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Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays, routinely using relievers as starters to deal with a rash of injuries, are pitching their way to victories.

The Rays (37-40) go into a two-game interleague series against the Washington Nationals with the momentum of a three-game sweep of the American League East-leading Yankees. New York hadn't lost three games in a row at any point all season, but the Rays pulled it off, capped with a 7-6 win in 12 innings on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

"That's the best team in the league right now, them and the Astros ... I think coming home from that we had confidence and it all carried over into that series," said Rays rookie first baseman Jake Bauers, who won the game in the 12th inning.

Since beginning their experimental use of relievers as "openers" to start games, the Rays have a 3.07 ERA, and entering Sunday's game, that edged the Yankees for the best ERA in baseball since May 19. They've won five of seven games to again challenge .500, and Sunday's walkoff home run by Bauers was their second this season, after totaling one in three seasons from 2015 to 2017.

The Nationals (41-35) had gone 3-9 in their last 12 games before Sunday night's rain-delayed game against the Phillies, dropping into third place in the National League East. They'll send out Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA), who has no wins in his last four starts and his ERA has risen from a sterling 2.10 to 3.08.

Gonzalez lasted only four innings in his last outing, giving up five hits and two runs against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. For his career against the Rays, he's 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA, though he's only faced Tampa Bay once since 2012. That was a rough 2015 start at Tropicana Field, lasting 3 1/3 innings and giving up five earned runs on eight hits, walking more batters than he struck out. For his career at Tropicana, he has an 11.25 ERA.

The Rays will have an actual starter on the mound in Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48), who is in line for an All-Star appearance after the first three months of his season. He has just one loss in his last seven starts, and while he has never faced the Nationals, he has generally fared well in interleague play, going 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA in eight career starts.

Tampa Bay, hoping to build on its current momentum, has a tough week ahead, with two games against Washington, then another four against Houston to close out the homestand.

Washington goes from St. Petersburg to a weekend four-game series at the Philadelphia Phillies before returning home for a week.

The Rays got a head start with a Sunday afternoon game and the Nationals saw their prime-time game delayed by rain, keeping them on the field beyond midnight and still needing to fly to Florida for the two-game stopover.

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Nationals fall to Mets as postseason chances continue to slip away

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USA Today Sports

Nationals fall to Mets as postseason chances continue to slip away

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Jacob deGrom turned in a record 23rd consecutive quality start, lowered his ERA to 1.77 and boosted his record to .500 as he bids to earn the NL Cy Young Award, allowing one run in seven innings to help the New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Friday night.

Throwing fastballs in the 97-99 mph range, deGrom (9-9) struck out eight and walked one while allowing just one run and three hits, all singles. Bob Gibson (in 1968) and Chris Carpenter (2005) each had single-season runs of 22 quality starts, the previous major league mark.

The right-handed deGrom has given up as many as four earned runs in only one of his 31 starts in 2018, back on April 10 against Miami. He's now up to 28 in a row allowing three runs or fewer, the longest single-season streak in major league history.

So this game was pretty much wrapped up by the third inning, which ended with the Mets ahead 4-1. Jay Bruce had two run-scoring hits, and Devin Mesoraco and Dominic Smith also delivered RBIs, all off Joe Ross (0-1).

Robert Gsellman worked around Anthony Rendon's RBI single in the ninth for his 12th save.

Washington began the day in danger of being officially eliminated from contention in the NL East, which it won the past two seasons under then-manager Dusty Baker. A loss by the Nationals plus a victory by the Braves would end any chance Washington has of catching Atlanta.

DeGrom is locked in what's considered a tight race for Cy Young honors -- and perhaps league MVP consideration, too -- with Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who is 17-7 with a 2.57 ERA and 290 strikeouts. Scherzer has won the past two Cy Young Awards in the NL, plus one in the AL when he played for the Detroit Tigers.

In the Mets' 5-4 victory in 12 innings Thursday, Scherzer gave up three runs in seven innings and struck out 13.

Entering Friday, deGrom boasted a majors-leading 1.78 ERA, 251 Ks and 45 walks, and ranked No. 1 in various other categories.

"I think that it says a lot about who he is as a worker. I think it says a lot about who he is as a competitor," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "He tends to step it up when it matters the most, and this is probably mattering the most out of all his starts, and he continues to pitch just as dominant as he was before. That's the definition of a true ace."

DeGrom looked good from the outset, striking out leadoff hitter Victor Robles with a 98 mph fastball, then getting Bryce Harper to swing through a 99 mph offering to end the first inning. Harper missed a 93 mph slider to strike out again in the fourth, then grounded out on a chopper fielded by deGrom in the sixth.

Washington's only run off deGrom came on Ryan Zimmerman's sacrifice fly on a ball hit to the warning track in deep center field in the second.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mets: Mesoraco hadn't played since leaving a game Sept. 3 because of a bulging disk in his back. He was 3 for 3 with a walk.

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton was out of the starting lineup for the fourth time in five games, because of what manager Dave Martinez said was a sore and stiff left knee, the one surgically repaired last season.

WE'RE GOING STREAKING!

Nationals 3B Rendon's second-inning walk extended his streak of reaching base safely to a career-best 29 games; he came around to score.

UP NEXT

RHP Corey Oswalt (3-2, 6.31 ERA) will start for the Mets on Saturday, while the Nationals wouldn't commit to a starting pitcher before Friday's game.

 

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Lobaton’s sacrifice fly lifts Mets past Nationals in 12

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Lobaton’s sacrifice fly lifts Mets past Nationals in 12

Jose Lobaton hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly against his former team in the 12th inning and the New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals 5-4 on Thursday night.

Lobaton, who spent the previous four years in Washington before signing with the Mets in December, lofted a one-out fly ball off Jefry Rodriguez (3-3) with the bases loaded to score Amed Rosario.

Jacob Rhame (1-2) worked two scoreless innings, and Paul Sewald pitched the 12th for his second save.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was ejected in the 12th for arguing home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn’s called third strike.

Washington starter Max Scherzer pitched seven innings, allowing three runs while striking out 13. He has 290 strikeouts this year, the most for a National since the franchise relocated from Montreal before the 2005 season. Scherzer set the previous mark of 284 in 2016.

However, he never held a lead Thursday. Michael Conforto smashed a two-run homer to left in the third, his 27th of the season. It was also his fourth home run in 23 career at-bats against Scherzer.

Four pitches later, Jay Bruce crushed his ninth home run of the season. It was the sixth time this season New York has hit back-to-back homers.

Washington’s Trea Turner led off the sixth with an infield single. Two batters later, Anthony Rendon golfed Jason Vargas’ changeup to deep left for his 100th career home run to narrow the deficit to 3-2. Vargas allowed two runs and struck out eight over 5 2/3 innings.

Jeff McNeil led off the eighth with a triple and scored two batters later when Bruce punched a single to right past a drawn-in infield. But the Nationals responded with Rendon’s run-scoring groundout and Juan Soto’s RBI double off Robert Gsellman in the bottom half of the inning.

Mets manager Mickey Callaway was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing after Reyburn ruled McNeil had offered on a bunt attempt.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores will miss the rest of the season with soreness in both knees. Callaway said Flores has early onset arthritis in both knees and will receive injections to alleviate the pain. “It’s not like surgery is recommended at this time,” Callaway said. “I think rest and a couple injections is supposed to knock this out pretty good.”

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (8-9, 1.78 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 2.76 ERA lifetime at Nationals Park, gets the nod for New York as the four-game series continues.

Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (0-0, 3.60) makes his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.