Nats manufacture runs, but not enough to beat Cubs

Nats manufacture runs, but not enough to beat Cubs
More than two months into the season, the Nationals have established their ability to hit the ball out of the park. They lead the National League with 87 homers in 65 games. They have not yet, however, established their ability to manufacture runs. There have been glimpses, as there were tonight against the Cubs. But they haven't quite been able to get over that hump on a consistent basis. This 4-3 loss before a boisterous crowd of 41,955 - largest of the season to date - underscored the issue...
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Gonzalez laboring vs. Cubs lineup (Nats lose 4-3)

Gonzalez laboring vs. Cubs lineup (Nats lose 4-3)
Last time, it was the first inning that got Gio Gonzalez. This time, the damage has come in the third and fourth innings. Despite a promising start to his night, Gonzalez has run into trouble the second time around the Cubs lineup, giving up two runs in the top of the third and another in the top of the fourth to leave the Nationals in a 3-1 hole. It's a frustrating performance thus far for Gonzalez, who gave up three first-inning runs to the White Sox last week but then bounced back with six...
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After initial reluctance, Papelbon agrees to first career DL stint

After initial reluctance, Papelbon agrees to first career DL stint
Jonathan Papelbon had never spent a day on the disabled list in his 12-year career, and he certainly didn't want to end that streak now after feeling a tug on his right side while throwing a warmup pitch before the top of the ninth of Sunday's game. But after meeting with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux late Monday night, Papelbon came to the realization a DL stint was in both his and the team's best interests. "I've taken a lot of...
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Game 65 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

Game 65 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs
The Nationals had plenty of reason to feel good about themselves last night after a 4-1 victory over the Cubs, one of their better wins of the season to date. But they arrived at the ballpark today to the news that they need to find a new closer for at least the next 15 days, with Jonathan Papelbon landing on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a right intercostal strain. We'll have to wait and see who Dusty Baker tabs as his ninth-inning guy for now, but it would be hard...
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Papelbon lands on DL with intercostal strain, Belisle activated

Papelbon lands on DL with intercostal strain, Belisle activated
The Nationals have placed closer Jonathan Papelbon on the 15-day disabled list with a right intercostal strain and activated fellow right-hander Matt Belisle off the DL to take his roster spot. It's not yet known how Papelbon, who had never before been on the DL during his 12-year career, suffered the injury. But the 35-year-old wasn't available to pitch during last night's 4-1 win over the Cubs, watching from the dugout as Shawn Kelley instead recorded the save. Manager Dusty Baker offered...
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With Papelbon "sore," Kelley steps in to close out win

With Papelbon "sore," Kelley steps in to close out win
When he returned to the dugout after striking out both batters he faced in the top of the eighth last night, Shawn Kelley had no idea he'd be returning to the mound for the top of the ninth. Until Dusty Baker approached him with a simple question. "He asked me how I felt, and I said I felt good," Kelley recalled. "He said: 'You're going back out.' That was pretty much the gist of it." So it was that one of the Nationals' most impressive wins of the season - 4-1 over the Cubs - was...
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No history for Scherzer, but domination is more than enough

No history for Scherzer, but domination is more than enough
It is mostly ludicrous to conjure up images of no-hitters or record-breaking strikeout performances after exactly one half-inning of baseball, but when Max Scherzer takes the mound, the conventional line of thinking doesn't apply. "If he's done it once, he can do it again," manager Dusty Baker said. "You allow yourself to think it. You don't talk about it, but you think it." "I'd like to say he surprises me," catcher Wilson Ramos, via interpreter Octavio Martinez, said. "But he...
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Nats ride Scherzer's dominance, clutch hits to 4-1 win over Cubs

Nats ride Scherzer's dominance, clutch hits to 4-1 win over Cubs
This time, the Nationals put together a bunch of quality at-bats against the Cubs. And Max Scherzer was able to carve up Chicago's lineup, aside from the one ball that left the yard against him on an otherwise spectacular night on South Capitol Street. Behind Scherzer's pitching brilliance, Wilson Ramos' homer and clutch hits from Danny Espinosa and Ben Revere, the Nationals won the opener of their highly anticipated rematch series with the Cubs 4-1 before a fired-up crowd of...
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Scherzer racking up strikeouts vs. Cubs (Nats win 4-1)

Scherzer racking up strikeouts vs. Cubs (Nats win 4-1)
Think Max Scherzer might be a little fired up to face the Cubs for the first time since getting blasted out of Wrigley Field last month? Scherzer took the ball for tonight's series opener at Nationals Park and immediately started overwhelming Chicago's vaunted lineup with dominating stuff. Through three perfect innings, the right-hander already has eight strikeouts, conjuring up memories both of his 20-strikeout game against the Tigers earlier this season and his pair of no-hitters against...
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Baker offers up defense of Papelbon as Nats closer

Baker offers up defense of Papelbon as Nats closer
If asked what the biggest area of concern facing the Nationals is at this stage of the season, the most common answer likely would involve the bullpen, more specifically the closer's role. It's not that Jonathan Papelbon's performance to date has been egregiously poor. He is 16-for-18 in save opportunities. He has a 3.28 ERA. But there have been more than a couple of shaky outings along the way, some of which still ended in a successful save conversion (loading the bases in Philadelphia with...
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Game 64 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs

Game 64 lineups: Nats vs. Cubs
So you may have heard there's a pretty big series taking place here in town this week. The Cubs and Nationals are as big as it gets in baseball at this moment, owners of the two best records in the sport and loaded with star power. So it's no surprise the sport is going to be focused on South Capitol Street over the next three nights. Let's be honest, though: The Nationals need these games more than the Cubs do. Not that any series in mid-June is that important, certainly one that's not...
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Live Nationals video Q&A

Live Nationals video Q&A
We've been having plenty of fun doing the weekly Q&A's right here, but now it's time to expand it into something new and exciting: A live video Q&A. Yes, at 2 p.m., I'll be hosting a live video Q&A on our Facebook page (facebook.com/masnNationals) straight from Nationals Park in advance of the series opener against the Cubs. You can submit your questions in advance here in the comments section, on Twitter or directly on the Facebook page. You can also submit your questions live...
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Werth's clutch hit caps dramatic ninth-inning rally by Nats

Werth's clutch hit caps dramatic ninth-inning rally by Nats
As Maikel Franco rounded the bases, Jonathan Papelbon watched from the mound and a crowd of 34,294 at Nationals Park booed, Dusty Baker had just one thought from the dugout. "OK, Pap," the manager said in his mind to his closer. "We gave up one. Let's not give up any more. Because we can come back. It's a lot easier to get one than it is to get two to tie." A big league manager has to have positive thoughts, has to see every situation as glass half-full, lest his players pick up on his...
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Espinosa's home run barrage continues (Werth walk-off wins it)

Espinosa's home run barrage continues (Werth walk-off wins it)
Danny Espinosa is on some kind of home run barrage right now. The oft-maligned, light-hitting shortstop has been making a case for himself over the last two weeks with an impressive power display, and he is up to it again this afternoon. Espinosa's leadoff homer in the bottom of the second gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead over the Phillies and kept his run alive. He has now homered eight times in his last 14 games. This latest blast, on Adam Morgan's first pitch of the bottom of the second,...
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Will Cubs refuse to pitch to Bryce Harper again this week?

Will Cubs refuse to pitch to Bryce Harper again this week?
The Cubs are coming to town Monday, and so the question on everybody's mind this week is a simple one: Will they pitch to Bryce Harper? They most certainly did not last month when the Nationals visited Wrigley Field. Though he stepped up to the plate 19 times in that four-game series, Harper wound up with only four official at-bats. He was walked 13 times, four of them intentional. He tied the major league record with six walks in the series finale, part of a stretch of 12 consecutive plate...
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Game 63 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

Game 63 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies
After an early afternoon Saturday win over the Phillies, the Nationals now go for the series sweep in a late afternoon Sunday ballgame, with first pitch not scheduled until 4:05 p.m. (Reminder: All of this was done to create as much space as possible around last night's annual team charity gala.) The Nationals, who are looking to improve to a season-best 15 games over .500, send Joe Ross to the mound. Like Tanner Roark yesterday, Ross is making his third start this year against Phillies, and...
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With 100 games to go, Nationals starting to build a cushion

With 100 games to go, Nationals starting to build a cushion
There are different ways to break up the baseball season into chunks - 10 separate 16-games stretches, nine separate 18-game stretches, quarters, thirds, halves, etc. - and the Nationals are at one of those junctures right now. They've played 62 games, which means there are exactly 100 to go. Mathematically, it doesn't really mean much. The season is now 38.2716 percent complete. That's not a nice, round number. But there's something philosophically about there being exactly 100 games left...
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Nats breathing easier after week of lopsided victories

Nats breathing easier after week of lopsided victories
The 162-game season can be a meat grinder much of the time, with tense contests, tough decisions and constant roster-tinkering required for a team to navigate its way through six months and emerge on top. So when a team can enjoy a week like the Nationals just did, five times holding a lead of five runs or more en route to victory, it offers a much-welcomed respite for all those involved. "I'll tell you, it's good for the manager," Dusty Baker chuckled following the Nationals' 8-0 win over...
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Small ball produces early lead in D.C. (Nats win 8-0)

Small ball produces early lead in D.C. (Nats win 8-0)
The Nationals have relied on the home run often during their recent offensive surge. So far today, they're scoring runs the old-fashioned way: with a string of quality at-bats and timely base hits. Thanks to four singles, a hit-batter and a perfectly executed squeeze bunt, the Nationals racked up four runs in the bottom of the second this afternoon, storming out to an early lead against the Phillies. There were no long bombs in this rally, only a bunch of solid hits off right-hander Aaron Nola...
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Game 62 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

Game 62 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies
Slowly but surely, the Nationals are building their resume, piling up wins at a rate faster than any other big league club than the Cubs. They've now won eight of their last 11, moving to a season-best 13 games over .500. They're getting contributions from up and down their lineup. Their pitching staff continues to be among the best in the majors. And their defensive play remains outstanding. So the Nats will try to keep the ball rolling today, with an early 12:05 p.m. start against the...
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