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Nats reach several short-term milestones in well-rounded win over Pirates

Nats reach several short-term milestones in well-rounded win over Pirates

Talk about modest, midseason milestones to the Nationals and they'll quickly remind you they have bigger goals in mind. What they want can't be captured in July. They want hardware, rings, the stuff people remember long down the road after generations have past.

But the present deserves its own appreciation, and there were several notable marks the Nationals reached in their 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 92 of the 2016 season that are worth pointing out. They moved to 20 games over .500 for the first time all year. They pushed their division lead to a season-high seven games. And they matched their steals total as a team from all of 2015.

The Nationals have returned for the second half with two wins against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that won 98 just one year ago. The Pirates are hungry and at 46-45 are clinging to diminishing playoff hopes. They need these games more than the Nats, but it is Washington that has emerged from the All-Star break looking as strong and determined as when they left.

“That was our goal was to be 20 over," manager Dusty Baker said. "I challenged the team to finish strong in the first half and come out the second half strong as well. A lot of times you can catch teams that are still in vacation mode right before the first half ends and right when the second half starts."

The Nationals now hold a seven-game lead in the NL East due to the Mets and Marlins both losing on Saturday night. Washington has won five straight and extended their division lead by three games in that stretch. If the Nats keep their pace, Miami and New York will soon have better luck chasing an NL Wild Card spot.

Saturday night's win was yet another well-rounded effort for the Nats. They saw starter Tanner Roark pitch into the ninth inning and finish with eight scoreless frames. Bench player Stephen Drew came through with three doubles in Daniel Murphy's place. And Anthony Rendon homered and landed an RBI single. 

Even with Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross injured, and even after a four-day All-Star break, the Nats are firing on all cylinders.

"We’re having a lot of fun," Roark said. "We’re keeping it loose in the clubhouse. We’re having fun on the bench as well. When everyone’s having fun collectively, as a team, you’re unselfish. That’s what a good team does, and I feel like we’re doing that right now.”

They put pressure on the Pirates in a variety of ways Saturday night, including on the base paths. Jayson Werth stole his fourth base of the season and Espinosa got his sixth. The combination gave the Nationals 57 on the season, which matched their total from all of last year.

That's a testament to Baker's style. He stated back in November at his introductory press conference that he wanted the Nationals to run more. It's also a feather in Davey Lopes' cap. The first base coach was brought in largely because of his base-stealing expertise.

"Davey reads pitchers better than anybody," Baker said. "Davey knows when they breathe if they're going home or they're going to first. Davey was the best baserunner and best basestealer that I've ever played with. Davey works tirelessly with his baserunners. Sometimes, I wish they'd listen to him a little bit more, but he's gaining more and more of their confidence. Especially when you have guys that know his knowledge and know what he can do - like Jayson Werth, who had him in Philly. And the guys are beginning to trust him more and more."

The Nationals have 70 games to go in the 2016 regular season and, if they have it their way, many more in October. But Saturday night was yet another reminder of how complete and versatile this team is and what they are capable of when they put it all together.

[RELATED: Roark dominates Pirates as Nats reach season-high division lead]


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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.