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Regular season over, Nationals ready for Dodgers and MLB playoffs

Regular season over, Nationals ready for Dodgers and MLB playoffs

The Nationals put a bow on their 2016 regular season Sunday afternoon with a 10-7 win over the Marlins, a victory orchestrated by a versatile effort from their offense. Now it's time to turn the page for what the Nats have waited two years for, their return to the playoffs. Now the real fun starts.

The Nats will take four days off before hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Friday. Winners of 95 games and the NL East division, the Nationals have been through plenty to arrive here and they feel ready for what lies ahead.

"It’s a lot of work to be able to get to this point and get the opportunity to go to the playoffs, so I’m looking forward to it," shortstop Danny Espinosa said. "I know as a team we’re really looking forward to it. We’ve come up short a couple of times and we want to get past that and go a lot further.”

“We came out here to be consistent, and this was the goal: To win the division. We did it. We got home field advantage against the Dodgers," starter Max Scherzer said. 

"Now the fun begins. Look, you’ve got to come out here and play your best baseball now. I know everybody’s got aches and pains and injuries and this and that, but you’ve got to rise above it and find a way to get it done.”

The four-day layoff is a challenge in its own right. On one hand, it's coming at a perfect time with several key players nursing injuries. Daniel Murphy (buttock strain), Jayson Werth (back tightness), Bryce Harper (sore left thumb) and Ryan Zimmerman (calf soreness) can all use the rest.

But those four days also put players at jeopardy of losing their rhythm. They need to do their best to remain sharp before going up against Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball.

Manager Dusty Baker described his plan to navigate the next four days while they wait to take on the Dodgers:

"We'll be off tomorrow. That's a rest day. They earned it and deserve it. Then, guys will come in every day and get treatment. We'll have batting practice and fielding practice like we always do. We'll maybe go over some fundamentals and take a couple infield and outfield drills, just to tighten things up in our game. I'm not going to work them to death, but you certainly don't want them to rust up in the meantime."

[RELATED: Scherzer gets win No. 20 as Nats beat Marlins]

It's not an easy thing to do, to balance both priorities. But the Nats aren't worried the time off will affect them negatively. 

"I feel like we came out of the All-Star break pretty well, so this isn't unique," second baseman Daniel Murphy said.

"We've been there before. [Jayson Werth has] been here before, Dusty's been here many times. We'll take tomorrow off, enjoy our families. It's been a race here, 162 games. I'm sure guys need to throw, we'll take some swings and some ground balls and get ready for Friday."

“It’ll be fine," Espinosa said. "Take a day off tomorrow. Lift and stuff on Tuesday. Kind of treat it like somewhat of an All-Star break as far as getting your rest and getting whatever treatment you need to get done. We’ll keep our timing, face our pitchers, get BP and everything."

The Nats and Dodgers will have a brief respite, then it's on. They will go at it in a five-game series where the smallest of moments can loom large. Sharpness will be key when minor mistakes can turn a series.

Scherzer described the mindset he feels is necessary when entering the postseason.

“That's the notion: 'Hey, this is going to be a big moment, dial it back.' I tried doing that making my first playoff start, going out in New York [City] against the Yankees and tried to dial it back. And I walked [two] in the first inning," he said. 

"It doesn’t work. You’ve got to use the adrenaline and use the emotion of the game to your advantage. You’ve got to go out there and be aggressive and appreciate everything that’s going on. You don’t shy away from this moment. You’ve got to rise to it. And you’ve got to let the atmosphere take you there as well. I’m happy that we have home field advantage and have the home crowd behind me. It’s going to be a heck of an experience.”

[RELATED: Nats showcase international talent in awards press conference]

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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.

RELATED: WHEN PITCHERS, CATCHERS REPORT FOR SPRING TRAINING