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Wilson Contreras powers Cubs past the Nationals, 7-4

Wilson Contreras powers Cubs past the Nationals, 7-4

CHICAGO -- Although it was supposed to be a day off for Willson Contreras, the Cubs regular catcher was in the lineup playing left field on Saturday.

As far as manager Joe Maddon is concerned, Contreras can rest when he's not red hot at the plate.

Contreras homered and drove in three runs, Alex Avila homered for his first hit with the Cubs and Chicago beat the Washington Nationals 7-4 to even the series between division leaders.

Contreras is batting .444 (8 for 18) with three homers and 11 RBIs in the five games of the current home stand and has reached base in 19 straight.

"I had to keep him in the lineup," Maddon said. "I mean, he's swinging the bat so well."

Kris Bryant and Jon Jay each added a run-scoring hit as the Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak.

Bryce Harper hit his 28th homer and threw out a runner at third base for the Nationals, but struck out in two key spots.

John Lackey (9-9) allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in five innings to win his fourth straight start. Wade Davis got the final three outs -- striking out Harper, the potential tying run, to end it -- for his 23rd save.

"He's definitely tough in that situation," Harper said of Davis. "I had one pitch that I could drive and I hit it foul. I knew if I missed a pitch against him, it would be a tough at-bat."

Harper also struck out against Lackey in the fifth with a runner in scoring position.

Washington starter Edwin Jackson (2-2) allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. Harper's solo shot in the first gave the Nationals a quick lead, but the Cubs responded with four in the bottom of the inning. Bryant drove in the first run with a double and Contreras followed with an RBI single to score Bryant. After a single by Ben Zobrist -- Contreras was thrown out by Harper trying to advance to third -- Avila's two-run shot made it 4-1.

"It felt really good," said Avila, who was acquired on Monday to back up Contreras. "I glad to get it over with and out of the way."

Washington scored twice in the fourth to make it 4-3. Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly and Matt Wieters added an RBI single.

Contreras' two-run blast off Matt Grace in the sixth was for a 6-3 lead and Jay's RBI single in the seventh made it 7-3.

The Nationals added an unearned run in the eighth to cap the scoring.

Contreras believes the key to his hot streak is simply taking advantage of the pitches he can handle.

"That's what hitting is all about," he said. "Just being ready for your pitch, and if you get it, take advantage of it."

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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.

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