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Rendon and Werth homer, Nats beat Dodgers to take 2-1 lead in NLDS

Rendon and Werth homer, Nats beat Dodgers to take 2-1 lead in NLDS

Updated 10:46 p.m.

The Nationals know as well as most just how difficult it can be to score runs in the MLB postseason. October has its own way of sorting things out: the pitching improves, nerves come into play and in many cities the temperature drops.

Ask most baseball observers about the 2014 playoffs and they will cite the bullpen and manager Matt Williams as the root of the Nationals' downfall. But they scored just nine runs in four games. Few bullpens or coaches can overcome that.

Through three games in the 2016 NL Division Series, the Nationals have charted a divergent course. They are generating scoring chances consistently and the runs have followed. That success at the plate continued in their 8-3 victory over the Dodgers in Game 3 on Monday afternoon in Los Angeles. Those eight runs were the most ever scored by the Nats in a playoff game and almost what they put up in their entire 2014 NLDS vs. San Francisco.

The Nationals offense erupted to a stellar start, chasing Dodgers rookie standout Kenta Maeda after just three innings. Washington collected four runs in the third inning alone, two thanks to Anthony Rendon's first career postseason homer. It was also his first playoff extra-base hit and run scored. He is now an impressive 10-for-31 (.323) with five RBI through seven career postseason games.

The Nationals' first two runs were plated by Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper earlier in the third. Werth brought in Trea Turner all the way from first on a double to the right field corner, one that gave the speedy Turner a chance against Yasiel Puig's notorious throwing arm. Harper then poked a single to shallow right to score Werth from third.

Werth would add another run to their total in the ninth with a solo homer off vaunted closer Kenley Jansen. The Nats outfielder decimated a 1-0 cutter deep into the left field bleachers. It was his 15th career postseason bomb.

"That one felt pretty good. I played a lot of games here and I've always wanted to hit one out of the stadium," Werth said. "I never thought it was possible, and I still feel the same way. So that ball doesn't get out, I don't think I can do it."

[RELATED: Nats manager Baker on how he got the nickname 'Dusty']

Zimmerman drove in two more later in the ninth on a double off the wall in right field. That scored Daniel Murphy, who walked, and Harper, who was hit by a pitch. Zimmerman redeemed himself for striking out with the bases loaded on three pitches to end the top of the first.

The Dodgers gained an early advantage in the first inning on Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, once again on a big hit by rookie superstar Corey Seager. After homering in the top of the first of both Games 1 and 2, Seager ripped an RBI double in the bottom of the first on Monday. That scored Justin Turner, who reached with a one-out walk.

The Dodgers got two more runs in the fifth inning to end Gonzalez' day. Those were on a home run by Carlos Ruiz, the fifth of his postseason career. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts originally tapped Andre Ethier to pinch-hit before pulling him back for Ruiz. The veteran catcher then smoked a 3-1 fastball over the fence to score himself and Joc Pederson, who got on with a one-out single. 

Pederson and Ruiz landed two of the four hits Gonzalez surrendered on the afternoon. He walked one and was charged with three runs through 4 1/3 innings.

The Nationals' bullpen continued to shine in Game 3. Lefty Sammy Solis made his third straight appearance, this time with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He's tossed four shutout frames this series on two hits and two walks. Solis has yet to show his inexperience and looks like the unique weapon he was for much of the regular season.

[RELATED: Report: D'Back want Nats GM Mike Rizzo for front office]

Fellow lefty Oliver Perez then faced two batters in the seventh and allowed one hit. Shawn Kelley finished the frame, capped by a strikeout of Turner in a full count, and returned to toss a perfect eighth. Kelley went 1 2/3 perfect frames with three strikeouts and built a bridge to closer Mark Melancon, who tossed a clean ninth.

The Nats' relief corps has yet to allow a run this postseason through 12 1/3 innings. Collectively, they have 14 strikeouts.

"I tell you, the bullpen was awesome," manager Dusty Baker said. "All the guys contributed. Sammy Solis got the win, but he did an outstanding job. What a job that Kelley did for us. I mean, he went through the heart of the order and that's the best we've seen him in a while, but he was well rested."

"It's exciting. I guess it could be maybe a little boring at times because they get everybody out," Rendon said.

Murphy went 0-for-4 outside of his walk. Turner singled and scored, but struck out three times. He has eight strikeouts through three playoff games. Danny Espinosa also had a rough day with a strikeout and a hit-by-pitch, his third of the series. That's the most ever in an NLDS.

The rest of the Nationals lineup did plenty to compensate for those troubles. Harper had a single, two walks and a run. Werth had three hits - including the homer - and a walk and is now 5-for-13 with four runs scored in the series. Zimmerman walked, singled and doubled. He now has five hits in the series.

With a 2-1 lead in the NLDS, the Nationals are one win away from advancing to the Championship Series. The NLCS would push them closer than any D.C. sports team has been to a world championship in 18 years. 

The last D.C. major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) team to reach the semifinals of their league was the 1997-98 Capitals, who were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. No other North American city with at least three such teams has waited longer.

The 1998 Caps are the only D.C. team to get that close to a world title since 1992, when the Redskins won the Super Bowl. That was the last D.C. world championship. Only Minneapolis-St. Paul has waited longer for a title, among U.S. cities with at least three major sports teams.

Put simply, one more win would be the biggest victory for a D.C. team in almost 20 years. The Nationals have been close before. They were one strike away in 2012. Now, they have another chance.

Quotes via SportsNet Los Angeles and ASAPsports.com

[RELATED: Nats manager Baker on how he got the nickname 'Dusty']

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Juan Soto stays hot at the plate

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Juan Soto stays hot at the plate

The Washington Nationals are roughly a week and a half away from Opening Day, so players are rounding into form for the start of the season.

Here are the latest news and notes from Spring Training.

Players Notes:

Young outfielder Juan Soto went yard again, taking Hector Santiago deep in the first inning sunday against the Mets. His third home run boosted his Spring Training average to .400.

Outfielder Michael A. Taylor received good news on his MRI, and tweeted out that he did some hitting, throwing, and running in a pool Sunday.

Pitcher Stephen Strasburg allowed three runs in five innings against the Mets. He gave up six hits, and also struck out six, and now has 19 strikeouts in 15.2 innings this spring.

Injuries: 

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, but should be ready for Opening Day

OF Michael A. Taylor: Knee, out indefinitely

Coming Up:

Monday 3/18: Nationals vs. Marlins, 1:05 p.m., FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Monday 3/18: Nationals @ Mets, 1:10 p.m., First Data Field

Tuesday 3/19: Nationals @ Braves, 1:10 p.m., Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports

News update courtesy of Rotoworld

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Nationals star Stephen Strasburg is, in fact, happy to be here

Nationals star Stephen Strasburg is, in fact, happy to be here

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A jovial guy looking strikingly like Stephen Strasburg was at Strasburg’s locker Sunday afternoon. Beard a bit long, hair on top a bit shorter.

Turns out, it was actually Strasburg, who is including a touch of humor and more frequent smiles in recent post-pitching conversations with reporters. It may not last. But, for now, there is a veteran pitcher pleased with progress in place of an often dour competitor who grapples with his perfectionist self.

Strasburg threw 84 pitches against a recognizable New York Mets lineup Sunday. This was not an afternoon spent against late spring canned ham delivered via a split-squad game. Instead, the Mets rolled out several of the hitters Strasburg will see March 30 when he presumably takes the mound in Game 2 of the season opposite New York’s Noah Syndergaard.

“Fastball command was good,” Strasburg said. “Got really aggressive on it. But that’s OK, at this point. You don’t want to  -- you want to work on stuff, but at the same time, well aware we open up with them. So, you know, don’t want to be featuring everything you might be featuring later on.”

Other recent realizations have reminded Strasburg he is now 30 years old, entering season 10 and just generally a legit veteran. He looked down at first base Saturday and recognized Stubby Clapp, a former Olympic player with Canada. Clapp, 46, was coaching first base for St. Louis. Strasburg turned to Erick Fedde: “‘I faced that guy in the Olympics.”

How did a Sunday afternoon conversation with media arrive at Clapp? Because Strasburg decided to face the Mets. Both Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard were lined up to pitch against the Nationals on Sunday and Monday, respectively. DeGrom was announced as sick Sunday. Syndergaard won’t be pitching in the split-squad game Monday. Instead, they will both pitch a minor-league game. Basically, the Mets chose to have their top two pitchers avoid the first opponent of the season.

Strasburg didn’t bother with such gamesmanship -- beyond relying on his fastball often. Instead, he took the mound then noted his status in the division.

“I mean, I’m the longest-tenured pitcher in the NL East,” Strasburg said. “What’s another start against the Mets? I think it just comes down to execution for me and that’s the same thing for everybody.”

The quote carries weight on three levels: Strasburg, somehow, realizes he has been in the division longer than any other pitcher. And only one starter is close to him. Season six is in front of deGrom. Season five is next for Syndergaard. Max Scherzer is entering his fifth season in the division. Same with Aaron Nola in Philadelphia. It’s technically year nine for Julio Teheran. However, he made six appearances total in his first two years.

Strasburg’s statement also shows inherent confidence that scouting reports can’t counter him when he’s on. Last, a T-shirt worthy slogan -- “What’s another start against the Mets?” -- came from him, of all people.

He was pleased to get a look at the Mets close to the opener.

“You want to see if they’re making any tweaks to their approach or if they’re going to be the same type of hitter,” Strasburg said. “I think over the years, you kind of realize that guys have certain strengths and they’re going to stick to those strengths much like myself.”

So, five innings, six hits, three earned runs, six strikeouts and two walks. Four of those hits happened in the fifth and sixth innings when Strasburg primarily threw first-pitch fastballs down the middle. His work was done in the first four innings when he carved through the Mets. It all left him happy. For now.

Soto rolling along

The box score claims Juan Soto was 3-for-4 Sunday with two doubles and a home run. Not so inside Soto’s brain. He thought he beat out a grounder for an infield single though he was called out.

“In my mind, it’s 4-for-4,” Soto said with a smile.

Soto has hit a home run in three of his last four games. His spring OPS is 1.288 after 35 at-bats. It’s spring -- always a necessary caveat -- but the point here is nothing indicates a change for Soto. If anything, he might be a better all-around player because he is improved defensively and on the base paths. The hitting situation has not changed.

“I feel really comfortable at the plate, I’m seeing the ball really well,” Soto said. “Better than when I got here. I’m almost ready.”

Taylor takes a first -- small -- step

Michael A. Taylor’s MRI revealed a sprained left hip and knee. Sunday, a modest workout sent him to social media to express his pleasure.

Thankful for the good news on my MRI!! Feeling good after hitting, throwing and running (in the pool) today. #Nationals #SpringTraining #MLB

Manager Davey Martinez clarified Taylor took one-handed swings off the tee, threw “lightly” from about 90 feet and did run in the pool. Martinez also called it an expected “baseline” for the day. The explanation appeared targeted to calm takeaways from Taylor’s tweet.

“We'll see how he comes back and feels tomorrow,” Martinez said. “But for us, that's a good thing that he's feeling that good. We'll see where it takes us in the next couple of days.”

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