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Stranded: Nats’ bats faltering with runners on base and World Series is now tied after 8-1 loss to Astros

Stranded: Nats’ bats faltering with runners on base and World Series is now tied after 8-1 loss to Astros

WASHINGTON — The opportunities were there time and again for the Nationals. 
 
Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night played out close to how Game 3 did the night before. The only difference is this time the Houston Astros had already blown the game open in an eventual 8-1 victory at Nationals Park. 
 
And so the two teams are tied 2-2 in this best-of-seven series. The home team has yet to win a game. The Nationals will have just a few hours to figure out why their bats have gone cold in the big moments entering their final home game of 2019. 
 
Over the past two games, Washington is 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position. That’s a lot of runs wasted and far too many times letting Astros pitchers off the hook. Things don’t get any easier on Sunday when Washington faces Houston ace Gerrit Cole for the second time. 
 
“Hitting in general is I think pretty tough. It's a failure sport,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “The fact that we did the first two games, great and I thought they pitched great the past two days. I don’t think its a matter of us having bad at-bats or whatever it may be, I think we've got runners on base, we've had the at-bats, we just haven't got the big hits.” 
 
On Saturday, it was little known reliever Jose Urquidy baffling the Nationals. They managed just two hits against him and only Yan Gomes – with a leadoff double in the third inning – reached scoring position. 
 
Washington’s chances came against the Astros’ bullpen. They had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth inning before Houston reliever Will Harris came on to put out that fire with just one run scoring on a Juan Soto ground out.
 
But at that point it was still a game. Washington cut the deficit to 4-1. There was disappointment more didn’t come from that inning, but some hope at least with nine outs to go. That was extinguished when Alex Bregman hit a grand slam in the top of the seventh inning to make it 8-1. 
 
Even still, the Nationals had runners at first and second with two out in the seventh and the eighth innings. Maybe a hit in those circumstances would have generated some confidence, if it was too late to get back into the game. But even that proved too much for them and now, facing Cole a second time in the series, they have to adjust quickly. These chances might be few and far between on Sunday. 
 
“I just think you don’t get hits that usually helps with that [runners in scoring position) percentage,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “But they made pitches when they needed to. I think [Astros starter Zack] Greinke yesterday like I discussed it seemed like whenever we got a couple guys on he was absolutely spotting up. It’s what good pitchers do, good staffs do. They can keep us off balance.”
 
Urquidy went away from the scouting report the Nationals put together after his playoff appearances against Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees. When Eaton was expecting the change-ups Urquidy throws to lefties 40 percent of the time, he got sliders instead. He saw one change in two at-bats. All in all, what manager Davey Martinez said before the game applied for Saturday and does again for the pivotal Game 5 on Sunday. The Nationals have to choose their spots better. They might not get as many against Cole. They have to take advantage when they do with a better approach. `
 
“We left a lot of runners stranded [Friday],” Martinez said. “We need to be aggressive, but aggressive in the strike zone. We chased a lot of balls outside the strike zone [in Game 3]. And I don't mind our guys being aggressive, but I want them to be aggressive in the strike zone today.”
 

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How will MLB's new extra inning with a runner on second rule work strategically?

How will MLB's new extra inning with a runner on second rule work strategically?

Major League Baseball is going to be bizarre in 2020. A 60-game schedule. The designated hitter in the National League. No fans.

But the change a lot of baseball fans might have the toughest getting used to is the tweak to extra innings. Each team will begin each extra inning with a man on second base. The crew from the Nationals Talk podcast had differing opinions on the new rule.

“I absolutely love it,” NBC Sports Washington's Nick Ashooh said.

Team reporter Todd Dybas did not agree.

“The rule is dumb. It goes against everything that baseball is about.”

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Chase Hughes broke the tie. “I’m a no on the rule too. I’m with Todd.”

What about the strategy of starting with a man on second base? Could team's exploit or alter the ending of the previous frame to set up a new inning? 

The rule states: “The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter.”

Dybas wondered if it would be wise to end the previous inning on purpose if a speedster is at the plate with two outs.

“Would it behoove [Giants'] Billy Hamilton to make the final out? So the next inning he would start at second base?” Hamilton is a career .242 hitting but has 299 stolen bases in 809 games played. 

RELATED: COULD MORE OPT-OUTS BE COMING? 

Frustration will also be inevitable. “I can’t wait to hear from the players on the first team to lose by that rule,” Hughes said. “What are they going to say?” 

2020 has already thrown us plenty of curveballs, the changes to baseball will just be a couple more the sports world will have to adjust to. 

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Report: 6 Nationals among players MLB didn't test for COVID-19 before flight from Dominican Republic

Report: 6 Nationals among players MLB didn't test for COVID-19 before flight from Dominican Republic

One of two flights chartered by Major League Baseball from the Dominican Republic to Miami carried multiple players that tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in the U.S., The Washington Post reported Thursday evening. None of the more than 160 players and staff members were tested by MLB for the disease prior to flying.

Among the passengers on those flights—which flew out of Santo Domingo on July 1—were Nationals players Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Wander Suero and Fernando Abad as well as two of their prospects in Luis Garcia and Joan Adon. All six players are isolating in D.C. and one of them, The Post reported, tested positive for the coronavirus during intake screening July 2.

The Nationals announced Sunday that two players had tested positive upon arriving to D.C. and were in isolation. In addition to the six players who flew from the D.R., Howie Kendrick, Starlin Castro and Roenis Elías were absent from practice at Nationals Park this week. Although Castro returned to the field Thursday, Washington has yet to give any updates on the remaining players not cleared for play.

RELATED: MIKE RIZZO SAYS ‘I COULDN’T LIVE WITH MYSELF IF WE WENT ON HAPHAZARDLY’

“We’re still waiting to hear about those other guys,” manager Davey Martinez said in a Zoom press conference Thursday. “But they’re working diligently, MLB and our medical staff, to get those guys cleared. Hopefully, we’ll get them soon.”

The lack of testing prior to those flights was a result of insufficient resources in the D.R. to accommodate the number of people who were to board, The Post reported. The news comes three days after the Nationals opted to cancel practice due to test results taking over 72 hours to come in. General manager Mike Rizzo issued a strong statement that afternoon stressing the importance of quick testing.

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“We cannot have our players and staff work at risk,” Rizzo wrote. “We will not sacrifice the health and safety of our players, staff and their families.  Without accurate and timely testing it is simply not safe for us to continue with Summer Camp.  Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab.  Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 Season are at risk.”

MLB’s 2020 season is scheduled to begin July 23, when the Nationals are set to host the New York Yankees on Opening Night.

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