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Struggling Nats out of 1st place in NL East

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Struggling Nats out of 1st place in NL East

They were wholeheartedly anointed the team to beat in what looked like a weak NL East, and for most of the summer to date, the Nationals were living up to the billing. Baseball Prospectus publishes daily playoff odds, and pretty much for the last six weeks the Nats were given anywhere from a 75 percent to an 89 percent chance of making the postseason.

As recently as Thursday, that number was 81.2 percent, with a 76.8 percent chance of winning the division. And then the Nationals were swept by the Mets over the weekend, and then they lost 6-4 to the Diamondbacks on Monday night while New York was busy steamrolling the Marlins 12-1.

And so now, the Nationals don’t even need bother look at projected standings to understand the situation they’re in. They need only look at the actual standings, which show the Mets sitting all alone atop the NL East for the first time since June 19. Not to mention the NL wild card standings, which show three teams ahead of the Nats and only two slots available for the one-game October play-in.

If you’re stunned by this sudden development, you’re not alone. The Nationals certainly didn’t see this coming, though they still choose to take the long-term view of the situation.

“That’s not good, but it’s not the end of the season,” right-hander Doug Fister said. “We still have quite a bit of time left. And we need to go out here every day and make sure we get our business done.”

The Nats haven’t been getting their business done in recent days. They’ve dropped four straight, 11-of-17 since the All-Star break.

And the primary reason for that is obvious: A lack of offense.

During this 17-game skid to open the season’s second half, the Nationals are hitting a collective .214 with a .278 on-base percentage and scoring an average of 3.3 runs per game. And it’s getting worse: Over their last five games, they’ve scored only 10 total runs … with four of those coming during a last-ditch, bottom-of-the-ninth rally Monday night.

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It was one thing when this happened against the never-ending string of aces that lined up to face the Nationals over the last two weeks, pitchers with names like Kershaw and Greinke and Cole and Fernandez and Harvey and deGrom and Syndergaard. But then came Monday’s game against Zack Godley, the Diamondbacks’ previously unknown rookie right-hander making his third career start after posting a 5.14 ERA at Class AA, who proceeded to shut out this star-laden lineup over six innings.

“What a plan we had up there today,” Bryce Harper said with a hint of sarcasm. “I don’t think we had one. Being able to go up there against a guy we’ve never faced, we were really just trying to have good at-bats. I don’t think we executed enough on that tonight. It just happens that way sometimes.”

Manager Matt Williams noted his hitters “swung at balls out of the strike zone” early on, failing to take advantage of what few opportunities they had.

When they were missing four key lineup regulars, it was easy to blame the Nationals’ offensive woes to injury. But everyone aside from Denard Span has now been back at least a week, and the results are no better, even worse in some ways.

There is, of course, a difference between a healthy lineup and a lineup full of hitters in midseason form.

“I think everybody knows it’s going to take about 100 at-bats for guys to really get going,” Harper said. “It’s something that I went through two years in a row [after returning from lengthy DL stints]. I know how it is. We want those guys in the lineup, but we know it’s going to take a little bit of time. It’s something that just goes that way. You need about 100 at-bats to really get going. We’ll see about it in a couple of weeks.”

Problem is, the Nationals can’t necessarily afford to wait another couple of weeks to start clicking. Games are taking on more and more significance with each passing day.

“If you’re here and ready to play, there’s really no excuse,” said Ryan Zimmerman, 6-for-26 with two homers since returning from his 7-week stint on the DL. “Bottom line, it just comes down to we have to score more runs. To get to where we want to get, we’re going to have to score runs against good pitchers and help our guys out.”

Until that happens, the Nationals will find themselves in this precarious position, actually looking up at another club in the standings for the first time in a long time, hoping that won’t remain the case for long.

“We’ve just really gotta try to stay within our team,” Harper said. “I don’t really give a crap about what the Mets are doing, or the Dodgers, the Giants or Texas or anybody. I could really care less. I know what type of team we are, our capability of going into every single game and having the confidence to win ballgames. Playing guys like [Arizona] that has a losing record, we’ve got to win these ballgames. We’ve got to scratch and fight and claw just try to win these games. Hopefully we can do that the rest of the time we’re here.”

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.