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Nats at odds after Machado homer, plunking

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Nats at odds after Machado homer, plunking

On yet another night when the Mets tried their best to make the NL East race interesting, the Nationals lost yet another critical game on a home run following a difficult pitching decision made by their manager. Then, once a 4-3 loss to the Orioles was in the books, they found themselves at odds with each other after their closer was ejected for plunking the guy who hit that critical home run earlier, leaving their own star player worried for his own well-being.

Talk about a game that might as well encapsulate a late-season collapse that has nearly reached its inevitable finish line.

Officially, it was Manny Machado’s 2-run homer off Max Scherzer’s 122nd pitch of the night (a 98-mph fastball) that decided this game and ruined the Nationals’ golden opportunity to pick up a game on a Mets club that lost its second straight to the foundering Braves. That should’ve been the one and only storyline to this contest, with Matt Williams once again done in by a no-win decision to either leave a tiring starter on the mound or instead summon an unreliable reliever.

“When I challenged him with my best, he beat me,” Scherzer said. “I’ve got to tip my hat to him. He put a great swing on it. Sometimes you get beat. Tonight’s one of those nights.”

Except that wasn’t the end of the story, because of what happened two innings later when Machado stepped to the plate again, this time against Jonathan Papelbon.

Brought in for a rare appearance with his team trailing in the ninth, Papelbon retired the first two batters he faced, then threw his first pitch high and tight to Machado, who took his time rounding the bases after homering off Scherzer. There was no contact with the batter, but eyebrows immediately were raised.

Papelbon’s next pitch was a slider on the outside corner, called a strike to even the count. But then he came right back up and in with a fastball, this one drilling Machado in the left shoulder. The Orioles’ All-Star third baseman threw his bat away in disgust. Plate umpire Mark Ripperger wasted little time before ejecting Papelbon, a move that drew players and coaches from both dugouts onto the field, though neither side ever truly encountered the other.

“He thought it was intentional,” crew chief Brian O’Nora said of Ripperger, in his first season as a full-time MLB umpire. “That’s why he ejected him. That’s how it is.”

Machado didn’t mince words when asked about the incident afterward.

“It’s something that’s uncalled for,” he said. “It’s [garbage]. It’s something that you don’t do. I expect more from a guy like that, with the past that he has. You’ve just got to go out there and keep playing baseball. It’s part of the game. If you can’t take the heat, just stay out of the kitchen and just go on from it. You don’t throw at somebody’s head. I think that’s [garbage]. I think we’ve just got to keep playing baseball.”

Papelbon intimated that the plunking wasn’t intentional, though he didn’t deny the accusation, either.

“They just said they deemed it intentional. They didn’t give me any reason,” he said. “I don’t know if they have to give me a reason or not. But perception is reality. If Manny thinks I hit him, then that’s what he thinks. I’m not going to sit here and go back and forth whether I did or whether I didn’t, cause it doesn’t matter. If he thinks I did, that’s what he thinks.”

Perception indeed is reality, which is why Bryce Harper found himself speculating whether he’d be the victim of retaliation during Thursday’s series finale.

“I mean, Manny freaking hit a homer and walked it off, and somebody drilled him,” Harper said. “It’s pretty tired. It’s one of those situations where it happens. I don’t know. I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.”

Even Papelbon acknowledged the potential for something more to happen Thursday, though he made it clear he doesn’t think retaliation would be warranted.

“Whether they want to get somebody tomorrow, that’s up to them,” he said. “I think that’s today’s game, there’s no more. If you think that I get you, then I’m out there, come get me … and it’s done. It don’t carry on till the next day. That’s baseball.”

Whether the emotions between these two clubs carry over to the series finale remains to be seen. This much is certain: At a time when they should be fighting with a vulnerable division leader trying like crazy to provide a last-ditch opening in the season’s final two weeks, the Nationals now find themselves fighting with an interleague rival.

And, even worse, perhaps with themselves.

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

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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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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

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.