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Cardinals can close out Nationals in NLDS Game 4

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Cardinals can close out Nationals in NLDS Game 4

WASHINGTON (AP) Jayson Werth's Washington Nationals were as good as it got during the regular season, compiling a majors-high 98 wins.

That doesn't count for much come the postseason, where the St. Louis Cardinals excel. So what if manager Tony La Russa retired after last year's World Series title? Who cares that slugger Albert Pujols left via free agency? Just like in 2011, the Cardinals are a wild-card club that finds a different player to lead the way each game, it seems.

Heading into Thursday's Game 4 of their best-of-five NL division series, the Cardinals built a 2-1 lead by outscoring the Nationals 22-7.

``It's going to be tough to score if you don't hit,'' Werth said after St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter and three relievers shut down Washington 8-0 in Game 3 on Wednesday. ``But I believe in this team. I believe in these guys. We've been here all year. Over a 162-game season, we were the best team in baseball. I still feel that way.''

The Cardinals like their chances, too.

``It's the biggest game of the year,'' center fielder Jon Jay said. ``We all know how important it is. You can't look ahead.''

Kyle Lohse, who beat the Atlanta Braves in last week's one-game, wild-card playoff, gets the start for St. Louis. Ross Detwiler pitches for Washington, which is sticking to its long-stated plan of keeping Stephen Strasburg on the sideline the rest of the way.

``We're not out of this, by a long shot,'' Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ``Shoot, I've had my back to worse walls than this.''

Perhaps. Will be tough for Washington to win and extend the season if it can't get its offense going, though.

The Nationals didn't do much at all Wednesday against Carpenter, who finds that even something as simple as breathing can feel odd on occasion now that he's missing a rib and two neck muscles.

Taking the mound for only the fourth time in 2012 after complicated surgery to cure numbness on his right side, the 37-year-old Carpenter spoiled the return of postseason baseball to Washington by pitching into the sixth inning.

``To go from not being able to compete, and not only compete but help your team, to be able to be in this situation,'' Carpenter said, ``it's pretty cool.''

Carpenter allowed seven hits and walked two across his 5 2-3 innings to improve to 10-2 over his career in the postseason. The 10 victories tie the righty for seventh-most, behind Andy Pettitte's record 19.

``If the baseball world doesn't know what an amazing competitor he is by now,'' Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said, ``they haven't been paying any attention.''

Rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer, and a trio of relievers finished the shutout for the Cardinals.

With the exception of Ian Desmond - 3 for 4 on Wednesday, 7 for 12 in the series - the Nationals' hitters are struggling mightily. They went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base in Game 3.

Rookie phenom Bryce Harper's woes, in particular, stand out: He went 0 for 5, dropping to 1 for 15. He went to the plate with an ash bat and no gloves in the first inning, tried wearing anti-glare tinted contact lenses on a sun-splashed afternoon - nothing helped.

``Nothing I can do,'' the 19-year-old Harper said. ``I just missed a couple.''

All in all, quite a damper on the day for a Nationals Park-record 45,017 red-wearing, towel-twirling fans witnessing the first major league postseason game in the nation's capital in 79 years. They didn't have much to enjoy, in part because of the problems created by Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, who was on the Cardinals' championship team a year ago.

``I didn't feel like I was out of rhythm. I didn't feel like I couldn't throw strikes. I just missed across the plate with a couple of balls and it cost me,'' Jackson said.

He gave up four consecutive hits in the second, the biggest being Kozma's first-pitch homer into the first row in left off a 94 mph fastball to make it 4-0. Kozma took over as the Cardinals' everyday shortstop in September, replacing injured All-Star Rafael Furcal, and only had 72 at-bats during the regular season.

But he's only the latest in a series of ``Who's that?'' stars that seem to pop up for his club, such as David Freese last autumn.

The Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the Nationals this season and finished second in the NL Central, nine games behind Cincinnati, sneaking into the postseason as the league's second wild-card under this year's new format.

Doesn't matter.

The Cardinals learned to be resilient with their stretch run in 2011, also getting into the playoffs with the last NL berth.

``We saw how, if you just take it one game at a time, we're not looking at, `Hey, we have got to win two out of three here in Washington.' We're looking at it: We have to win today,'' Lohse said. ``We've done a good job of that - winning just about every game we absolutely had to. And I think when you start doing that, you realize you can do that. Your confidence goes up.''

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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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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