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Nats first shutout loss highlights collective lineup struggles

Nats first shutout loss highlights collective lineup struggles

With all the focus on the blazing starts for Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy at the plate, and with the Nationals' 14-6 first-place record, it has perhaps gone overlooked exactly how badly the rest of their lineup has struggled.

That wasn't clear, at least, until Wednesday night when Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson made his 5.21 season ERA look like a typo with his best start of the season so far. It was a confounding but convincing display of dominance and the Nationals just couldn't buy a run in their 3-0 loss.

Sure, Hellickson was good and deserves credit for his seven scoreless innings, two hits allowed and season-high eight strikeouts. But the Nats' lineup as a whole has gone almost completely cold. Harper walked twice and Murphy doubled, but the rest of their lineup? Just one hit and a walk.

Both of those were by Danny Espinosa and the hit was a bunt single. It was his 500th hit, actually, which is a nice honor and one he would have preferred to enjoy with a win.

The Nationals have scored just 2.75 runs per game over their last four outings, two of those losses. That's not good, but manager Dusty Baker is not ready to adjust his lineup.

"We're 14-6. You don't start moving guys yet," he said. "And if you shake up the basket and there isn't nothing happening in the basket, when you shake it up, there still ain't nothing happening. It don't really matter where you're hitting if you're not hitting. And everybody can't hit in front of Harper. And some of the guys hitting in front of Harper still aren't hitting."

Baker does have a point. The Nats' starting lineup on Wednesday night outside of Harper and Murphy, their usual group minus Wilson Ramos, is batting just .202. Leadoff hitter Michael Taylor is hitting .192, Jayson Werth is at .180 and Espinosa's at .182. Anthony Rendon's got a .566 OPS and Ryan Zimmerman is not much better at .624.

Would moving them around make a significant difference? Should they play more small-ball? Baker believes patience is the real answer.

"It's hard to manufacture when you're not getting product. You can't manufacture on two hits," he said. "We hit some balls hard. We hit some balls on the nose. But we need some balls to fall."

Ultimately, Baker believes these things come in waves. The Nats are having trouble scoring right now, but that can all change soon.

"Believe it or not, hitting is not that easy," he said. "This is what kills me. People say hitting is the hardest thing in the world to do, right? And then when you don't do it, people ask what happened? That doesn't make sense. Sometimes you can hit the ball hard and you can hit the ball better than them sometimes. Sometimes you can't buy a run and then other times you can just get runs whenever you want to. When you figure that out, then please come tell me because I can't figure it out."

For the Nationals and their offense, timing is a concern. They are slumping right before they head to St. Louis to face the Cardinals on Friday. And after that it's the Royals and Cubs. They may have to fight through this recent skid against some of the best teams in baseball and that is not ideal.

[RELATED: Gonzalez strong again, but Nats bats go cold in loss to Phillies]

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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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