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Despite loss, Nationals’ recent run puts further emphasis on coming homestand

Despite loss, Nationals’ recent run puts further emphasis on coming homestand

It’s no time to plan the parade route, but consider this: Washington’s 12-5 run over the last 17 games rivals its best stretches since the club reached relevance.

Every season from 2012 on has included at least one stretch of 13-4, often two. The Nationals’ best run since then? Surprisingly, a 14-3 jaunt from April 29-May 19 of last season.

So, 12-5, pretty good.

Which provides some perspective following Tuesday’s 7-5 loss in Chicago. The Nationals of the last three weeks put together a stretch not often seen -- even by an organization accustomed to winning regular-season games with regularity. During it, they lost three games by a run, another by two en route to 12 wins.

It could have been better. Since the Nationals arrived home bloodied from a sweep in New York, Patrick Corbin has made four starts.

His first was stellar: a shutout of the Miami Marlins, which included a hefty 116 pitches thrown (and the standard caveat for anything related to the Marlins as an opponent).

Corbin’s three since have been problematic. He was hammered in Cincinnati, mediocre in San Diego and beat up again Tuesday in Chicago, when he allowed seven earned runs in five innings. The exit velocities against him suggest his night could have gone even worse.

Chicago hitters averaged 97.4 mph off the bat and 99.6 mph against his key pitch, the slider. Corbin is the wart of the run.

Otherwise, it’s been productive enough to pull Washington into so-so territory, a broad leap from its aflame season of the first two months.

The Nationals are seven games out of first place in the National League East and 6 ½ out of the wild card as they arrive home.

A quick word to wild-card observers: the 6 ½-game deficit is misleading. Seven teams remain ahead of the Nationals for the two spots.

One is currently the Chicago Cubs, which dropped a half-game back in the Central on Tuesday. Milwaukee or Chicago has its hands on the first wild-card slot.

Which leaves the Nationals in a place to pass six other teams for the second one as opposed to three teams in the division. Take note. Those playoff considerations remain far away. And, this coming 11-game homestand will have a mighty influence on what happens next. Arizona arrives in a good place. It’s two games over .500 with a plus-58 run differential -- tied for second-best in the National League -- suggesting underachievement. Simple Rating System (the number of runs they are better or worse than the average team) pegs the Diamondbacks as the third-best team in the National League.

The first four games to open the season’s longest homestand does not include any layups. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray start the series for Arizona. Afterward, banged-up and hanging-on Philadelphia comes to town for four games. Atlanta follows for three.

The homestand will allow for a legitimate read of the team’s recent run. Win eight, and the club could shift into acquisition mode.

Lose eight, and the July 31 trade deadline suddenly appears a lot closer and more damning. What to do with Anthony Rendon? What to do with other veteran parts like Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier? What to do, in general, with a second consecutive failed season?

The Nationals are not there yet. But, adroitly moving through the last two-and-a-half weeks have reset the questions around the team from “When the manager is being removed?” to “What should be believed about this group?”

Back in Philadelphia on May 5, sitting in his office after everyone left, Davey Martinez said “we’re going to take off” once everyone was healthy and situated. He turned out to be right.

Now, the question is how long it will last.  

   

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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Nationals Roundup: Strasburg shines in Nationals' blowout of Braves

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NBC Sports Washington

Nationals Roundup: Strasburg shines in Nationals' blowout of Braves

In the first contest of a momentous four-game series, the Nationals trounced the Braves by a score of 13-4 behind Stephen Strasburg's historic performance. The Nationals improved to 51-44 and have the best record in baseball since May 24th

Here's the pertinent news to consider as the Nationals attempt to close the gap with division-leading Atlanta.  

Players News: 

Stephen Strasburg was effective as usual on the mound, but his performance at the plate was all anyone could talk about. He went 3-3 with two singles and a 420-foot bomb, becoming the second pitcher since 1973 to record three hits, a HR, and five RBIs in a game. In addition, he tossed 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball and registered his NL-leading 12th win of the season. 

Adam Eaton opened the scoring with an RBI triple to plate Stephen Strasburg, the first of eight runs in the third inning. In 91 games, he's batting .283/.365/.391 with six home runs and 24 RBI as one of many unsung heroes of the Nationals' hot streak. 

Anthony Rendon went 3-5 on the day, knocking in Adam Eaton with a double to deep center to give the Nats a 2-1 lead in the third inning. In the five games since the All-Star game, Rendon is batting .421/.522/.579 with three doubles. 

Injuries:

SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 18

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Aug 25

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 16

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 17

Coming Up: 

Friday 7/19: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Sunday 7/21: Nationals at Braves, 7:05 p.m. SunTrust Park

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