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A formula that could work wonders for Nats

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A formula that could work wonders for Nats

There's no one way to win in October. Teams have found plenty of formulas for success in the postseason, whether in the form of a deep rotation, one dominant workhorse, a quality bullpen or an opportunistic lineup.

But here's one way to try to do it: Get seven innings out of your starter, then get one inning apiece out of a pair of lights-out relievers.

That's what made Thursday afternoon so enticing for the Nationals. They got an early solo homer from Ryan Zimmerman, then watched as Max Scherzer put up seven zeroes, with Drew Storen adding another in the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon wrapping up with a 1-2-3 ninth.

That's how you win a 1-0 ballgame, and that's how you could win plenty of ballgames come October.

When Mike Rizzo traded for Papelbon on Tuesday, this was precisely what he had in mind. And it only took a couple days for the scenario to play out exactly to plan.

First and foremost, Scherzer needed do what he did, shutting out the Marlins over seven innings. The right-hander perhaps wasn't as unhittable as he was during his historic June, but he was plenty good enough. And he made some big pitches when he needed to, whether inducing a double-play grounder to end the sixth or striking out Adeiny Hechavarria on a 95-mph fastball to end the seventh and his afternoon.

There have been times this season when Matt Williams has felt compelled to push his starters too far, to try to squeeze one extra inning out of them. Why? Often because he has more confidence in a tiring starter than in the amalgam of mid-to-late inning relievers who have occupied his bullpen at various points of the season.

Perhaps that managerial style will change a bit now, what with Casey Janssen (21 of last 23 batters retired) available to pitch the seventh, Drew Storen (MLB-best 1.37 ERA over the last two calendar years) available to pitch the eighth and Papelbon (18-for-18 in save opportunities) available to pitch the ninth.

We don't know for sure yet how this will all play out, but if the last two days are any indication, this new-look bullpen may work out just fine after all. The key, as was noted at the time of the Papelbon trade, is how Storen deals with a relegation of roles through no fault of his own.

Well, here's how Storen has fared so far since the trade was made. He has faced six batters. He has retired all six, four via strikeout. He has thrown 19 pitches, 17 of them for strikes.

Obviously, these have been an emotional couple of days for the closer who is no longer a closer. That he has been able to channel that emotion into a couple of lights-out pitching performances bodes well for Storen and for the Nationals moving forward.

Papelbon, for his part, has appeared to go out of his way to help make the transition as smooth as possible, spending as much time as he can alongside Storen and sharing and receiving tips from his new bullpen mate.

That doesn't mean this is going to go swimmingly the rest of the way. There could, and probably will, be bumps in the road, and it'll be up to the various participating parties to overcome those and stay focused on the task at hand.

But on Thursday, everything went exactly according to plan. And if this remain on that straight-and-narrow path, the Nationals might just have themselves something special for the stretch run and beyond.

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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

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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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