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Back in lineup, Espinosa delivers big blow

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Back in lineup, Espinosa delivers big blow

Danny Espinosa would have started making the mental adjustment required when moving from a spot in the daily lineup to a spot on the bench, if only he had enough time to consider it.

Before Espinosa could get comfortable in a reserve role, though, he found himself right back on the field for the Nationals on Thursday, back at second base after Yunel Escobar injured his right wrist on a check swing during the first inning against the Cubs.

“I mean, I sat for one inning,” he joked Friday night. “So it’s not like I sat for two weeks and jumped back in there. I just keep playing and stay with my approach of what I want to do and go out there and battle.”

So when Espinosa stepped to the plate for his first at-bat Friday night, his presence in the lineup necessary once again because Escobar’s wrist had not healed enough, he felt perfectly comfortable. And when he clobbered Tsuyoshi Wada’s 2-2 fastball over the visitors’ bullpen in left field, the Nationals sure were happy to still have him in a significant role.

Espinosa’s 3-run homer, his seventh of the season, ignited a reconfigured Nats lineup, which churned out its largest offensive output in more than two weeks on Friday, beating the Cubs 7-5.

“We needed somebody to get us going,” center fielder Denard Span said. “Bryce [Harper] has been carrying us all season, really. It was just good to have Danny get in there and once again get another opportunity with Escy dealing with the injury. Just huge for him.”

Espinosa has come up huge for the Nationals often this season, surprising just about everyone with his ability to provide a productive bat from both the left and right sides after two miserable seasons that prompted the organization to make him try giving up switch-hitting this spring.

Now with the season more than 33 percent complete, Espinosa finds himself a significant contributor. His seven homers rank second on the club behind Bryce Harper’s league-leading 18. His 28 runs scored also rank second to Harper (43), as do his 20 walks (to Harper’s MLB-leading 48).

That the once-struggling infielder has been able to do that, all while accepting whatever role was asked of him, hasn’t been lost on his teammates.

“Very impressed,” said right-hander Tanner Roark, who knows a thing or two about an ever-changing role on the roster. “He’s, what, second in home runs? That’s pretty good. Keep doing what he’s doing. We’re all here for him.”

Though Espinosa’s production from the left side of the plate has begun to diminish in recent weeks (he’s hitting just .219 but with a solid .730 OPS) he has remained highly productive from the right side. After Friday’s 2-for-4 performance (he also doubled), he’s now hitting a robust .375 with two homers and a 1.053 OPS.

“I’ve felt good,” he said. “I’ve stayed with what I’m doing. I’ve tried to stay within myself every day and stay with my routine and go out there and battle and have good at-bats.”

Assuming Escobar’s injury isn’t serious — initial X-rays were negative — Espinosa is almost certainly headed back to the bench soon. That doesn’t mean the Nationals won’t continue to trust him when the time comes, recognizing he can help them in plenty of ways.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” manager Matt Williams said. “It’s well-documented: Righty-on-righty in spring training, playing some third, moving around the diamond. He’s versatile. He can play anywhere. He’s ready to play every day. Yesterday’s an example of him being prepared and ready. At a moment’s notice, he’s in the game and ready to go.”

[RELATED: Nats 7, Cubs 5: New-look lineup pays dividends]

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Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

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Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

Friday night marks the first second-half game of Major League Baseball's 162-game season. 

The Washington Nationals begin 5.5 games out of the first-place Phillies and host the second-place Braves for a three-game series before traveling to Milwaukee. 

One big piece to Dave Martinez's staff who has been missing since June 8 is Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander was activated from the DL and will start on the mound Friday night. 

Ryan Zimmerman was also activated but is not in Martinez's starting lineup. 

Prior to experiencing inflammation in his right shoulder during a June 8 start that forced him out of the game early, Strasburg saw flashes of dominance throughout his 13 starts owning a 3.46 ERA with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Zimmerman hasn't played since May 9 due to a strained right oblique. With the emergence of Matt Adams, it will be interesting to see how Martinez uses both guys throughout the summer. 

Here is a look at Friday night's official lineup: 

According to Byron Kerr, Zimmerman is still happy to be back, despite not being in the starting lineup. 

Catch the Nationals hosting the Braves Friday at 7:05 p.m. on MASN2. 

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8 bold MLB predictions sure to be proven wrong

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8 bold MLB predictions sure to be proven wrong

It doesn't have quite the same feel as Opening Day, but the first games after the MLB All-Star break certainly have their own unique excitement to them.

Teams are jockeying for playoff position, and the trade deadline is rapidly approaching. The Nats have struggled through the first half, but are still within striking distance of a spot in the 2018 postseason, so every game matters.

To help get you ready for the rest of the 2018 regular season, our baseball writers have provided a couple of bold predictions which are sure to be proven wrong by August.

Bold predictions for the second half of the 2018 MLB season:

Ryan Wormeli: 1) Despite the consensus top three teams in baseball all residing in the American League, this year’s World Series champion will be a National League squad.

2) Max Scherzer does NOT win the National League Cy Young award, even though most fans agree he has the best statistical season.

Cam Ellis: 1) Bryce Harper ends up with 45 home runs this season.

2) Koda Glover eventually gets the 7th inning spot.

Michaela Johnson: 1) Nationals win the NL East (I know this VERY bold but like I said I have high expectations).

2) Tanner Roark will get back on top of his game.

Tyler Byrum: 1) The Milwaukee Brewers will drop out of the playoff hunt. 

Every year the Brewers seem to be close to running away with the NL Central. Then, once we get closer to the All-Star break and move beyond they go silent. It’s getting quite ridiculous at this point. Last year they had 50 wins in the first half, finished with only 86.

2) Philadelphia will make a trade deadline acquisition, but it will not get them over the hump. 

There are just too many issues with the Phillies; starting pitching behind Aaron Nola, consistent batting as a team, and the bullpen. They’ve done a fantastic job to piece together a 53-42 record and sit atop the division, but it will be tough to maintain it. 

Right now, they are almost the exact opposite of the Nationals.