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Nats 7, Cubs 5: New-look lineup delivers in key win


Nats 7, Cubs 5: New-look lineup delivers in key win

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: His lineup mired in a slump approaching two weeks, Matt Williams decided to try something different on Friday. Struggling Ryan Zimmerman was moved up to the No. 2 spot. Bryce Harper took over No. 3 duties, with fresh-off-the-DL Anthony Rendon entrusted with the cleanup spot. Whether those changes made a difference is debatable, but the end result was not. For the first time in a while, the Nationals looked like a potent offensive team.

Danny Espinosa provided the biggest blow, a 3-run homer in the bottom of the second that outproduced the Nationals' entire offensive output from the previous 24 innings. Michael Taylor and Denard Span provided key RBI in the fourth. And then the Nats added some big insurance runs late thanks to RBI doubles from Wilson Ramos and Dan Uggla.

Those extra run became helpful after Tanner Roark faded in the top of the sixth, serving up a pair of homers that turned a 5-1 lead into a 5-4 lead. The Nats bullpen clamped down after that, though, with Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and Blake Treinen combining to finish off the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and set the stage for Drew Storen to notch his league-leading 18th save in 19 tries (though not until he had allowed a run and brought the tying runner to the plate).

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Funny how this game works sometimes. Espinosa appeared headed to the bench again after Rendon came off the DL on Thursday. But when Yunel Escobar injured his right wrist in the first inning, Espinosa found himself back in the game and in the lineup Friday night. And wouldn't you know he made the most of the opportunity, launching a 3-run homer in the bottom of the second. That shot sailed over the left-field bullpen, a monstrous homer that was Espinosa's seventh of the season. He later added a double down the left-field line to add to a big night at the plate.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Has time in the bullpen actually made Roark a harder-throwing, better starter? It has certainly appeared that way at times during the right-hander's three starts so far in 2015. Roark used to throw 92-93 mph. Suddenly he's throwing 95-96 mph, even when starting, as was the case Friday night. He got Kris Bryant looking at a 96 mph fastball that also tailed considerably back over the plate like a 2-seamer. He cruised for five innings, allowing one run while striking out five. Roark did hit a wall in the sixth, though, serving up another homer to Rizzo and then one to Miguel Montero before getting pulled. He's probably still working his arm up to the point where he's just as strong throwing 90-plus pitches as he used to be, but that should come over time.

KEY STAT: Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa have accounted for 45 percent of the Nats' home runs this season (25 of 56).

UP NEXT: Note the early, 12:05 p.m. start time Saturday (done to accommodate the Nats' annual charity gala later that evening). It'll be Joe Ross making his MLB debut, called up from Class AA Harrisburg, facing right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 2.82).

[RELATED: Escobar misses Friday's game due to sore wrist]

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


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.


A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.


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.


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.