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Nats' offense needs to get going to maintain control in NL Wild Card race

Nats' offense needs to get going to maintain control in NL Wild Card race

Playoff prediction formulas have the Nationals at above 90 percent to qualify, but at the moment it doesn't exactly feel that way. 

With their 4-2 loss to the Cardinals on Monday night and the Brewers' win over the Padres, the Nats are now only 1 1/2 games up in the NL Wild Card race. Milwaukee erased two games in four days.

The Nats are just a half-game ahead of the Cubs for the first spot. They want that for home field advantage.

The schedule has been unforgiving with this series against St. Louis the Nats' fourth straight against a division-leading foe. The Cardinals are in the drivers seat in the NL Central with an 84-66 record overall and a 26-11 mark since Aug. 7.

Offense has been the Nats' most glaring issue of late. Their two runs on Monday gave them only 10 total in their last four games. The lone win came Sunday when the offense broke out for seven runs to avoid a sweep against the Braves.

The Nationals are going to need to get their bats going to close the deal on a postseason berth. They have only 13 games remaining and all but three are against clubs with winning records. They have two games to go against the Cardinals, who boast the NL's second-best ERA.

Several Nats players have stood out recently for their shortcomings at the plate. Trea Turner, who went 0-for-4 on Monday, is now 5-for-31 (.161) in his last eight games. He's sporting a .284 on-base percentage in his last 17 outings.

Adam Eaton also went 0-for-4 against the Cardinals and is currently 2-for-15 going back to the start of the Braves series on Friday night. He's batting .163 in his last 16 games with a .229 OBP.

That's just the top of the order. Ryan Zimmerman is now hitless in three straight games. Gerardo Parra, who for most of this season has been a plus off the bench, is 3-for-46 (.065) going back to Aug. 13.

Then there's Yan Gomes, who despite getting a hit on Monday is now 3-for-20 (.150) in his last six games. Gomes has done an admirable job by catching nine of the last 10 games, but Kurt Suzuki's bat has been missed. Suzuki, who has 16 homers and 58 RBI in only 81 games, has been sidelined due to right elbow inflammation. 

The lack of offense has put undue pressure on the pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg wasn't sharp on Monday, but managed to get through five innings with only two runs allowed. The Nats' bullpen then gave up a pair of runs split between Sean Doolittle and Hunter Strickland in the seventh.

It wasn't pretty, but allowing four runs is manageable. Scoring only two runs is a major problem. The Nats are now 5-24 this season when they score two or fewer runs.

Scoring is what got the Nationals to this point, currently holding a playoff spot. Since May 24, when they began their turnaround at 19-31, the Nats have scored more runs than any other NL team. 

They have to get back to that and soon. A lot can happen in the next 13 games.

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Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

The Nationals wrapping up the NL Championship Series in a sweep has given them an unusually long break of six days before Game 1 of the World Series takes place Tuesday night. That has allowed the team and their fans to stop and soak in the glory of making it this far. It also gives plenty of time to watch the ALCS and consider Washington's next opponent.

When it comes to that, Nationals should have one clear, if undesirable, option. That is to root for the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team everyone loves to hate, the Evil Empire, the team with more bandwagon fans maybe than anyone else in sports. In a sense, the Yankees don't deserve going to the World Series as much as the Houston Astros, as they have won more championships than anyone else. But they also probably represent the Nats' best path towards getting their first.

The Astros, though more likeable than the Yankees, are also better. They are a superteam devoid of weaknesses. They would meet the Nationals in the World Series with an advantage in just about every single category. Their lineup is better, their defense is better, their pitching staff as a whole is better and their manager is more experienced. They won a World Series just two years ago and are arguably better now than they were then.

Even their starting rotation, one could argue, is at least as good if not better than that of the Nationals. They may be the only team in baseball that can match the triumvirate of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin with an equally-imposing trio of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Not to mention their vastly superior bullpen.

The Yankees, meanwhile, also have a better lineup and bullpen than the Nationals. But they don't have the rotation the Nationals do. They only had one starter this season post a sub-4.00 ERA and that was James Paxton, who has already allowed four runs in seven innings so far this postseason.

The Nationals' rotation would be a clear strength against the Yankees' and would be the ideal counter to New York's best asset, a power-hitting lineup led by Aaron Judge, D.J. LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton. And while Stanton has given the Nationals nightmares for many years, he is not 100 percent healthy due to a quadriceps strain.

There are also some good narratives in a potential Nationals-Yankees series, for those who are interested in those sorts of things. For one, the last time a D.C. baseball team made the World Series, back in 1933, they played a New York team, the Giants. In fact, the Senators beat the Giants in 1924 to capture Washington's only World Series title.

There is also an angle many Nationals fans may dismiss, but will be a factor for some. Before the Nats arrived in Washington, generations of baseball fans in Washington grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. And not only were those fans trained to view the Yankees as rivals, many were scarred by the 1996 ALCS when a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out to catch a fly ball in Game 1 that should not have been a home run. To many baseball fans in this area, it cost their favorite team a chance to play in the World Series.

Playing New York would also give fans an easier way to travel to road games. The drive to New York is only about four hours via car or bus, and the train is even faster. Yankee Stadium would likely have a good amount of red in the crowd.

Travel considerations and media storylines aside, the most important goal for the Nationals is to win four more games and capture the team's first World Series title. Playing the Yankees increases the likelihood of that happening at least a little bit.

It's like a prescription with adverse side effects that is essential for a patient. Nationals fans should know what to do as they watch the ALCS. Just maybe hold your nose as you wash it down.

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Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

The Nationals are going to the World Series. Everybody knows that by now. But how and when you can watch the Nationals play is becoming clearer by the day.

The first two games will be played in either Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park, depending on whether the Yankees or Astros win the American League Championship Series. Game 1 will be on Tuesday, Oct. 22, while Game 2 will be Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Games 3 and 4 will be at Nationals Park on Friday, Oct. 25 and Sunday, Oct. 26, respectively. If necessary, Game 5 will also be played at Nationals Park on Sunday, Oct. 27. A Game 5 would be the last game the Nationals host this season.

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be at the American League representative's ballpark on Tuesday, Oct. 29 and Wednesday, Oct. 30, respectively.

All games will be broadcast on FOX.

World Series Schedule:

Tuesday, Oct. 22:
- World Series Game 1: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Wednesday, Oct. 23:
- World Series Game 2: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Friday, Oct. 25:
- World Series Game 3. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Saturday, Oct. 26: 
- World Series Game 4. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Sunday, Oct. 27: 
- World Series Game 5*. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Monday, Oct. 29: 
- World Series Game 6*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Tuesday, Oct. 30:
- World Series Game 7*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

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