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Nats ready for home cooking

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Nats ready for home cooking

Much has been made of the Nationals' best-in-baseball road record, which following an 8-2 trip through Houston, Arizona and San Francisco now stands at 41-23. That's a better road winning percentage, by far, than any team in the majors has at home, a stunning fact when you stop and think about it.

One point, however, hasn't been made about the Nationals' prowess away from the District: They've played more road games than anybody in the sport.

Which also means they've played the fewest home games, which could prove quite the advantage as the final stretch of a remarkable season fast approaches.

Indeed, 27 of the Nationals' final 44 games are scheduled to be played on South Capitol Street, a nice little bonus for a club that already has done everything it can to position itself for a postseason berth.

Based on what we've seen over the last 4 12 months, the Nationals are perfectly comfortable playing wherever they are instructed to play. And certainly they aren't going to take for granted all these home games down the stretch.

But as the final leg of the regular season arrives, we are about to find out just what type of environment the Nationals (and everyone else in the sport) can expect from a town that hasn't experienced a pennant race in three generations.

Interest and attention in this team has progressively increased since Opening Day. Overall, the Nationals are averaging just under 30,000 fans per game, which ranks 14th among MLB's 30 clubs.

But the numbers keep getting larger. Over their last 33 home dates, the Nats are drawing an average crowd of 33,053. That's a 32 percent increase from this point last season.

There's every reason to believe those numbers will continue to climb. A six-game homestand against the Mets and Braves would typically draw well regardless. But with the Nationals returning home from the best road trip in club history and holding a four-game lead in the NL East, there's all the more reason for attendance to swell. The same theory should hold true later this month when the Cardinals and Cubs come to town.

It's no secret the Nationals' fan base is growing. MLB announced this week local television ratings are up 67 percent this season, the largest increase in the sport. There's been ample opportunity to watch this team on TV because so many games have been played on the road.

Now, though, the Nationals are gearing up for 27 home games in 48 days. The ballpark should be as electric as its ever been in its five years of existence.

This is when a team and its following establish its true identity, when the bond between players and fans grows and everybody lives and dies with each pitch. It may reach a crescendo sometime in late-September or early-October, when the outcome of every game really matters. And if all goes well, it reaches an entire new level after that.

What will that identity look and feel like? We don't know. Barely anyone in this town has experienced something like this before. It will have to develop organically over the next six weeks.

The process begins tonight. And for those who have waited a lifetime for this, it's not a moment too soon.

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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

As you would expect a first-place NL East team to do, the Atlanta Braves bounced back to even the series with Washington Friday night inside SunTrust Park. Josh Donaldson erased Victor Robles' game-tying, two-run home run with his walk-off single in the ninth. Atlanta improved to 59-40 and increased its lead over the Nationals to 6.5 games with a 4-3 final. 

Consider these notes as Washington grinds through a pivotal series in Atlanta: 

Player Notes:

Washington's first-year lefty didn't have his best stuff going Friday night in Atlanta. Patrick Corbin tossed just five innings allowing eight hits, two runs, two walks on 100 pitches. He struck out five Braves on his 30th birthday. 

The Nationals' third baseman has brought new meaning to the word 'consistency' all year long in his first season as an All-Star. Two games into this four-game series in Atlanta, Anthony Rendon has five hits, a walk, and 2 RBI.  

Victor Robles brought the fireworks in the ninth at SunTrust Park. The 22-year-old delivered a game-tying, two-run home run off Luke Jackson. The long-ball traveled a whopping 446 feet. 

The Fernando Rodney experience was alive and well. Davey Martinez made the questionable decision to bring his 42-year-old back out in the ninth for a second consecutive inning. It backfired. Just 14 of his 32 pitches were thrown for strikes. 

Injuries: 

SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 25

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

Coming Up:

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Sunday 7/21: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Monday 7/22: Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park 

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Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3 despite Robles' heroics

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Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3 despite Robles' heroics

Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3

ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson's bases-loaded single off Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning lifted the Atlanta Braves over the Washington Nationals 4-3 on Friday night after Luke Jackson allowed a tying, two-run homer to Victor Robles in the top half.

Ronald Acuna Jr., who had three hits, led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk off Rodney (0-3) and took second on Dansby Swanson's single. Freddie Freeman walked on four pitches, loading the bases.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez brought in left fielder Juan Soto as a fifth infielder, including three on the left side against the right-handed hitting Donaldson.

Donaldson hit a 2-0 pitch over Robles to center-field warning track, and the Braves boosted their NL East lead to 6 games over the second-place Nationals. Atlanta had lost its previous five home games against Washington.

Robles' homer went 446 feet to left, giving Jackson his seventh blown save in 24 chances.

Julio Teheran gave up one hit through five scoreless innings and retired 14 consecutive hitters before pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra singled with one out in the sixth. Anthony Rendon chased Teheran with a two-out RBI single.

Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin couldn't win on his 30th birthday while paired with catcher Yan Gomes, who turned 32. Corbin and Gomes became only the second pitcher-catcher tandem to start together on their birthdays since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Chicago Cubs pitcher Dave Hillman and catcher Jim Fanning did it against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 1957.

Corbin allowed two runs and eight hits in five innings. He struck out Ozzie Albies with the bases loaded in the first and fanned Albies to end the fifth with two out.

Albies hit a two-out double in the fourth and scored on Austin Riley's double. Freeman was 2 for 20 in his career against Corbin before his RBI single in the fifth.

Acuna's RBI double against Tanner Rainey gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer, on the 10-day IL since July 10 with an injury originally announced as a mid-back strain, was given a cortisone shot on Tuesday to address inflammation in the bursa sac under his right shoulder blade. Scherzer still has some discomfort and must throw a bullpen session before cleared to pitch in a game. With Scherzer unavailable, RHP Austin Voth is expected to start in Sunday night's series finale.

Braves: RHP Patrick Weigel, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his major league debut Saturday. RHP Wes Parsons also was recalled from Gwinnett. RHPs Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint were optioned to Gwinnett.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-6, 3.71) is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this season against the Braves, his former team.

Braves: Rookie RHP Mike Soroka (10-1, 2.24) will try to win his sixth straight decision on Saturday night. The 21-year-old right-hander became the youngest pitcher in franchise history to be selected an All-Star.

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