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Offense has Nats standing out in NL East

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Offense has Nats standing out in NL East

With the Nationals returning home having gone 5-2 on their West Coast road trip with just a half-game deficit in the NL East to make up, it seems like a good time to take stock of where they stand in the division heading into an off-day with the New York Yankees up next.

Some may say it's too early after just 39 games to make overarching judgements. Somebody tell that to the Marlins, who fired manager Mike Redmond minutes after their loss to the Braves on Sunday.

Remember when people were freaking out about the Nats? What's happening in Miami is what real panic looks like.

The Nationals have now won 15 of their last 19 games and sit five games over .500 at 17-12. They've won six consecutive series, four of them against NL East teams.

With 10 runs in Sunday's series-closing win against the Padres, the Nationals' offense exploded once again. Bryce Harper hit a three-run homer and so did Danny Espinosa. The Nats now rank second in Major League Baseball with 194 runs scored. Through 39 games, they are averaging 4.97 runs per contest.

For a comparison, none of the Nats' division counterparts rank in the top 12 in baseball in runs scored. The Nationals are also fifth in team OPS (.742), while no one else in the NL East places higher than 17th.

This is all without Anthony Rendon, one of their most complete offensive players. It is also without Jayson Werth for total 12 games and Denard Span for the first three weeks of the season. Ian Desmond has also struggled mightily with just two homers and nine RBI so far this year after three consecutive Silver Slugger campaigns. Those were their top four hits leaders in 2014.

A large part of the Nationals' ability to score runs despite those factors has been the play of Harper. The 22-year-old outfielder went 12-for-23 (.522) with three home runs and nine RBI on their road trip. He's now batting an unreal .338 with 14 homers, 37 RBI and a 1.206 OPS. Nobody has carried an OPS that high across a full season since Barry Bonds in 2004.

We're just nearing the quarter-mark of the 2015 schedule, but so far Harper has been playing at an MVP level. Many of us thought he would lead the league in homers someday and it's exactly what he's doing right now.

I wrote yesterday about how Max Scherzer is off to the best start of his MLB career and how important he has been so far for the Nationals. But Doug Fister aside, the rest of the Nats' rotation has shown positive signs in recent games.

Gio Gonzalez has a 3.32 ERA in his last three outings. Jordan Zimmermann has thrown a quality start in six straight appearances with a 2.58 ERA during that stretch. Stephen Strasburg wasn't great against the Padres, but his three earned runs in five innings was a turn in the right direction considering his 6.06 ERA to begin the day.

The Nationals' pitching staff is still a work in progress. They hold a 3.85 team ERA, which ranks 13th in baseball. That's not terrible, but far from the 3.00 mark the Mets currently have, which is second in MLB.

The Nats rank third in starters ERA in the division at 3.91 and 11th in baseball. The Mets are tops in the majors at 3.16 and the Braves are also barely ahead of the Nats. The Marlins are not far behind Washington.

The Mets could very well have the best pitching staff in baseball, a distinction many predicted for the Nationals. But their offense - ranked 22nd in runs scored - is not even close to what the Nationals have produced so far. And again, that's without Rendon, who is arguably one of the best hitters in the NL.

New York currently holds a half-game lead over the Nats entering the week, but up next for them is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards have the NL's best record and a remarkable 2.87 ERA as a team so far.

The Nats will play the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday with a day off before and after. Then they host the Phillies, who despite somehow winning five straight are still in last place.

The Mets have surprised many by leading the division through the first month-and-a-half of 2015. But with the way things are going, it doesn't look like it will last very long.

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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.

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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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