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Stars shine in Nats' 9th straight series win

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Stars shine in Nats' 9th straight series win

It has turned into a broken record, but never has a broken record sounded so sweet to Washington baseball fans. The Nationals won another series Wednesday night, their ninth straight series won, matching a franchise record.

And what a series it was, a tense, compelling, 3-day event at Wrigley Field that saw the Nats win 2-1, the Cubs win 3-2 and then the Nats finish it off with a 3-0 win that felt much closer than the final score appeared.

It's rare that a baseball series sees all the big-name stars rise to the occasion, but it happened in this one. Kris Bryant homered twice. So did Bryce Harper. Max Scherzer and Jon Lester engaged in a fantastic pitchers' duel. Addison Russell provided a walk-off hit for Chicago.

Here's what stood out from Wednesday night's Nationals victory...

MAX SCHERZER IS EVEN BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT HE'D BE
You knew the Nationals were getting one of the better pitchers in baseball when they gave him $210 million in January, a hard-throwing strikeout artist with a Cy Young Award on his mantel. But you probably didn't appreciate just how good of a pitcher he was.

You do now. Scherzer has exceeded the loftiest expectations, and Wednesday night's performance was among his best to date. Over seven brilliant, scoreless innings, he scattered four singles, a double and a walk while striking out 13.

Only two other pitchers in Nationals history have struck out 13 batters in a game: Stephen Strasburg (who fanned 14 in his MLB debut, then notched 13 K's on two other occasions) and John Patterson (who did it in 2005 and again in 2006).

Overall, Scherzer is now 6-3 with a 1.51 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 10 walks in 10 starts. How good is that? Well, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three pitchers in modern history have ever posted an ERA that low with that many strikeouts in their first 10 starts of a season: Pedro Martinez (1997 and 2000) and Randy Johnson (2000). That's some elite company.

And yet the numbers only tell part of the story, because Scherzer has stood out not only for the end results he has produced but the manner in which he has produced those results. Plain and simple, the guy knows how to pitch. Wednesday was a fantastic example of that, with Scherzer throwing 93-94 mph early on, then suddenly ramping it up to 97-98 mph to notch several of his strikeouts.

BRYCE HARPER HIT ANOTHER OPPOSITE-FIELD HOMER (HO-HUM)
Yeah, yeah, we've seen plenty of these now. What's the big deal anymore? The big deal is that he continues to do it.

The overall power numbers are bordering on the insane. Harper now has 18 homers in 47 games (that's a 62-homer pace, for the arithmetically challenged) and 13 homers in May. How good is that? Well, Harper how out-homered both the Phillies and Braves so far this month, and he only trails the White Sox, Royals and Padres by three.

Not a large enough sample for you? OK, let's go back a ways, all the way back to Aug. 25, 2014. That's 81 games ago, counting the postseason. Harper's totals during those 81 games: 27 homers, 54 RBI, 53 walks, a .314 batting average, .423 on-base percentage, .657 slugging percentage and 1.080 OPS.

But let's get back to Wednesday's homer, an opposite-field shot off Lester. That was Harper's seventh opposite-field homer of the season. How many is that? Well, among the proven, major-league sluggers who haven't hit seven total homers this year (to all sides of the field) are David Ortiz, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and Matt Holliday.

Mercy.

CASEY JANSSEN PROVED HE KNOWS HOW TO PITCH
If you had been wondered why the Nationals went out and got Janssen over the winter, this was your first real opportunity to find out.

Given the ball with two on, nobody out and Bryant at the plate in the eighth inning of a 2-run game, the veteran reliever took the mound and put on a clinic. Janssen got Bryant to popup, made a fantastic play on Dexter Fowler's bunt to the right of the mound and got Starlin Castro to ground out to short.

Janssen did all this with an 88-mph fastball. How? By locating it. He threw eight of his 12 pitches for strikes, but more importantly he threw 10 of those 12 pitches below the belt.

That's called pitching, and that's why the Nationals have been anticipating Janssen's delayed debut for some time.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

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

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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.