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As Nationals soar, so does dominant Storen

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As Nationals soar, so does dominant Storen

Major-league closers, like NFL kickers and the sanitation department, only draw your attention when something goes wrong. We just expect them to work flawlessly, and if everything goes according to plan, we don't even notice them.

Drew Storen, though, deserves our attention right now, because he has been just as responsible for the Nationals' prolonged, dominant stretch of baseball — Monday's 2-1 win over the Cubs was their 20th in their last 25 games — as anybody. Fourteen of these 20 victories have come by 3 or fewer runs, and Storen has been the last pitcher on the mound for the Nats in 12 of those games.

And in those 12 games, plus two more appearances he's made since the hot streak began April 28 in Atlanta, Storen hasn't allowed any opposing player to cross the plate. Not one.

That's 14 scoreless appearances totaling 13 1/3 innings. Storen has faced 48 batters during that time. Only eight have reached base (five hits, one walk, two hit batters). Seventeen, on the other hand, have struck out.

And it's not like Storen was struggling prior to that point, even though the Nationals as a whole were. For the season, he now sports an 0.93 ERA, having allowed only 13 hits and three walks over 19 1/3 innings while striking out 25. He has recorded an NL-best 14 saves in 15 tries.

Want even more evidence of Storen's dominance? He has given up one extra-base hit all season: a 1-out double to Grady Sizemore during Sunday's 4-1 win over the Phillies.

So, what exactly has made Storen so effective over the last seven weeks? Manager Matt Williams believes it's the fact he's using his full repertoire to perfection.

"I just think his secondary pitches have been crisp," Williams said Saturday while citing the previous evening's save against Philadelphia. "Last night's an example. He got [Ryan] Howard on breaking balls and change-ups, then he was able to elevate the fastball to [Odubel] Herrera to get him for the last out. That's a byproduct of him being able to throw the change-up for a strike and the slider for a strike and elevate the fastball when he needs to, especially against a left-handed hitter. I just think he's throwing it where he wants to."

Indeed, Storen's command has been excellent to date; he's throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes. But it's more than that. He's also throwing strikes that aren't hittable. A full 25.5 percent of his strikes have been swing-and-miss, the highest rate of his career and a full 10 percent better than the MLB average.

And Storen also has been very efficient. He hasn't thrown more than 20 pitches in any appearance this season, and he's averaging a mere 3.6 batters faced per inning (he's retired the side 12 times in 21 games).

Put that all together, and you've got one of the most dominant closers in baseball so far this season. Which, really, is just a continuation of 2014, when Storen led all NL relievers with a 1.12 ERA. Which, really, is just a continuation of the final two months of 2013, when Storen returned from a brief demotion to Class AAA Syracuse and regained his form.

In fact, take every MLB reliever who has thrown at least 30 innings since Aug. 16, 2013 (the day Storen was called back up to Washington) and nobody can match his 1.13 ERA.

Does he still need to prove he can get the job done in October after two notable blown saves? Of course. But that's a story for another day, well down the road.

Right now, Storen is near-perfect in the ninth inning. And because of that, the Nationals have been near-perfect for the last four weeks.

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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?

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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.

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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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