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Tough week for Nats continues with Storen's bad night

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Tough week for Nats continues with Storen's bad night

The Nationals again built an early lead on a team with a losing record on Friday night, as they've grown accustomed to in recent games. But again their offense locked up in the later innings and again their bullpen couldn't hold up their end of the bargain.

This time it was against the Colorado Rockies, who rode an eighth-inning grand slam by slugger Carlos Gonzalez to a 5-4 comeback victory.

The Nationals lost, but there were several moments where they had the Rockies exactly where they wanted them, including with Bryce Harper up in the bottom of the ninth representing the winning run. This loss wasn't on Harper, though, as Drew Storen allowed the big hit to Gonzalez to snap what was one of the best stretches of the veteran reliever's MLB career.

Storen took the mound in the top of the eighth and made quick work of Rockies' left fielder Kyle Parker. Then Colorado summoned a familiar foe to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Daniel Descalso, who landed the game-tying hit off Storen in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS back when he was with St. Louis, stepped into the box.

Descalso worked a walk and was joined on base by Jose Reyes, who singled to right field, one out later. Nolan Arenado then reached on a slow grounder that rolled to the left of the pitcher's mound.

That brought up Gonzalez, the Rockies' cleanup hitter who is among the most dangerous hitters in baseball when he's at his best. Storen started the count with a fastball inside for a ball. Then he served up a 94 mile per hour heater that stayed up and in. Gonzalez got every bit of it and pelted the ball off the backwall of the Nats' bullpen in right field. It was a no-doubter and it turned the game from a three-run Nats' lead to a one-run deficit.

"I just had a couple things … a couple guys get on base for various reasons and then make one bad pitch, a fastball come over the plate to a really good hitter. It’s kind of the nature of the business," Storen explained.

"He's had a very good season for us, it just wasn't his night," Matt Williams said. "Just made a mistake to a guy who has recently been really hot and has power. It's the game of baseball."

Storen wanted the fastball to stay further inside, but it hung just enough over the plate for Gonzalez to turn on it. Gonzalez said afterwards he was waiting for the pitch.

"The way they pitched me the whole night I was kind of prepared for that fastball middle-in," he said. "I’m hitting in the cleanup spot and that’s what we get paid to do.”

The loss leaves the Nationals at 56-52 on the season and losers of six of their last eight. They are 2 1/2 games behind the New York Mets for the first time since May 12 and now sit four games out of the last NL Wild Card spot.

This particular loss was as stunning as any this season with the way their fortunes turned so quickly. It continued what has been a trying week for a team that hasn't found their way since the All-Star break. So far they have failed to take advantage of a homestand against sub-.500 teams, a troubling sign given they play at the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants following this weekend.

All that said, the Nationals remain adamant about not worrying about the big picture just yet.

"Storen came out with his best, and CarGo came out with his best. Sometimes you've got to tip your cap to the best in the game, and CarGo's one of them," Harper said. "Hopefully we can go back out there tomorrow and go get them tomorrow and see where we're at at the end of the day."

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

For a long time, Major League Baseball had the best, most exciting trade deadline among the four major sports. In recent seasons, that excitement has been eclipsed by the popularity of the NBA, but baseball still stands ahead of football and hockey in terms of in-season movement.

In an effort to shake things up a bit, baseball’s trade deadline underwent some changes in the offseason.

Notably, while July 31 has always been deadline day, in past years it was a bit of a misnomer. July 31 was technically just the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in years past. The month of August has always allowed trades to be made as long as players pass through waivers. If a player is claimed off waivers, his team can either pull him back, let him go for nothing, or negotiate a deal with his claiming team only.

This obviously made for much more limited movement in August, but it was always an option. 

Not anymore. Now? July 31 the *only* deadline.

The August revocable waivers trade deadline was always a bit convoluted, and it never made much sense to have more than one deadline. So it’s logical to think the powers that be would want to simplify things for the league.

Reportedly, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will not only help simplify in-season moves, but also help jumpstart offseason activity. The thinking is if teams have even just one fewer option to improve their roster midseason, then contenders will be forced to get aggressive in the offseason.

It remains to be seen if that will come to fruition, but one forthcoming change does seem pretty obvious. The singular trade deadline should make for a much more active July.

Both buyers and sellers have to commit to a direction earlier in the season now. Last year, for example, the Nationals executed their mini-firesale in mid-August, once it had become clear they were not going to compete for the postseason. At the end of the July they were still undecided, which is why they held onto Bryce Harper.

Considering how long it can take major deals to come together, teams have to essentially decide by the All-Star break if they are in or out on competing for October. It will be especially difficult for teams to read the writing on the wall when they are hovering around .500.

As of this writing, there are 10 teams within six games of .500 in either direction, and that doesn’t include organizations like the Red Sox, Nationals and Athletics who have quality records but are way behind runaway division leaders. Will they want to trade away controllable assets for a shot at a one-game Wild Card berth?

General Managers who can forecast their team’s likelihood of competing, and respond accordingly, will be rewarded under the new system. Orioles GM Mike Elias already began his team’s sell-off, trading Andrew Cashner away weeks before the end of July. By contrast, in 2018 both Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were moved by the Orioles with under an hour to go on deadline day.

It’s hard to perfectly predict all the ways rule changes can affect a sport, but in the case of the singular trade deadline, it’s obvious that teams are now required to commit earlier, with fewer games of information from which to work.

That’s exciting for a sport that could use some more player movement-related excitement.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.