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Nationals look to complete sweep of Cardinals behind ace Max Scherzer

Nationals look to complete sweep of Cardinals behind ace Max Scherzer

WASHINGTON -- Mike Leake was 22 years old when he broke into the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010.

His skipper was Dusty Baker, who managed the Reds through the 2013 season. Leake won 42 games under Baker from 2010-13.

"It was awesome," said Leake on Tuesday, standing in the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse at Nationals Park. "I couldn't ask for a better first manager. He treated me like a son and I appreciate that."

Leake will face his former manager on Wednesday when he starts on the mound against Baker's Washington Nationals in the series finale in the nation's capital.

The Nationals' starter will be Max Scherzer, who won the National League Cy Young Award last season when he was 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA.

Leake was 9-12 in 30 starts for the Cardinals last season -- his first with the club. He will be challenged by Washington's offense, which had 19 hits against St. Louis in a 14-6 win Monday and then 11 more with three homers in an 8-3 victory Tuesday.

"I feel like I had a pretty good spring. I look forward to facing these guys," Leake said. "It is a tough lineup that can hurt you at any time. You have to be ready for them. I know they are led by a good manager."

Leake has enjoyed success in his career against the heart of the Washington order.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy is hitting just .238 against him in 21 at-bats, while first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has an average of .211 in 19 at-bats. Murphy had four hits and drove in five runs Tuesday.

Right fielder Bryce Harper is just 3-for-13 against Leake, but two of those hits are homers. The best everyday hitter for the Nationals against Leake is left fielder Jayson Werth, who is batting .292 in 24 trips to the plate. He hit one of the homers Tuesday.

"A veteran guy," Cardinals catcher Eric Fryer said of Leake. "In the spring he was effective in getting ahead of the hitters. When he keeps it on the ground, he is very effective."

"I will be watching the first couple of days from the side and if I need further evidence of what I can't see I will go to the tape," Leake said of facing Washington. "I have faced most of these guys."

Scherzer will make his second start of the year after he won at Philadelphia on Friday.

The right-hander from St. Louis went 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs and four hits in his first start of the year.

Scherzer hopes to get support from an offense that has included a rare hot start from Zimmerman, who hit a career-low .218 last season but is batting .367 this year.

"I am just excited to get off to a good start," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday. "Not many times in my career I have gotten off to a good start. Our lineup is so good."

The Nationals own the top batting average in the league, but they lost shortstop and leadoff hitter Trea Turner to the disabled list on Monday. He was replaced as the leadoff hitter by Adam Eaton, who had three hits Monday.

"Our lineup is so good. Eaton jumps right into the leadoff spot," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan. "It is a fun lineup to be a part of."

Related: Daniel Murphy has career night against Cardinals

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

With a win on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals come into the All-Star break at 48-48. 

That's not great! It's certainly an underperformance given all the expectations, but the season hasn't been without some stellar individual performances . 

Take, for starters, Max Scherzer. Scherzer's on pace to have an even better year than his 2017 Cy Young-winning effort, which is mind-boggling. 

An even-more-refined command is what's made him better this season, as his walk rate is down below seven percent again after creeping up to 7.1 last year. It hasn't affected his strikeout rate, either, which has stayed steady at 34 percent. If the season ended today, it'd be the 4th straight year where he set a career-best in that department. 

Of all starting pitchers, he ranks second in WHIP, and K/BB percent. He has the third-lowest average against (.178) and third-best strikeout percentage (34.5). He's got a top-10 ERA and FIP as well. He's been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and will probably be in the conversation for N.L. MVP as well. 

If only the Nats could just go from Scherzer to Doolittle. The closer stopped walking people, too, and already has 22 saves after ending last year with 24. Had he not been put on the D.L. with a toe injury about a week before the All-Star game, he more than likely would have set his career high in saves before the break. 

He's currently on pace to post the second-best year of his career when it comes to strikeouts, too. He's getting Ks 37.1 percent of the time, which would be the highest since he posted a 37.7 in 2014. Same goes for his K/9. He also has a top-10 ERA and FIP. He's been one of the few relief pitchers that have been consistently reliable through the first half, and the Nats will need his toe to get real healthy real quick. 

And lastly there's Bryce Harper, who you've surely heard is not having an All-Star caliber season. His batting average is hovering around .200, he's striking out more than he has in four years, and he's getting eaten alive by the shift. He's also on pace to have one of his best power-hitting seasons ever and finish with close to 40 home runs, so even his bad years still find a way to be impressive. 

Harper also benefits from being one of the faces of baseball playing in front of his home fans. He's one of the most popular players in the league, and All-Star games find a way to get those people in. An All-Star game in D.C. without him would be objectively less enjoyable, so it was in everyone's interest to have him there. Stars just get the calls sometimes. 

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