four twice, New York cut it to 6-4 in the eighth on an RBI single by Jose Reyes. With two on, Romero struck out Rene Rivera to end the inning -- Rivera fanned all four times up.

Rendon's run-scoring double in the ninth made it 7-4.

Lugo gave up four runs, three earned, over 6 2/3 innings in his second start of the season after recovering from elbow inflammation. He was diagnosed with a partially torn ligament late in spring training.

The Mets had won Lugo's previous eight starts dating to last year.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Shawn Kelley was receiving treatment for tightness in his neck before the game. Unless it loosened up, manager Dusty Baker did not expect Kelley to be available out of the bullpen. Kelley worked the ninth inning Friday night and threw 26 pitches in closing out a 7-2 victory.

Mets: Cespedes, who returned from a strained hamstring June 10, started his third straight game ahead of a scheduled day off Sunday. The slugger has also dealt with quadriceps and heel issues recently, and his legs were tested several times Saturday following hours of heavy rain in the early afternoon before the game. But he ran well all day, legging out two infield singles, twice going first to third and even galloping a long way for a running catch in deep left field. He hustled into second base on one of Jay Bruce's three singles and later scored one of his three runs with a feet-first slide on Flores' line-drive sacrifice fly, barely beating a strong throw from right fielder Bryce Harper.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (3-2, 6.39 ERA) pitches the series finale Sunday. Washington has scored 85 runs in Ross' eight starts this season.

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 4.33 ERA) threw 116 pitches Monday in his second career complete game, beating the Chicago Cubs 6-1 with a five-hitter. He is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in nine starts vs. the Nationals and has 22 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings against them this year.

More Nationals: NATS BULLPEN IS ONE OF THE WORST IN LAST 40 YEARS

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Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

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USA TODAY

Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

Welcome to Inside Baseball. Here, we're taking a quick peek at what's going on ... inside ... baseball. 

We're almost a month into the MLB season, and that sweet noise you hear is the sound of sample sizes starting to become reliable! So far, the Red Sox are very good except for the nights they're getting no-hit, Derek Jeter's Marlins and their .227 winning percentage "aren't accepting a losing culture," and Mike Trout is well on his way to another historically-great 3rd place finish in the MVP race. 

AT NATS PARK

As it stands today, the Nationals are sitting in 4th in the NL East. It's early, they haven't been healthy, etc. etc., whatever. It hasn't been great. Their pitching staff features the best rotation in baseball paired alongside one of the worst bullpens in baseball. No bullpen in baseball has a higher homerun/flyball percentage (18%) than the Nationals. Only two teams - the Rockies and the Royals - strand runners on base at a lower clip than the Nationals (64.0 LOB%). If you really want to get into the weeds, their Win Probabilty and Clutch numbers tell a grim story too. 

Don't smash that panic button yet, though (maybe just lightly rest your hand on it?). There are a few reasons to believe that maybe the bullpen isn't actually as bad as they've been the first month.  They're striking out hitters at an elite level so far - only the Brewers and the Yankees have better K/9 and K% numbers than the Nats.  If you take take a look back at which bullpens led the league in strikeout numbers over the last handful of years, you'll see a *lot* of playoff teams. In the three-true-outcome era, having a bullpen that gets swings-and-misses is inarguably valuable. The Nats have that. 

Taking a look at their individual numbers, it's clear there's an excellent backend hidden somewhere in the bullpen right now. Sammy Solis' ERA is almost four runs higher than his FIP (fielding-independent pitching), a clear sign that Solis has pitched well but been a victim of the Nats' shoddy defense. The same goes for Ryan Madson, whose ERA sits at almost seven despite an FIP under three. Assuming that bullpen roles become more established once the data catches up, the Nats' bullpen could look a lot better in a month or two. 

AROUND BASEBALL

What you should know: Manny Machado's half-season showcase is going swimmingly. He's slashing .360/.447/.708 with eight homers through the first month or so of games. He's posted a 208 wRC+, which is a fancy way of saying he's been 108 percent better than league average at the plate so far. He's been the most valuable hitter this season and the second-most valuable player overall. Meanwhile, the Orioles are 6-17 and already 12 games out of first place in the AL East. It hasn't even been a month yet. Is this the year the the MLB trade deadline is exciting?!

What you should watch: Angels @ Astros (4/24-4/25)

Shohei Ohtani is pitching on Tuesday night, so that's reason enough. But, if you need more, there's also Mike Trout, the defending World Series champs, and Justin Verlander pitching on Wednesday. It also happens to be a battle between the best two teams in the AL West, separated by half a game for first place. If there's such a thing as exciting April baseball, it looks like this. 

Player of the week: I know we already talked about him, but no one's been better than Manny Machado over the last seven days. He's hitting .500/.586/1.208 with five homers during that span. After being bit by historically bad luck during the first half of last season, Machado has been putting up monster numbers ever since:

Random baseball gif: 

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).