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Scherzer, Werth shine in Nats' thrilling victory over the Giants

Scherzer, Werth shine in Nats' thrilling victory over the Giants

Analysis of the Nats' 4-1 win over the San Francisco Giants on Friday night at AT&T Park.

How it happened: Sometimes when your team is in a jam, you have to do something no one has ever done before to get them out of it.

On Friday night in San Francisco, the Nats pulled off the unimaginable. Called in cold off the bench as part of a triple-switch, Ryan Zimmerman generated the first triple play in team history to end the eighth inning and essentially save a Nationals win. It was the first 3-3-5 triple play ever executed by a major league team.

With the bases loaded and Sammy Solis on the mound, Zimmerman caught a Brandon Crawford line drive, stepped on first for the second out, then threw it across the diamond to Anthony Rendon, who stepped on third. The Nats escaped with their 4-1 lead intact and one inning later secured the victory.

Few MLB players have had more publicized issues throwing the baseball than Zimmerman, yet it was his accurate throw that led to the third out. Baseball, man.

That play helped save another strong outing for Max Scherzer, who went seven innings of one run ball. Jayson Werth, Ben Revere and Rendon each landed RBI singles. Daniel Murphy added an RBI triple, as the Nats won their third straight game.

The Nats' bullpen again showed its ugly side by loading the bases in the eighth and then seeing two baserunners reach in the ninth. They got out of each situation, though, to their credit.

What it means: The Nats are now 2-0 against the Giants this season and 61-42 overall. They hold a six-game lead over the Marlins and a 7 1/2 advantage over the Mets, as both teams lost on Friday.

Scherzer carves again: It may be flying under the radar after his slow start and with how good his teammate Stephen Strasburg has been, but Scherzer is having arguably the best season of his career. The Nats ace was efficiently dominant against the Giants on Friday with just one run allowed on five hits, two walks and six strikeouts on 116 pitches in seven innings of work. It was the seventh straight outing that Scherzer has gone at least six innings with two runs or less. Six times during that stretch has he given up one run or less.

Scherzer's worst game of this season was back on May 11 at the Chicago Cubs. But in the 15 starts since - roughly half a season - he has a 2.13 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings. Opponents have hit just .169 with a .529 OPS against him in those 15 games.

Scherzer has lowered his season ERA in six consecutive starts, all the way down to 2.85, which is very close to his career-best mark of 2.79 set in 2015. His 146 ERA+, 11.3 strikeouts-per-nine rate and 6.2 hits-per-nine are all career-bests. 

Werth gets them started: The Nationals ended up having their way with Jeff Samardzija, but it didn't start out like that. Samardzija limited them to just two walks and no hits through the first three innings. Then, in the fourth inning, things started unraveling for the Giants right-hander. He gave up a one-out double to Wilson Ramos, then an RBI single to Werth. For Werth, it was the 32nd straight game he's reached base. Werth's overall numbers during that streak are largely unremarkable, he's hitting just .248 with 29 strikeouts. But on Friday, he was a big help for the Nats with two hits, a walk, an RBI and a run.

Murphy's triple: Good things came in threes for the Nats on Friday, as Murphy's triple was another big play in their win over the Giants. It was Murphy's fifth triple this season, which is a new career-high. Twice had he notched four on one season, most recently in 2013. Murphy has been on fire lately. In his last 15 games, he's 21-for-54 (.389) with six homers, 20 RBI, eight doubles and a triple.

Up next: The Nats carry on with the Giants as rookie Reynaldo Lopez (0-1, 11.57) makes his second career start. He'll pitch opposite veteran Jake Peavy (5-9, 5.42)

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Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

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USA TODAY Sports

Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mac Williamson had to dust himself off after crashing into a low padded wall near the stands in left field while chasing a foul ball.

More frustrated than hurt, Williamson took it out on Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark a few moments later after undergoing a series of concussion tests in the dugout.

Williamson homered for the second straight night and third in five games, hitting a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.

"I got pretty lucky," Williamson said. "I felt fine then and I feel fine now. I'm sure once the adrenalin wears off later tonight, tomorrow we'll see how the body feels. I'm sure I'll be a little sore."

Brandon Belt hit his fifth home run in six games, Joe Panik added three hits and scored twice, and the Giants won their third straight and fourth in the last five.

One night after hitting a 464-foot homer in the series opener, Williamson hit a first-pitch solo shot to center off Roark with two outs in the sixth inning that bounced off the top of the wall and broke a 3-all tie. It wasn't as far as Monday's clout -- this one went 423 feet -- but was just as pivotal for the Giants.

"We've talked about what a shot in the arm he's been and he's more than that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He came through again tonight. Good for him because he's worked hard at it."

Williamson's deciding home run came one inning after he stumbled over the bullpen mound in foul territory and crashed into a low wall near the stands while trying to chase down Bryce Harper's foul ball. Williamson stayed down briefly as team trainers rushed out before getting to his feet.

"I tried to roll my neck a little bit and my head down a little bit when I started going down," Williamson said. "I think that helped break my fall. I was just a little frustrated I didn't come up with the play. I had it in my glove and it came out."

Belt hit a two-run shot off Roark (1-2) in the third.

Michael Taylor had a three-run homer for Washington, which has lost four straight and 14 of 20 since opening the season 4-0.

"It seems like that sixth inning's been biting us in the rear as of late," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We're swinging the bats. We just can't get the big hit with people on base."

Reyes Moronta (1-0) retired six batters for his first career win. Sam Dyson pitched one inning and Hunter Strickland worked the ninth for his fifth save.

The Giants got a run off Roark in the first but left the bases loaded when Evan Longoria struck out looking to end the inning. Belt homered on a 3-2 pitch from Roark in the second to make it 3-0.

Washington tied it on Taylor's three-run homer off starter Ty Blach in the third. Ryan Zimmerman walked and Moises Sierra singled before Taylor's deep drive into the right-field stands.

Roark went into the game 6-0 in seven career games against San Francisco but couldn't find a rhythm this time. He allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.

WHERE DID IT GO?

Panik hit a soft comebacker to Roark in the fifth that glanced off the pitcher's glove then bounced up on the top of his cap before falling to the turf. Roark initially couldn't locate the ball but found it in time to throw to first for the out.

AILING BLACH

Blach allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. After the game, Bochy said the left-hander suffered from food poisoning last week and was given an IV on Monday. "That was a really gutty effort that he gave us," Bochy said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 10-disabled list with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow. Infielder/outfielder Matt Reynolds was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse and outfielder Rafael Bautista and infielder Adrian Sanchez were called up.

UP NEXT

Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (4-1, 1.36 ERA) and Giants RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) take to the mound for the series finale at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Samardzija is making his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list.

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Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

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USA TODAY

Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

Welcome to Inside Baseball. Here, we're taking a quick peek at what's going on ... inside ... baseball. 

We're almost a month into the MLB season, and that sweet noise you hear is the sound of sample sizes starting to become reliable! So far, the Red Sox are very good except for the nights they're getting no-hit, Derek Jeter's Marlins and their .227 winning percentage "aren't accepting a losing culture," and Mike Trout is well on his way to another historically-great 3rd place finish in the MVP race. 

AT NATS PARK

As it stands today, the Nationals are sitting in 4th in the NL East. It's early, they haven't been healthy, etc. etc., whatever. It hasn't been great. Their pitching staff features the best rotation in baseball paired alongside one of the worst bullpens in baseball. No bullpen in baseball has a higher homerun/flyball percentage (18%) than the Nationals. Only two teams - the Rockies and the Royals - strand runners on base at a lower clip than the Nationals (64.0 LOB%). If you really want to get into the weeds, their Win Probabilty and Clutch numbers tell a grim story too. 

Don't smash that panic button yet, though (maybe just lightly rest your hand on it?). There are a few reasons to believe that maybe the bullpen isn't actually as bad as they've been the first month.  They're striking out hitters at an elite level so far - only the Brewers and the Yankees have better K/9 and K% numbers than the Nats.  If you take take a look back at which bullpens led the league in strikeout numbers over the last handful of years, you'll see a *lot* of playoff teams. In the three-true-outcome era, having a bullpen that gets swings-and-misses is inarguably valuable. The Nats have that. 

Taking a look at their individual numbers, it's clear there's an excellent backend hidden somewhere in the bullpen right now. Sammy Solis' ERA is almost four runs higher than his FIP (fielding-independent pitching), a clear sign that Solis has pitched well but been a victim of the Nats' shoddy defense. The same goes for Ryan Madson, whose ERA sits at almost seven despite an FIP under three. Assuming that bullpen roles become more established once the data catches up, the Nats' bullpen could look a lot better in a month or two. 

AROUND BASEBALL

What you should know: Manny Machado's half-season showcase is going swimmingly. He's slashing .360/.447/.708 with eight homers through the first month or so of games. He's posted a 208 wRC+, which is a fancy way of saying he's been 108 percent better than league average at the plate so far. He's been the most valuable hitter this season and the second-most valuable player overall. Meanwhile, the Orioles are 6-17 and already 12 games out of first place in the AL East. It hasn't even been a month yet. Is this the year the the MLB trade deadline is exciting?!

What you should watch: Angels @ Astros (4/24-4/25)

Shohei Ohtani is pitching on Tuesday night, so that's reason enough. But, if you need more, there's also Mike Trout, the defending World Series champs, and Justin Verlander pitching on Wednesday. It also happens to be a battle between the best two teams in the AL West, separated by half a game for first place. If there's such a thing as exciting April baseball, it looks like this. 

Player of the week: I know we already talked about him, but no one's been better than Manny Machado over the last seven days. He's hitting .500/.586/1.208 with five homers during that span. After being bit by historically bad luck during the first half of last season, Machado has been putting up monster numbers ever since:

Random baseball gif: