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Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

Wednesday’s question around Max Scherzer centered on which version of the right-hander would do the pitching. Would it be the one from two starts ago who looked like the pitcher everyone was so accustomed to seeing? Or the one from his last start, less sharp, fastball a tick down in velocity and life?

Scherzer threw a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball Wednesday. He was loose and sharp. His outing also probably handed the Cy Young Award to New York’s Jacob deGrom.

The issues were less his doing than his teammates. Scherzer’s final line, 6 ⅔ innings, seven hits, five earned runs, 11 strikeouts, no walks, bumped his ERA to 2.81. But, Juan Soto lost a fly ball in the sun which otherwise would have ended the seventh inning. Catch it, and here’s Scherzer’s line: seven innings pitched, five hits -- two of which were bloops -- two earned runs, no walks, 11 strikeouts. Scherzer would be directly responsible for not throwing a cutter in far enough against wonder boy Tommy Edman, who hit it for a home run in the third inning. Otherwise, stellar.

Instead, a single drove in a run after the Soto mistake. A Matt Wieters pinch-hit two-run homer drove Scherzer out of the game following the single. Hence, the bloated line in a high-profile game. The rise in ERA, the loss, the box score telling a partial fib, all those things strongly enhance what was already a strong case for deGrom. Scherzer could never makeup the workload gap in the race, but could hang around or lead in all the peripherals. Wednesday’s outing made that much more difficult. 

The Nationals also never found a way to a damn-busting hit. Asdrúbal Cabrera’s deep fly ball to right field was prevented from going over the fence by a leaping Dexter Fowler, a would-be three-run homer turned into another sigh against St. Louis. The Cardinals made plays, Washington did not. St. Louis wins two of three in a series against Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer as a result.

Washington holds a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot before play begins Wednesday night. Chicago hosts Cincinnati. Milwaukee hosts San Diego. Things are tight.

The Nationals don’t play Thursday. A three-game weekend series begins in Miami on Friday. A sweep resets Washington’s season. It would also make it 16-3 against Miami this year. Anyting less? Not great.

Washington will have a slight advantage -- in theory -- going forward because it has the dual benefit of a lead (however small) as well as a game in hand on Chicago and Milwaukee. Who will pitch that extra game? Joe Ross is injured. The recent rotation shuffling for the weekend -- Aníbal Sánchez on Friday, Strasburg on Saturday and Austin Voth bumped to Sunday -- means Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson would handle the day game Tuesday in Nationals Park. 

The Nationals are 6-10 in the last two-plus weeks. They haven’t lost their postseason spot --yet. However, it’s slipping, tenuous and in doubt, and Wednesday afternoon didn’t help.

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Nationals remind everyone Bryce Harper 'wants to bring a title back to D.C.'

Nationals remind everyone Bryce Harper 'wants to bring a title back to D.C.'

The Nationals are trying to bring a championship to the nation’s capital, an obvious goal for a team on the cusp of its first-ever World Series berth.

It’s not just current Nationals looking to bring a title to Washington, as former outfielder Bryce Harper so notably “announced” during spring training before the season.

Harper’s gaffe was an honest mistake for a player who had spent half a dozen years with the Nationals, but that sure didn’t make it any less fun for local fans.

After the Phillies finished 81-81 in Harper’s debut season, while the Nationals finished 93-69 and finally broke through to exorcise their postseason demons this October, the team’s official account decided to have some fun with Harper’s comment as well.

It’s an obvious and hilarious shot taken at a player who was once the most famous face of the organization. This is exactly what sports Twitter was invented for.

Though it’s entirely possible Harper really is pulling for his former franchise, with his current team long out of the running, it’s fair to assume his focus is on bringing at least one title to Philadelphia in the next…(checks notes) *12 years* he has remaining on his contract.

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Nationals owner Mark Lerner on Davey Martinez, the turnaround and Anthony Rendon’s future

Nationals owner Mark Lerner on Davey Martinez, the turnaround and Anthony Rendon’s future

WASHINGTON -- Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner surveyed batting practice Tuesday in his red Nationals jacket, watching everything he pursued coming to fruition.

His family’s team was one win from its first World Series berth. Often tense when watching even regular-season games, Lerner felt a bit of joy with his team so close to a conclusion which seemed so distant at the start of the season.

“Obviously I wasn’t too happy, nobody was,” Lerner said. “I couldn’t imagine what happened the rest of the season. I would have never believed where we are today. A turnaround like that only happens once in a blue moon, so I can’t say I totally expected it. I didn’t.”

When the crumbling season hit its low point May 23, Lerner had options. He could fire Davey Martinez. He could have demanded several other changes. He, like everyone else, had the choice to panic as a result of his irritation with the team’s beginning. Instead, he kept the manager his family preferred over Dusty Baker, the one who was assigned a clear edict when hired: take us to the World Series. 

“It never crossed my mind to dismiss Davey, no matter all the pressure that was put on us,” Lerner said. “I think he’s become a very, very good manager, and I think in the years to come he will become a great manager. I have total confidence in him and delighted that all these good things are happening. Nobody deserves it more than him.”

Slowly, his team began to pivot. Winning months followed. The rallying perpetuated until the end of the season, culminating with a 3-0 start to the National League Championship series. “I was talking to my sister [Tuesday] it’s just hard to believe, just the whole thing,” Lerner said. “Even if we didn’t have this turnaround season, if it was just a solid season, to get to this point is just such a special thing and we’re in uncharted waters. The Cardinals have been through it, the Dodgers have been through it, this is all new for everybody in this building. So it’s very special.”

Anthony Rendon’s best season as a professional was central to the push. Rendon is set to become a free agent after multiple negotiation attempts to reach a contract extension failed. Lerner lauded Rendon in spring training. He did so again Tuesday.

“We certainly want to keep him,” Lerner said. “That's 110 percent. It's really in Tony's and his family's hands at this point. They have to decide what they want to do. He's earned that right as a free agent. It couldn't happen to a better guy. We love him to death. And I hope that his decision is to stay here and I'll go pick him up and bring him over.”

For now, Lerner will spend his time watching Game 4 and his club, eventually, advancing to the World Series with one more win. No team with a 3-0 lead has lost the NLCS.

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