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Instant analysis: Braves 5, Nats 1

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Instant analysis: Braves 5, Nats 1

Game in a nutshell: The Nationals entered the weekend hoping to deliver a knockout punch to the Braves but knowing they'd still find themselves in great shape if they could just win one of three games. After dropping the first two by one run a piece, they suddenly found themselves in a must-win situation on Sunday Night Baseball. They couldn't get the job done. Gio Gonzalez labored his way through five-plus innings and departed without a chance to earn his 20th win. The previously red-hot lineup was again thwarted by Atlanta's pitching staff, starting with left-hander Mike Minor. And the Nats' bullpen and defense betrayed them late, allowed three insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh despite the Braves recording only one hit in the inning. All of a sudden, their 8 12-game lead is down to 5 12. With only 16 games to play, they're still in a highly advantageous position. But the division title won't come so easy anymore. And should these two teams meet again in October, the Braves will feel plenty confident about their chances to win a head-to-head series.

Hitting lowlight: They didn't give themselves many opportunities, but they squandered what few they had. Never was that more apparent than in the top of the fourth, when with two on and one out, Danny Espinosa stepped to the plate and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch he saw from Minor. That actually proved to be one of Espinosa's more productive at-bats of the series, if only because he made contact. After making a quick, cross-country trip to Arizona for his grandmother's funeral on Thursday, he looked completely out of sync at the plate this weekend. Espinosa's final batting line for the series: 0-for-11, nine strikeouts, one double play grounded into, one pop-out.

Pitching lowlight: With a chance to become the majors' first 20-game winner -- and to do it on a national stage -- Gonzalez labored from the start and couldn't recover until it was too late. He fell behind hitters, then watched as the Braves fouled off everything in sight. The left-hander went to a three-ball count on eight of the first 14 hitters he faced, walking three of them. He needed 83 pitches to complete three innings, and at that point it looked like he might not even complete the minimum five innings required to qualify for the win. Then a couple of 1-2-3 frames got Gonzalez back on track and left him at 103 pitches entering the sixth. Davey Johnson could have been satisfied with that but he decided to give his starter one more chance. That proved costly, because Gonzalez opened the sixth with a walk and a towering double, ultimately getting the hook after that.

Key stat: There have been 21 20-win seasons in Washington baseball history. Twelve of them were recorded by Walter Johnson between 1910-25.

Up next: After a late-night flight home, the Nationals will enjoy a day off before opening a three-game series against the wild-card-contending Dodgers. Right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Aaron Harang are scheduled to start Tuesday's opener at 7:05 p.m.

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Lobaton’s sacrifice fly lifts Mets past Nationals in 12

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USA TODAY Sports

Lobaton’s sacrifice fly lifts Mets past Nationals in 12

Jose Lobaton hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly against his former team in the 12th inning and the New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals 5-4 on Thursday night.

Lobaton, who spent the previous four years in Washington before signing with the Mets in December, lofted a one-out fly ball off Jefry Rodriguez (3-3) with the bases loaded to score Amed Rosario.

Jacob Rhame (1-2) worked two scoreless innings, and Paul Sewald pitched the 12th for his second save.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was ejected in the 12th for arguing home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn’s called third strike.

Washington starter Max Scherzer pitched seven innings, allowing three runs while striking out 13. He has 290 strikeouts this year, the most for a National since the franchise relocated from Montreal before the 2005 season. Scherzer set the previous mark of 284 in 2016.

However, he never held a lead Thursday. Michael Conforto smashed a two-run homer to left in the third, his 27th of the season. It was also his fourth home run in 23 career at-bats against Scherzer.

Four pitches later, Jay Bruce crushed his ninth home run of the season. It was the sixth time this season New York has hit back-to-back homers.

Washington’s Trea Turner led off the sixth with an infield single. Two batters later, Anthony Rendon golfed Jason Vargas’ changeup to deep left for his 100th career home run to narrow the deficit to 3-2. Vargas allowed two runs and struck out eight over 5 2/3 innings.

Jeff McNeil led off the eighth with a triple and scored two batters later when Bruce punched a single to right past a drawn-in infield. But the Nationals responded with Rendon’s run-scoring groundout and Juan Soto’s RBI double off Robert Gsellman in the bottom half of the inning.

Mets manager Mickey Callaway was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing after Reyburn ruled McNeil had offered on a bunt attempt.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores will miss the rest of the season with soreness in both knees. Callaway said Flores has early onset arthritis in both knees and will receive injections to alleviate the pain. “It’s not like surgery is recommended at this time,” Callaway said. “I think rest and a couple injections is supposed to knock this out pretty good.”

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (8-9, 1.78 ERA), who is 5-1 with a 2.76 ERA lifetime at Nationals Park, gets the nod for New York as the four-game series continues.

Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (0-0, 3.60) makes his second start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.

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Anthony Rendon reaches home run milestone

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USA Today Sports

Anthony Rendon reaches home run milestone

For a guy whose nickname reflects how many doubles he hits, Anthony Rendon has quite the power as well.

Rendon, referred to as "Tony Two Bags" by the Washington Nationals' faithful, hit his 100th career home run on Thursday night. 

The home run came off New York Mets pitcher Jason Vargas, who has been magnificent in his two starts against the Nationals this season. Vargas had not allowed a run against the Nationals in 2018 until Rendon took him deep.

The home run was Rendon's 22nd of the season. This is the third consecutive year that Rendon has posted 20 or more home runs, and the fourth time in the 28-year-old's career that he has reached that milestone.

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