Game 97 lineups: Nats at D-backs

Nelson Cruz Swing Gray

PHOENIX – The Nationals’ schedule this month has been unrelenting, and it will continue to be that way in the coming days, with series against the Dodgers, Cardinals and Mets next up. That made this weekend’s series with the Diamondbacks a potential ease-in for the Nats. Of course, that’s not how things have worked out so far.

The Nationals have lost the first two games this weekend by a combined 14 runs. Neither has been a particularly competitive or entertaining game. They can only hope today’s finale has a better outcome.

Davey Martinez, ever searching for some lineup that can produce runs in bunches, especially early in games, has moved Juan Soto back up to the No. 2 spot, with Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz behind him. We’ll see if it makes any difference, but it would sure help if César Hernández got on base a couple times to give Soto an opportunity to do some damage against Arizona right-hander Corbin Martin, just recalled from Triple-A Reno.

Erick Fedde gets the ball for the Nats, facing a Diamondbacks lineup that roughed him up back in April to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in only 3 1/3 innings. Fedde did dominate at Chase Field last season, though, tossing seven scoreless innings in one of the best starts of his career.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Where:
Chase Field

Gametime: 4:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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Soto's streak ends as Nats lose another game (updated)

soto swing gray

PHOENIX – What does it take for the Nationals to win a baseball game right now? It takes everything going right.

It takes a quality performance from the starting pitcher. It takes a sustained offensive attack from the early innings through the late ones. And it takes shutdown work from the bullpen.

Remove any one part of that formula, and victory becomes awfully difficult. Remove two, and it is almost impossible. Remove all three, and … well, you get the Nationals on most nights in July 2022.

The Nats did none of those things well tonight in a 7-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. But in fairness, they haven’t done most of those things well at any point this month. They’ve now lost 17 of their last 19 games to fall to an abysmal 31-65 on the season.

Now consider this: The worst month in club history was July 2008, when the Nationals went 5-19 (a .208 winning percentage) during what wound up a 102-loss season. This team needs to win four of its next seven games (against the D-backs, Dodgers and Cardinals, mind you) to avoid establishing a new low point.

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Why Rogers remains at Triple-A, why García has tonight off

Luis Garcia swing blue

PHOENIX – As he made his way back from a left shoulder impingement, Josh Rogers probably figured he’d be back on the Nationals roster as soon as he was deemed healthy, whether in their rotation or their bullpen.

Instead, a healthy Rogers now finds himself in the rotation at Triple-A Rochester. Though they formally activated him off the 15-day injured list Friday, the Nats also optioned Rogers to the minors, deciding not to put him in the big leagues for now.

That decision, manager Davey Martinez said, was made because the club both wants Rogers to work on some specific things but also wants to make sure he gets regular work as a starter in case a need does arise at the major league level.

“I know he wanted to develop a changeup. He’s working on a different breaking ball,” Martinez said. “But more so than anything, it’s to keep him stretched out. I think we’ve got to keep him stretched out. The more starters we can have in the minor leagues, the better we’re going to be here in the long run. We’ve got to keep an eye on innings with some of our guys. You just don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. So we want to keep him stretched out.”

The Nationals rotation, at the moment, consists of veterans Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez and Paolo Espino, plus Erick Fedde and Josiah Gray. In Gray’s case, there is the possibility the organization shuts him down at some point out of concern for his workload in his first full big league season. That could open the door for Rogers to return.

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Game 96 lineups: Nats at Diamondbacks

Lane Thomas swinging gray

PHOENIX – We’ve got a dandy of a pitching matchup tonight. Er, a dandy of a matchup if you want to go back in time a bit. Way back in October 2012, Madison Bumgarner started Game 2 of the World Series for the Giants, then Aníbal Sánchez started Game 3 for the Tigers. Ten years later, these two wily veterans go head-to-head in a game of far less significance when the Diamondbacks and Nationals resume their weekend series.

Sánchez makes his second start since coming back from a long-term neck injury. The 38-year-old right-hander had his moments against the Braves but was done in by a late homer off Michael Harris II’s bat, leaving him with a pitching line that included five innings and four runs allowed. We’ll see how he handles tonight’s assignment, knowing there’s probably less pressure on him this time around.

Bumgarner (still only 32, even though it feels like he’s much older than that) owns a 3.89 ERA in 19 starts for Arizona, but that number has slowly risen over the last two months. Over his last 12 starts, the lefty is 3-8 with a 4.77 ERA.

The Nationals are going with a lineup designed to have a better shot facing a left-hander than a right-hander. That means Lane Thomas is in left field (and batting second), with Maikel Franco batting sixth and Ehire Adrianza getting the start at shortstop instead of Luis García.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Where:
Chase Field

Gametime: 8:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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Second half opens in familiar fashion for Nats (updated)

corbin blue

PHOENIX – The Nationals returned from a four-day break this evening, hoping both for a fresh start to the second half of the season while also trying to maintain some semblance of the positive vibes they displayed during their unexpected victory in the first-half finale.

They got neither during a 10-1 trouncing at the hands of the Diamondbacks. There was no carryover from Sunday’s win over the Braves, not on the mound or at the plate. And there was nothing fresh about this game, only a whole lot of familiar sights from their miserable first half to the season.

On the mound, there was yet another ragged start by Patrick Corbin, who allowed five runs in five innings (four of them coming during one sequence in the bottom of the third). At the plate, there was yet another paltry performance against a good-but-not-great opposing starter, in this case Zac Gallen, who didn’t surrender his first hit until there were two outs in the sixth.

It all felt entirely appropriate for a Nationals club that has played this exact same game far too many times en route to a major-league-worst 31-64 record, including a whopping 16 losses over the last 18 games.

"Unfortunately it wasn't our day," second baseman César Hernández said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I think a lot of us, we had a few days off, and our timing was a little off. That's part of the game. Maybe we didn't have luck today."

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Nats sign top draft picks, place Clippard on IL

clippard red

PHOENIX – The Nationals signed nine of their top-10 draft picks today, including first rounder Elijah Green, who should immediately be classified as one of the top prospects in an organization still trying to stockpile more young talent.

Green, the fifth overall selection in Sunday’s first round, represents the highest draft pick the Nationals have had since they took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper No. 1 overall in back-to-back years in 2009-10, not to mention their first top-10 selection since Anthony Rendon went sixth in 2011.

Terms of Green’s deal weren’t immediately known, but the expected value of the signing bonus for the No. 5 pick was $6.49 million. The 18-year-old outfielder had committed to play next spring at the University of Miami, but as expected he’ll immediately become a professional and begin his trek up through the minor leagues.

Green, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound center fielder with right-handed power and a strong arm, was drafted out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he was described by Nationals vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline as a player who “could be an impactful superstar” if he develops as hoped.

Green will be at Nationals Park on July 29 to be introduced to the crowd before the team’s next home game.

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Game 95 lineups: Nats at Diamondbacks

corbin gray

PHOENIX – Hello from the Valley of the Sun, where the temperatures have been in the 110s all week. Fortunately, it won’t be anywhere close to that inside Chase Field tonight when the Nationals open the second half of the season against the Diamondbacks.

The All-Star break allowed Davey Martinez to rearrange his rotation however he preferred, and he chose to open up tonight with Patrick Corbin, followed by Aníbal Sánchez on Saturday and Erick Fedde on Sunday. That means the team is using this opportunity to give Josiah Gray an extended break before he presumably pitches next week at the Dodgers, perhaps saving up some of his innings to ensure he’s good to finish the season.

So it’s Corbin tonight facing his former team, though not for the first time. He’s made two previous starts against the Diamondbacks (once in 2019, once earlier this year) and was rocked in each of them to the tune of 14 earned runs in only 7 1/3 innings.

The Nationals go up against right-hander Zac Gallen, with a lineup that includes César Hernández leading off and Keibert Ruiz batting second ahead of Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz. We’ve seen Martinez tinker with the top two spots in his lineup a lot in recent weeks. Until he finds something that works, he may have to continue to tinker.

The bullpen has a couple new (but actually familiar) faces for this series. Víctor Arano was activated off the injured list, his first appearance on the active roster since he hurt his knee back on June 5. They also recalled Hunter Harvey from Triple-A Rochester, bringing back the hard-throwing right-hander quickly after sending him down before the All-Star break. They were able to do that because he’s replacing an injured teammate: Tyler Clippard, who was placed on the 15-day IL (retroactive to July 19) with a left groin strain.

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As break ends, Nats try to shift focus back to field

juan soto high five gray

PHOENIX – The All-Star break should be a time for rest and relaxation, a chance to get away from it all and clear your mind before gearing back up for the second half of the season. For the Nationals, this All-Star break wasn’t at all about rest, and nobody was able to relax.

The last four days have seen the franchise under the bright spotlight of the baseball world, all because of the sudden possibility Juan Soto could be dealt before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, with just about every other team in the sport trying to figure out if it has enough top prospects who could be packaged together to get the Nats to say yes.

There also, of course, was the MLB Draft, which began Sunday night and continued through Tuesday, using up a large chunk of front offices’ time and energy during what traditionally has been a welcome break from the grind.

Now, though, the break is over. The second half begins tonight. And for the Nationals, that means the focus potentially turns back to the field. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Let’s not forget these guys lost 15 of their last 17 games heading into the All-Star break. And one of those wins came Sunday in the first-half finale, in a bullpen game started by Erasmo Ramirez against a Braves team that seemed content to just coast into the break.

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Nationals' second half storylines

Juan Soto gray

The All-Star break has come and gone. The first half of the season is no more. Everybody’s enjoying one more day of relaxation before regathering Friday and commencing the second half.

For the Nationals, this is going to be a second half of change and promise, and perhaps some heartbreak as well. A lot could happen in these next few weeks leading up to the Aug. 2 trade deadline, after which the roster may look even less like the one that was trying to win championships not that long ago.

There will be no shortage of storylines to monitor the rest of the way. Here are five particularly important ones …

1. Is this really it for Soto in D.C.?
There was zero reason to even broach this subject one week ago. Of course Juan Soto would be finishing out the season with the Nationals, perhaps putting forth another monster second half and making an MVP case for himself, no matter the team’s record. That all changed Saturday with The Athletic’s report that Soto had turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension with the Nats, who now were going to explore the possibility of trading him.

It’s a bombshell development, one that could fundamentally change the way the rest of this season plays out for the Nationals. That doesn’t mean general manager Mike Rizzo is definitely going to trade Soto by Aug. 2. Given how complicated such a trade would be, there’s probably a good chance he doesn’t do it yet and re-explores the market over the winter (when the franchise may have some more stability on the ownership front, by the way).

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The good and the bad of the Nats' first half

soto hit gray

Look down upon the first half of the Nationals’ season from 30,000 feet in the air, and you can’t find much of anything to gloat about. How can you try to put a positive spin on a worst-in-baseball 31-63 record, a roster filled with ineffective stopgaps and all kinds of uncertainty at every level of the organization?

You can’t.

Look at the last 3 1/2 months under a microscope, though, and you can find individual reasons for optimism, not to mention more than a few reasons for pessimism. The Nats as a whole are a disaster, but some of the parts are worth appreciating.

So as we take one last look back at what’s taken place so far in 2022 before turning our attention to what’s still to come after the All-Star break, let’s focus not on the big picture but a bunch of little pictures, both good and bad …

GOOD: JUAN SOTO’S PERFORMANCE
All that concern about Soto’s first-half struggles, his lack of power and his low batting average? Yeah, he’s going to be just fine, thank you very much. Back on June 17, he was batting .220, slugging .440 and owning an .807 OPS that would be really good for anyone else but not for his lofty standards. Then he began a streak of 26 consecutive games reaching base, best in his career, during which he has hit .338/.505/.663 with seven homers and 27 walks. That surge allowed the 23-year-old to enter the All-Star break with a .901 OPS. (And perhaps helped him win the Home Run Derby.)

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Rundown of top prospects with De Jon Watson

De-Jon-Watson

The All-Star break, for better or worse, is all about the future of the Nationals. Juan Soto’s potentially dwindling future with the organization. Elijah Green and all the other 2022 draft picks’ potential future with the organization.

These are franchise-altering days, developments that could determine whether this team has a chance to be a winner again in the near-term or not for many more years to come.

But those guys alone aren’t going to decide the outcome. They’re going to need others to surround them, especially younger players who come up through a revamped farm system.

So it’s also a good time to take stock of that farm system, one that still ranks near the bottom in baseball according to most publications that produce such rankings but undoubtedly is home to a handful of potential high-end building blocks who could make a difference, some sooner than others.

De Jon Watson, in his first year as the Nationals’ director of player development, recently met with beat writers to provide insight into many of the organization’s top prospects. Here’s what he had to say about them, along with a midseason update on each …

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Pressure's on Nats to develop Green into "impactful" star

manfred 2022 draft

The Nationals hadn’t held a top-10 pick in the draft in 11 years. Not since Anthony Rendon dropped down the board and landed in their lap with the No. 6 pick in 2011 had they been in a position to choose a player as early in the draft as they did Sunday night, when they used the fifth overall pick on Florida high school outfielder Elijah Green.

Which brings an added amount of pressure to an organization that hasn’t struck gold with a first-round pick in a long time and knows it needs to get this one right.

“I think there’s more pressure when you pick at the bottom,” longtime vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline insisted late Sunday night. “Obviously, every year you’d like to pick at the bottom, because that’s a reflection of how your major league team is doing. But we’re going through a process here of rebuilding.”

The Nats’ track record with early first-round picks is solid. Who wouldn’t take Ryan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler, Aaron Crow, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Drew Storen and Rendon? Sure, Detwiler and Storen aren’t on the same level as the big names there, but each made it to and stuck in the big leagues for a while. (Detwiler’s still pitching for the Reds, some 15 years after he was drafted.) And Crow, though he didn’t sign with the Nats, ultimately made an All-Star team with the Royals before his career fizzled out.

The Nationals’ track record with late first-round picks is anything but solid. Of their last nine selections, only Lucas Giolito (16th in 2012) has produced more than 1.5 Wins Above Replacement in the big leagues, and he’s done it for the White Sox. Erick Fedde (18th in 2014) has established himself as a back-of-the-rotation starter on a rebuilding club. Carter Kieboom (28th in 2016), Seth Romero (25th in 2017), Mason Denaburg (27th in 2018) and Jackson Rutledge (17th in 2019) all have been too injured and/or ineffective to make it so far. Cade Cavalli (22nd in 2020) and Brady House (11th in 2021) are hoping to be part of the organization’s next contending roster.

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Nats use No. 5 pick on talented 18-year-old outfielder Green (updated)

Elijah-Green-IMG

Owners of a top-10 pick for the first time in 11 years, the Nationals tonight drafted Elijah Green, making the 18-year-old outfielder the first high schooler they’ve selected this low in their history.

Green, of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound athletic force who profiles as a center fielder with right-handed power and a strong arm. The son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he was considered by many experts to have the biggest upside of any player in this draft, though his young age and raw skills also make him less of a sure thing than some of the college prospects who were also under consideration.

A right-handed hitter, Green batted .462 (36-for-78) with 11 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 32 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, a .592 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage during his senior year at IMG Academy.

“This was always one of the goals of my life,” he said in a Zoom call with D.C. reporters. “To be called by the Washington Nationals is truly a blessing. I’m going to go out there, work hard and hopefully bring a championship back to Washington.”

Owners of the No. 5 pick, the Nationals found themselves with the unexpected option of drafting either Green or Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada, only one of which figured to be available when their turn came up. But when the Rangers surprisingly drafted right-hander Kumar Rocker (one year after the Mets chose not to sign the former Vanderbilt ace) with the third pick, the Nats suddenly were in an advantageous position.

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Bottom of lineup, bullpen bring end to losing streak (updated)

robles hr white

Salvation for the Nationals came not from Juan Soto or Josh Bell. It came not from Josiah Gray or Keibert Ruiz or Luis García. It did not come from any member of their rotation.

No, when the Nats needed to put a stop to a pair of nine-game losing streaks – one of them overall, one of them specifically to the Braves – they turned to the bottom of their lineup and five members of their bullpen.

Yes, it’s true. The Nationals won a ballgame today, toppling the Braves 7-3 to close a wretched final stretch of a wretched first half of the season on an uplifting note at last. 

"It's been a long time," Soto said with a laugh, "but finally we did it."

The formula to produce this curly W bore no resemblance to the one they used to try to win any other game in the last week-plus.

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Harvey optioned to Triple-A, Cruz sits again

cruz sliding white

Needing fresh arms to get them through today’s first-half finale, the Nationals called up Cory Abbott from Triple-A and optioned Hunter Harvey to Rochester.

Abbott, who has been a starter in the minors, is available to pitch multiple innings in relief this afternoon, which is already a bullpen game. Erasmo Ramirez will start, going two or three innings before manager Davey Martinez begins summoning a parade of other relievers the rest of the game.

Harvey’s demotion has less to do with performance and more to do with the fact he still has options and his recent lengthy stint on the injured list with a pronator strain in his forearm. The right-hander gave up two runs while throwing 28 pitches during Saturday’s loss to the Braves, the first time he’s been scored upon in seven big league appearances this season (sandwiched around the IL stint).

“He’s been a guy that’s been injured,” Martinez said. “He’s got four days off (the All-Star break) down there coming up. We’re just going to give him a little breather and get him back. We want him to pitch multiple innings, work on his breaking ball a little bit more, and then we’ll get him back up here as soon as we can.”

The Nationals found themselves in this predicament due to Tuesday’s rainout against the Mariners. That created a doubleheader Wednesday, and thus a stretch of six games in five days to close out the season’s first half.

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Game 94 lineups: Nats vs. Braves

Yadiel Hernandez swing white

The first half of the season comes to a close today, and not a moment too soon for a Nationals club that has sunk to new depths previously thought unreachable. They enter today’s game on a nine-game losing streak (their first since 2008), having also lost nine straight to the Braves over the last month, having lost 15 of their last 16 games overall and owning the majors’ worst record at 30-63. (Oh, and there’s also that little matter about Juan Soto.)

So it’s against that backdrop they’ll try to snap the losing streak and somehow head into the All-Star break on a positive note. But to do that, they’ll need to score a lot more runs than they’ve been scoring, especially early. They’ll have to do that against Spencer Strider, the Atlanta rookie who completely overwhelmed them in a start here last month. So, good luck with that.

And then to add one more challenge to the afternoon, the Nationals are going with a bullpen game today. This is their sixth game in five days, so they were either going to have to call up a fill-in starter from the minors or go with all bullpen arms. They could’ve activated Josh Rogers off the 15-day injured list, but the lefty will be making another rehab start today for Triple-A Rochester. So they’ll have to make do with a bunch of guys out of their bullpen. On the bright side, they don’t have another game to play until Friday at Arizona, so Davey Martinez doesn’t have to worry about holding anyone back.

ATLANTA BRAVES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where:
Nationals Park

Gametime: 1:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Chance of storms late, 85 degrees, wind 6 mph out to center field

NATIONALS
2B César Hernández
C Keibert Ruiz
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell
SS Luis García
LF Yadiel Hernandez
DH Maikel Franco
3B Ehire Adrianza
CF Victor Robles

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Nats lose ninth straight after long rain delay (updated)

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If money alone isn’t going to be enough to keep Juan Soto in Washington for the long haul – and today’s revelation that Soto recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension suggests it is indeed about more than just money, at least at this juncture of the process – the best thing the Nationals can do to convince their young star to stay is to start winning ballgames.

That, as it turns out, is an even more daunting task these days than coming up with a contract number Soto will accept.

Today’s 6-3 loss to the Braves, which included a 1-hour, 49-minute rain delay in the eighth inning, was the Nationals’ ninth consecutive loss, their ninth in a row to Atlanta, their 15th in their last 16 games overall. This is their first nine-game losing streak since 2008, when they lost a club-record 12 in a row. At 30-63, they own the worst record in the majors and would need to go an unlikely 33-36 the rest of the way just to avoid finishing with 100 losses.

All of which begs the question: Why would Soto agree to a new deal, even if it set records, before seeing some evidence of improvement from the franchise he helped win a World Series only three years ago?

“I mean, at the end of the day, you’re going to get what you deserve, we all know that,” manager Davey Martinez said before the game. “And for me, I hope it’s here. Because I love the kid. I don’t ever think that he’s anything else but a Washington National, and that’s the way I’m going to view it right now. He is a Washington National.”

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Soto frustrated $440 million offer became public

soto grimace cherry

Juan Soto expressed frustration today that terms of the Nationals’ latest contract proposal to the star slugger were made public, leading to a new report that the club will “entertain” offers for him leading up to next month’s trade deadline.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Soto recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals, a deal that would be the largest in major league history in total value but wouldn’t rank nearly as high in average annual salary. A source familiar with the discussions confirmed those figures, adding the offer included no deferred money but was back-loaded to leave the highest salary figures in the final years of the deal.

Soto declined to discuss details of talks that have been ongoing for months and have included multiple offers, redirecting those questions to agent Scott Boras, but acknowledged his frustration that this latest proposal became public.

“It feels really bad to see stuff going out like that, because I’m a guy who, my side, keeps everything quiet and try to keep it to them and me,” Soto said in a brief session with beat reporters inside the Nationals clubhouse prior to today’s game against the Braves. “They just make the decision and do what they need to do.”

Soto, who can’t become a free agent for another 2 1/2 seasons, has been on a recent tear at the plate, having reached base in 24 consecutive games, just having a career-high hitting streak end at 16 games and raising his OPS an even 100 points (from .795 to .895) heading into the final weekend of the season’s first half.

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Game 93 lineups: Nats vs. Braves

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Will today be the day? Will the Nationals end their dual eight-game losing streaks (one of them overall, one of them against the Braves)? Will they actually be able to play this late-afternoon game as scheduled, given the likelihood of thunderstorms in the area? All we can do is wait and see on all counts.

The challenge, as always, is stiff, because the Nationals simply haven’t been able to get both a quality pitching performance and early run production against the Braves during these last eight games they’ve played against them. They guy they’re facing today, Max Fried, is very good. But the Nats have actually enjoyed some modest success against the lefty: In their last head-to-head encounter, they scored four runs in 5 2/3 innings off him, and that was with Juan Soto out of the lineup.

At the same time, though, the Nationals need a good start from Paolo Espino, who has not been great in recent outings. Over his last three starts, the wily veteran has allowed 10 runs on 17 hits while totaling only 12 innings. That includes a four-inning start Sunday in Atlanta in which he allowed two runs on six hits and was pulled with his pitch count at 65.

ATLANTA BRAVES at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where:
Nationals Park

Gametime: 4:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Thunderstorms, 82 degrees, wind 6 mph out to left field

NATIONALS
LF Lane Thomas
2B César Hernández
RF Juan Soto
1B Josh Bell
DH Keibert Ruiz
3B Maikel Franco
SS Alcides Escobar
C Tres Barrera
CF Victor Robles

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Same old story for Nats in another loss to Braves (updated)

corbin strides home blue

The Nationals took the field tonight for the 92nd time this season. An enthusiastic, Friday night crowd of 30,409 settled in for what everyone hoped would be an entertaining, hopefully competitive, maybe even victorious ballgame from the local club.

And then the top of the first – featuring another throwing error by Luis García, another poorly played grounder by Maikel Franco and another towering home run served up by Patrick Corbin – came and went, and anybody who has been paying any attention to this team knew none of those hopes would become reality.

An 8-4 thrashing at the hands of the Braves once again revealed to the world who exactly these Nationals are. They are a team that has lost eight straight games. They are a team that has lost eight straight games to Atlanta. They are a team that has lost 24 of its last 26 games to division opponents. And they are a team that has lost 14 of its last 15 games overall.

That last cover-your-eyes fact may be the toughest to accept of all, because this is the first team in Nationals history to lose 14 of 15 within a single season. The 59-win 2008 and 2009 clubs did it over a stretch that included the end of the earlier season and the start of the subsequent season. But neither did it within its own season.

"They've got to understand that this organization was a winner for a long time," manager Davey Martinez said. "This happens to the best of the best. But we've got to battle back. We've got to keep playing. Forget about what happened today, come back tomorrow and go 1-0. That's the mentality. "

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