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Breaking down the National League contenders after a wild Trade Deadline

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Breaking down the National League contenders after a wild Trade Deadline

2018 brought us one of the most active trade deadlines in recent years. You have to go back to the Manny Machado trade during the All-Star Game to find a true superstar being moved, but there were several impact players who changed teams in the last few weeks.

The Nats, to the surprise of many fans, sat out most of the moves made on July 31st. They did trade Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs, but that’s not a move that’s going to drastically influence their playoff odds. 

GM Mike Rizzo maintains that the Nats are all-in on competing in 2018, so while they didn’t act as buyers, they still would like to win big this year. It won’t be easy, however, because there are 10 other teams who already have an edge on the Nats in the standings.

So, with the Nats staying pat at the deadline, and every other National League contender making moves to improve their rosters, let’s take a look around the Senior Circuit and reset the playoff picture as we enter August. Where do the Nationals find themselves compared to the rest of the NL?

Teams listed in order of record

Chicago Cubs (61-45, 1st in NL Central)

I actually really liked the addition of Cole Hamels for the Central-leading Cubs, as he shores up a pitching staff that has struggled to really differentiate itself. No, Hamels isn’t the World Series MVP ace he was a decade ago, but his numbers outside of the hitter’s haven that is Texas have actually been pretty terrific, and they didn’t give up much of consequence.

Hamels isn’t the best player to move at the deadline, but this is probably my favorite move made by any contender. The Cubs went into the deadline as one of the two favorites in the NL, and they got better.

Milwaukee Brewers (62-47, 2nd in NL Central)

The Brewers were active this month, I’ll give them that. I’m not entirely sure what they were thinking in adding Mike Moustakas AND Jonathan Schoop to a team that already employed Travis Shaw, but I know I sure want to watch what happens. Shaw at second base? Schoop at third? Good luck, pitchers.

The interesting thing is they’ve found most of their success this season thanks to defense and pitching, yet now they are going all in on a beer league softball lineup. I would have preferred they add a starting pitcher, but Joakim Soria helps the bullpen at least. This team is still highly likely to make the postseason, and probably are the favorites to host the NL Wild Card Game.

Los Angeles Dodgers (59-48, 1st in NL West)

The Dodgers have to be considered not only one of the biggest winners of the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but also now one of the two biggest favorites in the National League.

Their deadline fun started at the All-Star Game, as they acquired star shortstop Manny Machado, who will serve as the greatest injury replacement of all time for Corey Seager, who is out for the season.

They didn’t stop there, though, as in addition to the best player moved at the deadline, they also added Brian Dozier, who is the best power-hitting second baseman in baseball and is a notorious second-half star. Their infield now looks like maybe the best in baseball, and they’ve cemented themselves at the top of the NL West.

Philadelphia Phillies (58-48, 1st in NL East)

The Phillies did pretty well at the deadline, though they did not add any true stars. They did, however, shore up their catching position with the addition of Wilson Ramos, who, when healthy, is one of the best-hitting catchers in the game. They also added the versatile Asdrubal Cabrera, who helps the infield, and also acquired a lefty for their bullpen in Aaron Loup. 

This team is still a tier or two behind the behemoths of the National League, but they got better this month and should be considered legitimate contenders for the NL East title.

Arizona Diamondbacks (59-49, 2nd in NL West)

The Dodgers may be the clear favorites out west, but the Diamondbacks aren’t just going to roll over. They couldn’t match Los Angeles’ package for Manny Machado, which was no doubt a blow, but they did manage to find a nice consolation prize in Eduardo Escobar.

They also strengthened the bullpen when they added Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman, plus Matt Andriese is a quality addition to the pitching staff. None of these guys should be considered true difference makers, but all four will contribute down the stretch run. 

The Diamondbacks should be thought of as one of the favorites for an NL Wild Card spot, and could still find themselves challenging for the division if the Dodgers don’t completely take off.

Atlanta Braves (56-47, 2nd in NL East)

The Braves got away with grand larceny when they pried Kevin Gausman away from the black hole that is Baltimore’s pitcher development system. This has Jake Arrieta 2.0 written all over it. And, to make matters worse for Orioles fans, the Braves didn’t even have to dip into their considerable minor league depth to make the trade.

That said, Gausman isn’t consistent enough to be an ace yet, though the talent is apparent. Adam Duvall can still be a decent source of power, and they certainly added volume to the bullpen in Brad Brach and Jonny Venters, both of whom have potential to be pretty good.

Just like the Phillies, I think the Braves got better, even if they didn’t add a star. The trades are enough to legitimize themselves as contenders in the east, which is all they could have hoped for without giving up a top prospect. 

Colorado Rockies (57-48, 3rd in NL West)

The Rockies.. acquired Seung-Hwan Oh? There were lots of rumors that they were in on starting pitchers, but nothing materialized. Their record to this point in the season is impressive, and they could easily prove me wrong here, but I still see them on the outside looking in of the postseason.

Pittsburgh Pirates (56-52, 3rd in NL Central)

The Pirates just keep winning, as they’ve gone 16-4 in their last 20 games, and while no one actually believes in them as postseason contenders, the fact remains they keep winning.

They definitely improved at the deadline, as they acquired Chris Archer, who has been rumored as a major trade deadline target for years. Archer’s team-friendly deal makes him extra appealing, but while the Pirates are only a few games back of the second NL Wild Card spot, they just don’t have the talent of the teams ahead of them.

St. Louis Cardinals (54-52, 4th in NL Central)

The Cardinals can basically consider themselves out of the playoff race, though unlike the Nats they at least have a record above-.500. They didn’t go full firesale mode, but they did jettison Tommy Pham to Tampa without getting much back. I’d expect them to stick around .500, but they needed to make some big moves to actually compete, and they (smartly) elected not to.

San Francisco Giants (55-54, 4th in NL West)

The Giants mistakenly went in on 2018, and they find themselves sitting just one game above-.500. They were never really going to compete, and their lack of activity at the deadline certainly didn’t change that.

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

WASHINGTON -- Jose Urena's previous start ended after one very heated pitch.

On Sunday, he went the distance.

Urena made the most of his borrowed time, pitching a two-hitter for his first complete game in the majors and leading the Miami Marlins over the Washington Nationals 12-1 on Sunday.

Urena (4-12) was suspended for six games by Major League Baseball after hitting Atlanta rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. on Wednesday. Urena was ejected from that start after throwing one fastball and appealed the penalty, keeping him eligible to play.

"I know what I did, and I know what kind of person I am and what kind of teammate," Urena said. "Just tried to execute my plan and go out there and have fun and show what I can do."

Urena, tied for the NL lead in hit batters, didn't plunk anyone on the Nationals, nor did he alter his approach. He struck out four, walked two and retired the last 16 batters. It was his first complete game in 74 big league starts.

"If you make a mistake you've got to pay," Urena said of Washington's lineup. "We tried to move their feet, make them uncomfortable at the plate. Try to attack the inside."

Right-hander Pablo Lopez was originally slated to start Sunday's game, but manager Don Mattingly opted to push him back to Tuesday and insert Urena.

The 26-year-old right-hander's next start would normally be scheduled for next weekend at home against the Braves. Urena could decide to drop the appeal, serve the suspension and miss that series -- after the game, he said he'll maintain the appeal.

Starlin Castro got a career-high five hits and scored three times. JT Riddle and J.T. Realmuto each homered and drove in three runs for Miami, with Riddle connecting for the second straight game. Isaac Galloway had three hits, including his first career homer.

It was the Marlins' first series win in Washington since 2014.

Trying to keep pace with the Braves and Phillies in the NL East, the third-place Nationals have now lost four of their last five against the last-place Marlins. The Nationals host the Phillies for three games beginning Tuesday night.

Gio Gonzalez (7-10) allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Over his last 13 starts, Gonzalez is 1-8 with 7.07 ERA.

"I think it was in all honesty an ugly game. And everybody saw it," manager Dave Martinez said. "Gio couldn't keep us in the game and it got ugly."

Leading 3-1, the Marlins broke it open with a five-run fifth. After Riddle's sacrifice fly, the Marlins loaded the bases and Rafael Ortega hit a bases-loaded, two-run double off the glove of a diving first baseman Matt Adams to end Gonzalez's afternoon.

Realmuto greeted reliever Greg Holland with a two-run single, making it 8-1.

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.