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Nats' Papelbon says he feels better than he has in 'many years'


Nats' Papelbon says he feels better than he has in 'many years'

Though some have been prettier than others, Wednesday night's 3-0 win over the Braves was Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon's fifth save in as many chances already this season. The 12-year veteran is off to a blazing start and leads all MLB closer in saves with his team holding the best record in the NL at 6-1.

It's hard to begin a season much better than that and, according to Papelbon, he feels as good as he has felt in a long time.

"My stuff has felt real good. It feels better than it has in many years. I physically feel better than I have in a lot of years," the 35-year-old said.

That's coming from a guy who held a 2.13 ERA in 2015 and made the All-Star team. Papelbon, in fact, hasn't posted an ERA above 3.00 since 2010.

On Wednesday, Papelbon allowed a single to A.J. Piernzynski with one out in the ninth, but needed only eight pitches to shut down the Braves for his fifth save. He has allowed one run on a solo homer to Christian Yelich, but that's it through five innings this season.

Papelbon has a reputation for being an aggressive pitcher, not afraid to go after hitters no matter who is standing in the box. But catcher Wilson Ramos thinks he has been even more confident with his stuff through five outings in 2016.

"To me, he's aggressive this year. More aggressive. He throw two or three balls in a row, then he come back to the zone. He attack the zone really well. His pitches work well. That's what we need. We need him aggressive on the mound, the closer, really aggressive. Hopefully stay like that for the rest of the season, because we need him," Ramos explained.

Papelbon says that's just a matter of the games he's pitched in so far.

"I think the ballgame dictates my aggressiveness in the situation. Obviously, with a 3-run lead I'm not going to nitpick up there. For me, I think the game dictates it more than what people think," he said.

The eventful end to Papelbon's 2015 season was well-documented with the dugout altercation with Bryce Harper, the suspension and the trade rumors. He returned to the Nats this year unexpectedly, and only after a long offseason of introspection.

"I put a lot of hard work in this offseason to become a lot healthier physically and mentally," he said.

Five saves alone won't make up for all that went down last September, but the closer is certainly off to a good start on the mound.

[RELATED: Joe Orsulak on Bryce Harper's start to the 2016 season]

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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?


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.


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


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.


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.