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Strasburg and Werth deliver in Nats win

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Strasburg and Werth deliver in Nats win

For 10 days, they had either lost ground to the Mets or at best kept pace with the NL East leaders, unable to gain positive momentum of any kind. But late Wednesday night, the Nationals finally closed the gap a bit, taking advantage of the Orioles' walk-off win over New York by rallying themselves to beat the Rockies, 4-1 at Coors Field.

And so, on the 11th day, the Nats at long last got a game back. They now trail in the division by 3 1/2 games, with a chance to bring that number down to 3 games should Max Scherzer beat Johan Flande in Thursday's series finale, with the Mets getting a day off.

Baby steps, folks. This isn't going to happen overnight.

If the Nationals keep playing like they did Thursday, getting a dominant pitching performance and some timely hits, they'll give themselves a reasonable chance at catching the Mets and salvaging this wayward season. There was a to like in this victory, including...

Stephen Strasburg continues to dominate since returning from the DL
It wasn't all that long ago when Strasburg was the biggest question mark on the Nats roster. Nowadays, he's the closest thing they have to a sure thing in their rotation.

It's been a dramatic turnaround for the right-hander, and not only since he returned from his oblique strain. The turnaround actually began way back in June when Strasburg returned from his first DL stint, this one for a stiff neck.

He has made six starts since then, and though the oblique injury derailed things for five weeks, Strasburg has picked up right where he left off and turned back into the dominant pitcher we had seen him be in the past. In those six starts, he has gone 4-1 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, six walks and 43 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings.

Not bad, huh?

The biggest difference between Strasburg now and Strasburg back in April and May, when nothing went right? Fastball command. In his three most recent starts, he has thrown his fastball for strikes 73 percent of the time. That makes all the difference.

For the first time in awhile, Strasburg is pitching with confidence, holding tough Rockies and Giants lineups to three total earned runs over these three starts. If the Nationals are going to mount a major August/September surge, this would be great piece of the puzzle.

Jayson Werth has rediscovered his form in the leadoff spot
I wrote yesterday about the logic behind the lethargic Werth moving up to the No. 1 spot in the Nationals' lineup, hoping to take advantage of his ability to work the count while taking pressure off him to drive in runs. Well, he reached base three times during Tuesday night's win, looking perfectly comfortable in the role. Then on Wednesday he looked comfortable again, this time actually driving in the game's key runs.

At the plate with two on and two out in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, Werth lashed a ball down the right-field line, legging out a 2-run triple that put the Nationals ahead for good.

Which means the 36-year-old outfielder has now reached base five times in 11 plate appearances the last two nights, going 4-for-10 with two doubles, a triple and a walk.

That is major progress for Werth, at a time when the Nationals needed it most from him.

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Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

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Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

Friday night marks the first second-half game of Major League Baseball's 162-game season. 

The Washington Nationals begin 5.5 games out of the first-place Phillies and host the second-place Braves for a three-game series before traveling to Milwaukee. 

One big piece to Dave Martinez's staff who has been missing since June 8 is Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander was activated from the DL and will start on the mound Friday night. 

Ryan Zimmerman was also activated but is not in Martinez's starting lineup. 

Prior to experiencing inflammation in his right shoulder during a June 8 start that forced him out of the game early, Strasburg saw flashes of dominance throughout his 13 starts owning a 3.46 ERA with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Zimmerman hasn't played since May 9 due to a strained right oblique. With the emergence of Matt Adams, it will be interesting to see how Martinez uses both guys throughout the summer. 

Here is a look at Friday night's official lineup: 

According to Byron Kerr, Zimmerman is still happy to be back, despite not being in the starting lineup. 

Catch the Nationals hosting the Braves Friday at 7:05 p.m. on MASN2. 

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8 bold MLB predictions sure to be proven wrong

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8 bold MLB predictions sure to be proven wrong

It doesn't have quite the same feel as Opening Day, but the first games after the MLB All-Star break certainly have their own unique excitement to them.

Teams are jockeying for playoff position, and the trade deadline is rapidly approaching. The Nats have struggled through the first half, but are still within striking distance of a spot in the 2018 postseason, so every game matters.

To help get you ready for the rest of the 2018 regular season, our baseball writers have provided a couple of bold predictions which are sure to be proven wrong by August.

Bold predictions for the second half of the 2018 MLB season:

Ryan Wormeli: 1) Despite the consensus top three teams in baseball all residing in the American League, this year’s World Series champion will be a National League squad.

2) Max Scherzer does NOT win the National League Cy Young award, even though most fans agree he has the best statistical season.

Cam Ellis: 1) Bryce Harper ends up with 45 home runs this season.

2) Koda Glover eventually gets the 7th inning spot.

Michaela Johnson: 1) Nationals win the NL East (I know this VERY bold but like I said I have high expectations).

2) Tanner Roark will get back on top of his game.

Tyler Byrum: 1) The Milwaukee Brewers will drop out of the playoff hunt. 

Every year the Brewers seem to be close to running away with the NL Central. Then, once we get closer to the All-Star break and move beyond they go silent. It’s getting quite ridiculous at this point. Last year they had 50 wins in the first half, finished with only 86.

2) Philadelphia will make a trade deadline acquisition, but it will not get them over the hump. 

There are just too many issues with the Phillies; starting pitching behind Aaron Nola, consistent batting as a team, and the bullpen. They’ve done a fantastic job to piece together a 53-42 record and sit atop the division, but it will be tough to maintain it. 

Right now, they are almost the exact opposite of the Nationals.