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Instant Analysis: Pirates 4, Nats 2

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Instant Analysis: Pirates 4, Nats 2

Game in a nutshell: Presented with a golden opportunity after Erik Bedard departed with back spasms only eight pitches into the game, the Nationals' woebegone lineup still foundered against the Pirates bullpen. Xavier Nady and Chad Tracy each drove in a run, but otherwise the lineup was shut down by five Pittsburgh relievers. Ross Detwiler, meanwhile, gave up three runs in the fourth, and that was enough damage to deal the young left-hander his second loss. Joel Hanrahan stranded the tying runner on base in the ninth, getting Bryce Harper to pop out and striking out Ryan Zimmerman to end the game. The result: The Nationals will lose only the second of 10 series they've played this year.
Hitting lowlight: Pretty easy to pick this one. Top of the eighth. Bases loaded. One out. Trailing by one run. All the Nats needed was a base hit. Or really, just a fly ball that would have scored the tying run. Instead, Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel each struck out hacking at fastballs from reliever Jason Grilli. Espinosa flailed away at a 3-2 pitch for his NL-leading 39th strikeout of the year. Ankiel then took a huge cut at a 1-2 fastball at his eyelids. Inning over. Rally killed.
Pitching lowlight: As well as he's pitched, Detwiler does have a tendency to let one mistake balloon into a bad inning. Such was the case in the bottom of the third, an inning that began with opposing pitcher Brad Lincoln striking out but reaching on a wild pitch. Detwiler proceeded to give up hits to three of the next four batters he faced, giving up three runs in the process. Those were the only three runs he surrendered the entire night, but they were enough leave the left-hander in line to take the loss.
Key stat: Espinosa's struggles extend far back. Over his last 92 games, he's totaled a scant 13 RBI.
Up next: Stephen Strasburg faces the Pirates for the first time since his 14-strikeout, major-league debut in 2010, this time trying to avoid a stunning sweep. He'll face fellow San Diego native Kevin Correia in Thursday's 7:05 p.m. series finale at PNC Park.

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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.