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Nats take right steps in preparing for playoffs in win over Marlins

Nats take right steps in preparing for playoffs in win over Marlins

The four-day layoff awaiting the Nationals before their NL Division Series against the L.A. Dodgers begins makes evaluating the final games of the regular season a complicated exercise. Players can catch fire over the course of a few games, or fall ice cold. But with a full four days off, it's unlikely anything will carry over. 

Like, seriously anything. The Nationals won 17 of 22 to finish the 2014 regular season, then scored just nine runs in four games against the Giants in the NLDS. The Kansas City Royals, conversely, went 15-17 in September and October of 2015, then won the whole thing. 

The Nationals aren't exactly on fire themselves this time around. Even with their win over the Marlins on Saturday, they are just 3-3 in their last six, all played against teams that will be watching the playoffs from home in a few days.

But in their victory over Miami, the Nats saw a few positive signs for what could be to come. Tanner Roark logged an effective 5 2/3 innings in his final playoff tuneup. Trea Turner had another excellent game with two hits - including a homer - two runs, a walk and a steal. 

Closer Mark Melancon logged a four-out save and didn't allow a baserunner. Bryce Harper landed an RBI single after going hitless on Friday, his first game back from his left thumb injury. Even Danny Espinosa, who was hitless in his previous six games across 20 at-bats, dropped in two singles.

The Nats will need all of those guys to do their jobs in order to beat the Dodgers and feel encouraged by the progress of each of them.

Manager Dusty Baker was particularly pleased to see Harper and Espinosa turn a corner. 

"[Harper] had to get the rust off. And it was against a left-hander and thats who he's gone see the first two games of this series is left-handers."

Of Espinosa, he said: "That's all he needs to do because the home runs come when they want to, but you've got to mix in some singles and doubles in between so that's big going into the playoffs."

[RELATED: Scherzer argues Metro should stay open later for Nats playoffs]

For Melancon, Baker made a point to give his closer an opportunity for four outs. It's a situation he's likely to be used in come playoff time and this was a valuable rep.

"I haven't done it much in the past," Melancon said. "But I expect that to happen in the playoffs. I keep the same mindset."

Roark held the Marlins to one run off three hits and four walks. He approached the start with a particular adjustment in mind.

"I feel like I figured a couple things out towards the end, which was my problem my last outing was not staying on line to home plate. I was flying out open a little bit. But I figured out that I got that down and got the feel back for that so that’s a positive out of that," he said.

Turner also had a triple and two steals in Friday night's loss. He feels about as ready as he can be as he heads into his first career MLB postseason.

"I'm going to compare it - as much as this might not be a good comparison - to the College World Series. Every pitch of those games were pretty intense," he said.

"It's the same game. You make it more than it is, it's going to speed up on you. The game may go a little different. there may be more sac bunts or situational plays. Other than that, same game. Go out there relaxed and do what you've done all year."

Turner hasn't appeared in the playoffs before, but Melancon is a veteran of six playoff games spread across three different seasons.

He's seen the ups and downs of the playoffs and believes Turner and the Nationals as a team are in good shape as they near Game 1.

"It's as ready as I've seen," he said.

[RELATED: Dusty Baker already preparing Nats rookies for pressure of playoffs]


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Bullpen falters as Dodgers rally from 3 runs down to top Nationals


Bullpen falters as Dodgers rally from 3 runs down to top Nationals

LOS ANGELES  -- Although Cody Bellinger's fierce line drive drove in the tying run, it hit the center field wall so quickly that the throw back to the infield beat him to second base.

No problem: Bellinger adroitly avoided the tag with a swim move he learned from watching Mike Trout on television, and the Dodgers kept charging toward the latest win in their comeback surge.

Bellinger followed Yasmani Grandal's two-run double with an RBI double in the sixth, and Corey Seager drove in Austin Barnes with the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Los Angeles' sixth win in seven games, 4-3 over the Washington Nationals on Sunday night.

With smart plays by Bellinger, Barnes and almost everybody else, the Dodgers (10-10) got back to .500 after a rough start for the defending NL champions. They were largely dominated by Jeremy Hellickson until they erased a three-run deficit in the sixth with three big hits from their patchwork lineup.

"There were signs of that old ballclub when we were coming from behind," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "That was good to see."

Los Angeles went ahead shortly after Barnes was hit by a pitch from Trevor Gott (0-1). Barnes wisely advanced to third on Chris Taylor's single and scored on Seager's fly.

"You've got to make something happen in that situation," Barnes said of his dash to third. "We're trying to get runs on the board late in the game. It was worth a shot. Be aggressive and play our kind of baseball, and eventually it'll pay off for us."

Alex Wood pitched six innings of six-hit ball for the Dodgers, and Josh Fields (1-0) survived a rocky seventh inning.

Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his first save since April 10 and his third of the season -- but not without drama. The Dodgers' vaunted closer began the ninth by yielding two singles, but then struck out Andrew Stevenson and Trea Turner before ending it on Howie Kendrick's fly to the warning track.

Michael Taylor homered, doubled, singled and walked for the Nationals, who have lost seven of 11.

Hellickson retired 14 straight Dodgers before doubles by Chris Taylor and Grandal, with a walk by Seager sandwiched between them. Bellinger followed with his go-ahead line drive against Sammy Solis.

"The one that Taylor got was probably just a tad up," Hellickson said. "(The pitch to) Grandal was down. Probably the only at-bat I'd like to have back is that one to Seager."

Michael Taylor put his first homer of the season into the home bullpen beyond left field in the fourth. He then doubled, advanced on Wood's pickoff throw into center field and scored on Moises Sierra's mid-length fly in the sixth for a 3-0 lead.


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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 4

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 4

It's week 4 of the fantasy baseball season, and patterns are starting to emerge. 

It's still early, certainly, but by week 4 it's time to start taking some of the season's breakouts and slumps a little more seriously. Is Joey Votto really this poor a hitter? No. But Patrick Corbin might actually be an ace in the Diamondbacks rotation, as is Gerrit Cole for the Astros.

With games every night, it's tough to pay attention to every storyline around Major League Baseball, so let us help you by providing a weekly outlook on what to expect from your fantasy roster, and some players you may not realize could be difference-makers.

As always, these tips will have a Nationals slant, offering some players in D.C. to avoid, and some you definitely want to play in any given week. We’ll also suggest some players around the league you should have interest in.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 4 (4/23-4/29)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Gio Gonzalez

We'll get more into this recommendation in the two-start pitchers section (spoiler alert, Gonzalez is lined up to start twice this week), but the simple sell is this: he's no longer a stud, but when Gonzalez is pitching well and gets two starts in a week, start him.

One Nationals position player to start: Ryan Zimmerman, 1B 

Zimmerman has notoriously struggled out of the gate this season, and given that half their games this week will be in San Francisco, it might make sense to sit him. That said, entering the Dodgers series, Zimmerman had the highest average exit velocity in baseball, so he was bound to turn it around, and against the Mets he went yard twice and hit a triple. It seems like his ability to hit the ball hard might be translating to the field for him, and you definitely want him in your starting lineups when his hot streak comes. And it will come.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Jeremy Hellickson

This isn't the most inspiring selection, since it's pretty unlikely Hellickson is owned anyways. That said, just to be safe, you definitely don't want to buy into his "decent" start in New York. Every other Nats starter is worth using this week, though, so Hellickson is the only option that we recommend sitting ion week 4.

One Nationals player to sit: Howie Kendrick, 2B

This may seem blasphemous, since Kendrick has been a consistent source of a high batting average this season, and hitting in a quality lineup you expect the runs to be there. That said, the Nats face a killer rotation this week in the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley, and Robbie Ray. It's probably for the best to sit the non-stars in the Nats' lineup this week in particular.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Gio Gonzalez, who we recommended last week (you're welcome), and we're going to double down. Gonzalez pitched well vs the Mets, and one of his starts this week comes in San Francisco, probably the best pitcher's park in baseball. He also faces the Diamondbacks, but with Goldschmidt struggling to start the season, it's not the nightmare matchup it once was. Start Gonzalez with confidence.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

Tyler Skaggs, a member of the Angels rotation. I know what you're thinking; we're supposed to start a guy facing the Astros and Yankees this week? Yes, those two may be the best offenses in baseball, but I'd rather start a good pitcher in a bad matchup than a bad pitcher in a good matchup. Follow the talented, and believe me, Skaggs is talented. Health has always been the key for him, and with the Angels' 6-man rotation, he won't have many opportunities for two-start weeks, so take advantage while you can. If it helps, he avoids the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, so his matchups are actually quite good from a location standpoint. 

One player you might not realize you should pick up: Gleyber Torres, SS (Yankees) 

If you pull up Torres' stats, you'll notice he hasn't played a single major league game this season. Rumors are, however, that the uber-prospect is going to be called up this week, and he's the type of talent you want on your fantasy squad, period. Last year, rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger led many teams to fantasy titles, and Torres has the ability to be that kind of difference maker. Don't feel obligated to start him until he proves himself, but he should be rostered in every league as soon as he reaches the majors.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Matt Harvey, SP (Mets) 

Harvey was a popular deep sleeper entering draft season, and it's not hard to see why. He's immensely talented, has pedigree, and has flashed incredible stuff in the big leagues before. That said, it appears his comeback just isn't going to materialize, and even Mets manager (and pitching guru) Mickey Calloway looks less confident in Harvey's future this season. If he starts getting his velocity back, and it translates to the games, feel free to jump back on the bandwagon. For now, though, it's safe to drop him for another flier.