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Nats' lineup deserves praise

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Nats' lineup deserves praise

The phrase "one of the best" has been used to describe various aspects of the Nationals all season. They've got one of the best rotations in baseball. They've got one of the best bullpens. They've got one of the best farm systems in the sport, helping them overcome a slew of injuries.

And, of course, they've got the best record in the majors at the moment.

Maybe it's time to start using that designation on another aspect of this organization: The Nationals have one of the best lineups in baseball.

That notion would have sounded ludicrous a few months ago, back when four runs was considered an offensive explosion and everyone accepted the idea this team would win on the strength of its pitching staff and only its pitching staff.

Not anymore. Just look at what the Nationals lineup has done lately, not only during last night's 14-2 shellacking of the Giants but over a longer stretch of games.

As a matter of fact, did you know the Nationals have scored 170 runs since the All-Star break, most in the majors? Yes, you read that correctly. The Nationals have scored more times than any other team over the last month, an average of 5.2 runs per game. They've hit a collective .278 during that span while slugging .421.

And what's most impressive is that the production has come from nearly everyone in that lineup.

Sure, Ryan Zimmerman has been on an absolute tear for the last seven weeks. And Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche have been consistent run producers during that time as well.

But there's also Danny Espinosa, hitting .301 with a .496 slugging percentage over his last 30 games. And there's Steve Lombardozzi, who has 11 hits in his last 22 at-bats. And there's Roger Bernadina, hitting a ridiculous .383 since July 21.

The contributions of all those players, plus many more, have allowed the Nationals to overcome Ian Desmond's oblique tear, Bryce Harper's prolonged slump and fairly tepid production from their catchers (that was, until Kurt Suzuki went 3-for-6 with four RBI last night).

Which also makes you wonder just how much more productive this lineup could actually become once Desmond returns from the DL and Harper gets back on track. It could be a frightening proposition for opposing pitchers.

Just consider the lineup the Nationals could field come October, with their current offensive splits (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) included...

1. Jayson Werth (.308.406.459)
2. Bryce Harper (.251.328.405)
3. Ryan Zimmerman (.282.350.468)
4. Michael Morse (.301.324.477)
5. Adam LaRoche (.264.339.500)
6. Ian Desmond (.286.322.503)
7. Danny Espinosa (.250.317.406)
8. Kurt Suzuki (.218.252.287)

Look at the depth of that lineup and the power capabilities 1 through 7. Only three other teams in baseball have seven regular position players with slugging percentages over .400: the Yankees, Rangers and Rockies. That's some select company.

Is this a perfect lineup? Not at all. The Nationals strike out too much, they're getting no significant production from their catchers and they don't boast anything resembling a true leadoff hitter.

But they've still got a lineup capable of exploding at any given moment (just ask the Giants). And they've got a lineup that -- as has been the case all season with their pitching staff -- deserves to be praised as one of baseball's best.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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USA Today Sports Images

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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