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New-look lineup works wonders for Nationals

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New-look lineup works wonders for Nationals

Call it desperation. Call it a hunch. Call it a calculated gamble. Whatever you want to call it, the lineup card Matt Williams filled out Tuesday in Colorado was unlike any he had attached his signature to since becoming manager of the Nationals last year.

Jayson Werth, owner of a .261 on-base percentage (.203 in 19 games since coming off the disabled list), leading off? Yunel Escobar, owner of fewer home runs in 1,179 career games than Bryce Harper owns in 467 career games, hitting cleanup?

Hey, why not? What exactly did Williams have to lose at this point by trying something completely different?

And considering that new-look lineup wound up exploding for 15 runs in a rout of the Rockies, you better believe the Nats will return to Coors Field on Wednesday with a similar look.

Sometimes it just takes a different look to get a slumping ballclub going again. Maybe it lets everyone relax, loosen up at the notion of a lineup that felt like it had been picked out of a hat. If the Nationals’ biggest fault during their 2 1/2 weeks of misery was playing tight, this certainly was one way to lighten the mood.

Thing is, there was some actual logic behind the changes.

Werth may have been in a major funk at the plate since returning from his fractured wrist but he’s not about to lose his job, at least not on a regular basis. Given the Nationals’ other options at this point, not to mention the 36-year-old’s track record, he’s going to remain in the lineup. So why not put him in a position where he has succeeded before and doesn’t feel pressure to drive in runs?

It was three years ago, you’ll remember, when Werth also returned in August from a broken left wrist. That 2012 version of the Nationals sorely lacked a traditional leadoff hitter, so Davey Johnson decided to put Werth there, recognizing he wasn’t likely to hit for much power with a still-healing wrist but could still work the count as well as anybody.

The result over the 38-game experiment: Werth hit .309 with a .388 on-base percentage. He hit only two homers, but the Nats didn’t need him to do that. He merely needed to get on base in front of Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman.

So what happened when Werth returned to the No. 1 spot in the Nationals’ lineup Tuesday night? He reached base three times, scored three runs, saw 23 total pitches and did a highly effective job setting the table for the rest of the guys.

And how did those other guys do? Really well. Danny Espinosa, batting second, went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI. Harper, batting third, drew four walks and came around to score each time. And Escobar and Ian Desmond, batting fourth and fifth, each recorded three hits and four RBI. (They’re the first Nationals teammates to drive in four runs apiece in the same game since Werth and Espinosa on May 20, 2011 against the Orioles.)

Escobar certainly doesn’t fit the bill of the prototypical cleanup hitter, but neither is he a natural fit leading off. He has, however, been the Nats’ best contact hitter this season, a guy who can be counted on to put together a quality at-bat and deliver more than his share of hits. So why not give him as many opportunities as possible to deliver those hits with men on base?

Will this unconventional look hold up the rest of the season? We’ll see. Certainly if and when Denard Span returns from the DL, Werth’s days leading off will come to an abrupt end.

But for now, given the way things have been going, the Nationals have nothing to lose by giving it a shot. It worked Tuesday night. Might as well find out if it can work Wednesday night as well.

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Conforto’s bases-loaded triple brought Mets to 8-6 over Nationals

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USA Today

Conforto’s bases-loaded triple brought Mets to 8-6 over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Michael Conforto hit a go-ahead, bases-loaded triple, rookie Jeff McNeil matched a career high with four hits and the New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals 8-6 on a slow and soggy Sunday afternoon.

The first pitch was delayed 25 minutes, and rain continued during the game, which lasted 4 hours, 14 minutes. Washington's grounds crew tended to the infield between innings throughout the day.

The Mets finished their road slate at 40-41, better than their 33-42 mark at home, where they have six games left.

The Nationals, who fell to .500 (78-78), led 3-1 before New York rallied in the fourth. Wander Suero (3-1) entered with one out and two on and issued a walk before McNeil singled in a run.

Conforto then poked a shot to left-center past a diving Michael A. Taylor to clear the bases and make it 5-3. Suero surrendered two more runs in the fifth when Kevin Plawecki delivered an RBI double and scored on Amed Rosario's infield single.

Drew Gagnon (2-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the Mets, who took three of four from the Nationals in the teams' final series of the season. Anthony Swarzak recorded the final five outs for his fourth save in five tries.

New York starter Steven Matz allowed three runs in three innings. Washington's Erick Fedde surrendered three runs in 3 1/3 innings.

McNeil improved his batting average to .328 in 195 at-bats since his big league debut on July 24.

Rookie Victor Robles homered, tripled and drove in three for Washington.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mets: Manager Mickey Callaway said the team still plans to activate 3B David Wright from the disabled list before Tuesday's game against Atlanta. Wright, who has not played for the Mets since May 2016 because of neck, back and shoulder injuries, is scheduled to start Saturday against Miami in what will likely be his final appearance in the big leagues. However, he could also make an earlier appearance. "I wouldn't mind getting him in there and getting him a pinch-hit at bat when it makes sense in the Braves series," Callaway said.

RECORD SWIPE

Washington SS Trea Turner stole second base in the third to set the Nationals' career record with 123. The previous steals leader since the club moved to Washington in 2005 was Ian Desmond's 122 from 2009 to 2015. Turner's 42 steals this season lead the majors.

UP NEXT

Mets: New York has Monday off. RHP Noah Syndergaard (12-4, 3.36 ERA) is scheduled to start Tuesday against Atlanta.

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (9-7, 3.83 ERA), who is 17-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 30 career starts against Miami, gets the nod as Washington opens its final home series of the season Monday against the Marlins.

 

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Nationals 2018 postseason chances officially done

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals 2018 postseason chances officially done

The Washington Nationals turned in one of their best performances on the day the meaningful portion of their season ended.

Rookie Austin Voth and four relievers combined on a one-hitter, and the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-0 on Saturday, hours after they were eliminated from playoff contention.

“It stings,” manager Dave Martinez said. “But we’ve still got seven more games. ... These guys don’t quit. They came out ready to play today.”

Matt Wieters and Trea Turner homered for Washington, and Bryce Harper added an RBI double.

The Nationals’ loss Friday night, coupled with the Atlanta Braves’ win, knocked them out of the NL East race. Then, shortly after Saturday’s game began, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Francisco Giants on a 10th-inning homer, ending Washington’s slim wild card hopes.

“It’s something where we felt like we had the talent in this clubhouse and we still feel like we have the talent in this clubhouse,” Wieters said. “We just didn’t play well enough and that’s why this game’s played on the field and not in the papers and that’s what’s great about it.”

Favored to win a third straight division title, the Nationals slid into third place on June 22 and remained there.

Ownership stood pat at the July trade deadline, and the team responded by winning six of seven games. However, a four-game losing streak soon had the Nationals nine games out of first place in mid-August, and the team unloaded players including Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

The team dealt with injuries to pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle, as well as Adam Eaton, Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman, but even when healthy, Washington was unable to put together an extended winning stretch. The Nationals are 78-77 with seven games remaining after going 97-65 a year ago.

“I think all of us in here would sit here and tell you we came here every day and did everything we could to try and win. At least I did. Because of that I can go home and be at peace with it,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously, it’s frustrating. You want to come out and win every year and have a chance to go into the playoffs.”

Voth (1-1), making his second major league start, allowed only an infield single to Michael Conforto leading off the fourth inning. Voth struck out five with two walks in five innings.

“He kept us off balance,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “He had a good curveball I thought. He was able to throw it for strikes ... and then he got it down when he needed to, and his fastball command was pretty good.”

Even with Saturday’s win, the Nationals will lose the season series to the fourth-place Mets.

Turner’s 18th homer of the season, a two-run shot, put Washington ahead in the third, and Wieters added a three-run homer off reliever Jerry Blevins in the sixth.

New York’s Corey Oswalt (3-3) allowed two runs over five innings.

Matt Grace, Justin Miller, Jimmy Cordero and Austen Williams each worked an inning for Washington in relief of Voth.

Harper drew his 125th walk of the season, a career high and a Nationals record.

STREAKING

Washington’s Anthony Rendon extended his on-base streak to 30 games with a sixth-inning double, and Turner extended his on-base streak to 22 games with a first-inning double.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: 2B Jeff McNeil was given the day off.

Nationals: OF Eaton (sore and stiff left knee) was out of the starting lineup for the fifth time in six games.

UP NEXT

LHP Steven Matz (5-11, 4.18 ERA) makes his sixth start of the season against the Nationals, who will start RHP Erick Fedde (2-3, 5.02) in the series finale.

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