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Nationals vs. Yankees: Everything you need to know about the biggest series of the year so far

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Nationals vs. Yankees: Everything you need to know about the biggest series of the year so far

Coming off their four-game sweep of the first-place Diamondbacks, the Nationals come home to another first-place team: the New York Yankees. No two teams have been hotter over the last two weeks, with the Nats and Yankees being the only teams to have an 8-2 record or better over their last 10. Here's what to look for when the 27-time World Champs come into town. 

Matchups 

Tuesday 5/15
Pitchers:
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (4-2 4.29 FIP) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (4-2 2.84 FIP)
Start Time: 7:05 PM
Where: Nationals Park, Washington D.C. 
How to watch: MASN, MLB.tv (out-of-market only)
Radio Info: 99.1 FM, Bloomburg Radio

This will be the second time in his career that Tanaka has faced the Nationals. The only other time was in 2015, when he threw seven innings while allowing one earned run on five hits, outdueling Max Scherzer in the Yankees' 6-1 win. On the other side, Gonzalez has had mixed results against the Yankees. When in Oakland, Gonzalez posted a 5.18 FIP against New York, while hitters slashed .247/.382/.406 against him. Since coming to D.C. Gonzalez has fared better, posting a 3.84 FIP in 17 innings against them. 

Wednesday 5/16 
Pitchers: LHP CC Sabathia (2-0 3.62 FIP) vs. Max Scherzer (7-1 1.75 FIP)
Start Time: 7:05 PM
Where: Nationals Park, Washington D.C. 
How to watch: MASN, MLB.tv (out-of-market only)
Radio Info: 106.7 The Fan 

After originally planning to give him an extra day of rest, the Nationals reversed course, announcing that Scherzer will pitch against the Yankees on Wednesday on normal rest. Scherzer's only pitched once against New York while with the Nats, in the aforementioned 6-1 loss. For the Yankees, starter C.C. Sabathia has pitched against the Nats three times in his career - the most recent coming in 2009. He's had the Nats' number in years past, posting a 3.15 FIP and .181/.247/.247 slash line against them. 

Keys to the series

1. Keep the ball in the park

The Nationals' bullpen has been plagued by the long ball all season. They're allowing 1.18 homers per nine innings, which is the 8th-most of any team in baseball. Their HR/FB rate is sitting 14%, which is the 5th-worst in baseball this year. 

The Yankees, as you've surely heard, hit a whole bunch of home runs. This season, they're 1st in ISO, 2nd in HRs, and 3rd in HR/FB (15%). Sean Doolittle's performance against the Yankees' power-hitting will be what wins or loses this series. 

2. Continue hitting right-handed pitching well

Against righties this year, the Nats are hitting .245/.337/.424 - noticeably better than the .227/.310/.636 line they're posting against lefties. Their 106 wRC+ against right-handed pitching is the 6th best in all of baseball. Of the Yankees' 366 innings pitched this year, 269 of them have been from right-handers. The Nats are going to see a lot of right-handed pitching

3. Consistent bench production

Over the last two weeks, Wilmer Difo is hitting .333/.429/.556, with Howie Kendrick not far behind at .300/.327/.360. Matt Adams has seven home runs during that span. With Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, and David Murphy all missing extended time with various injuries, the Nats have still put up a top-10 offense in baseball this season. Facing a Yankees rotation that's top-3 in WAR and the best bullpen in baseball will be one of the bigger challenges of their young season. 

MORE NATS NEWS:

- State of the Nats: How's the 1st month gone?
- HR track: Every Harper dinger
- Gallery: MLB's best alternate jerseys

 

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

WASHINGTON -- Presented with identical opportunities to ring up a big inning, the Washington Nationals took full advantage and Baltimore Orioles squandered the chance.

That goes a long way toward explaining why the Nationals are a contender and the Orioles own the worst record in the big leagues.

Trea Turner went 4 for 4 with a homer , Anthony Rendon drove in three runs and Washington extended its recent domination of the Orioles with a 9-7 victory Tuesday night.

The game was essentially decided in the fifth inning, which began with Baltimore leading 4-1.

In the top half, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored only one run -- when Manny Machado hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half and batted around, scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks. Adam Eaton contributed a two-run single, Rendon hit a sacrifice fly and Bryce Harper chased starter David Hess with an RBI double.

"They did a lot better job cashing in their bases loaded, nobody out situation than we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter conceded.

For the game, Baltimore was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 5 for 10.

"This team is starting to become relentless," manager Dave Martinez said. "They kept pounding and pounding and pounding, had a couple of big innings there and scored some runs."

The Nationals trailed 6-5 before getting six hits in a four-run seventh. Rendon delivered a two-run double off Tanner Scott (0-1) that made it 7-6, and Turner capped his four-hit night with a double.

Both teams noted that more than a couple of Washington's hits were bloopers and seeing-eye grounders, but the Nationals certainly weren't about to apologize.

"I feel like all year we've been hitting balls right at people," Turner said, "so it's nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win."

Washington has won six straight over its neighboring interleague rival, including four games this season by a combined 20-8.

Pitching in his second big league game, Nationals starter Jefry Rodriguez gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in five innings.

Justin Miller (5-0) pitched two innings of relief, newcomer Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth and Sean Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Joey Rickard while earning his 19th save.

Jace Peterson and Trey Mancini each hit two-run homers for the Orioles, who have lost 16 of 19.

This one can be blamed on an all-too-telling fifth inning.

"It's just one of those things where if they got hits they seemed to have found holes," Showalter said. "They hit some balls hard, too."

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite as clear anymore. 

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