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Giancarlo Stanton is on fire going into 3-game series against Nats

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USA Today Sports

Giancarlo Stanton is on fire going into 3-game series against Nats

MIAMI — During his home run binge, Giancarlo Stanton is also content to settle for singles.

Stanton went eight for 10 to lead the Miami Marlins to a three-game weekend sweep of San Diego, raising his average to a career high .296. He hit three homers, increasing his season total to 50, along with three singles and two doubles.

"A lot of people from the outside are probably thinking he's just going up there trying to hit a homer every at-bat, but that's not the case," teammate Christian Yelich said.

The series raised Stanton's average in 23 games since Aug. 4 to .402. That includes 13 singles, five doubles and 17 homers for an OPS of 1.531.

"It's unbelievable," Yelich said. "You feel everything he hits is an absolute rocket, and if it gets up in the air, it's a homer."

A recent tweak in Stanton's stance has helped him lay off outside breaking pitches, long his biggest weakness. Swinging mostly at strikes, he's willing to hit the ball the other way or on the ground or both, depending on the situation.

The goal, he said, is to make the most of every trip to the plate.

"That is the biggest key," Stanton said. "You never know which at-bat is going to give you a chance. If you don't give in, you're set up for something good."

The home runs make the headlines, but the surprising Marlins have surged into the NL wild-card race because Stanton seems to do damage almost every time he bats.

It's no fluke he's flirting with .300, manager Don Mattingly said.

"You're seeing a more disciplined hitter in the sense of covering zones and laying off bad stuff," Mattingly said. "He's taking what they give, and for him, taking what they give can go all over the ballpark."

Opponents continue to pitch to Stanton. He had 66 bases on balls through Sunday, which tied for ninth in the majors, and may fall short of his career high of 94. His walk rate hasn't risen lately even though he has hit 17 homers in August, one shy of the major league record for the month.

When Dee Gordon singled to start the eighth inning Sunday in a tie game, Padres manager Andy Green decided to pitch to Stanton. The result: his 50th homer and a Marlins win.

"Every time he comes to the plate, you contemplate walking him," Green said. He decided not to because of the hitters behind Stanton.

In May, Mattingly moved Stanton up to the No. 2 spot in the order, and he has hit .317 since. With Christian Yelich (15 homers, .283) and Marcell Ozuna (31 homers, .309) batting behind Stanton, he has been tough to pitch around, Green said.

"It's a byproduct of how Donnie has put that lineup together," Green said. "If he is deeper in the order, it's much easier to get around him."

Stanton began the week on pace to finish with 63 homers. By continuing his pace since Aug. 4, he would finish with 74, one more than Barry Bonds' 2001 record.

Meanwhile, he's leading a remarkable turnaround by the Marlins, who started 14-27 but have a shot at their first postseason berth since 2003. For Stanton, who is in his eighth season, that means playoff-race pressure for the first time.

"There's no pressure for me," he said. "I have to be prepared as anybody, but that's standard. That's not pressure."

He'll continue stepping to the plate prepared to hit homers -- or singles.

MORE NATIONALS: Mets and Nats split the series, ending with a double-header

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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.