Opposite dugout: Baker has Nationals back on track for postseason

washington-logo-small.pngManager: Dusty Baker (1st season)

Record: 73-50

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 2B Daniel Murphy (.345/.389/.607 with 23 HR, 89 RBIs), C Wilson Ramos (.322/.369/.526 with 19 HR, 67 RBIs), RF Bryce Harper (22 HR, 68 RBIs), RHP Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.87 ERA), RHP Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.59 ERA), RHP Mark Melancon (1.41 ERA with 36 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (2-4 in 2015)

Pitching probables:

Aug. 22: RHP Stephen Strasburg vs. RHP Dylan Bundy, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Aug. 23: RHP Reynaldo Lopez vs. RHP Kevin Gausman, 7:05 p.m., MASN
Aug. 24: LHP Wade Miley vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 25: RHP Chris Tillman vs. RHP Max Scherzer, 7:05 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Nationals:

First-year manager Dusty Baker has proven to be the perfect fit for the Nationals. His laid-back personality outside of the dugout and his down-to-business attitude in it has provided a breath of fresh air into the Nats clubhouse and propelled the team to an 8 1/2-game lead in the National League East, the second-biggest division lead in the majors.

But Baker isn't the only new face in 2016 that's provided a spark for the Nationals. Former Met and reigning NL Championship Series MVP Daniel Murphy has proven to be the best signing of last offseason. After signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract, Murphy is ties for NL lead in batting average (.345) and leads the league in slugging (.607) and OPS (.996). He also has a second-best 89 RBIs to go along with 23 home runs, both career highs to put him in the league MVP conversation.

Joining Murphy in that conversation is catcher Wilson Ramos, who is also having a career-best season. Ramos, who attributes this season's success to offseason LASIK eye surgery, is slashing a career-high .322/.369/.526 with 19 homers (another career high) and 67 RBIs. The seasons enjoyed by Murphy and Ramos have filled the void of Bryce Harper's disappointing follow-up to his historic MVP season last year. Although he's hit 22 home runs with 68 RBIs, Harper is only batting .246 this season. However, he is slashing .400/.526/.700 with two longballs and 11 RBIs in eight games since coming back from a five-game absence over seven days with a neck injury.

Also contributing to the Nats lineup is left fielder Jayson Werth, who is coming off franchise record-tying 46 game on-base streak that ended on Friday night in Atlanta. Before entering the game as a late sub in yesterday's finale against the Braves, third baseman Anthony Rendon was slashing .336/.400/.609 with six homers and 24 RBIs since July 16. And while shortstop Danny Espinosa doesn't hit for average too well, he provides some pop to the lineup with 18 home runs and 58 RBIs. Keep an eye (if you can) on speedy Trea Turner atop the Nationals lineup. The natural shortstop who has been playing second base and center field has 17 extra-base hits, 28 runs scored, 20 RBIs and 13 stolen bases since July 10.

Stephen Strasburg had been the leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award this season, but his last three starts have not been very award-worthy. After starting 13-0, Strasburg is 15-4 with a 3.59 ERA on the season, going 0-3 with a 14.66 ERA over those last three outings. He is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts against the Orioles but has never taken the mound at Camden Yards. 22-year-old Reynaldo Lopez will take the mound for the second game in Baltimore. A top prospect in the Nationals' farm system, Lopez has gone 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA over four starts since his major league debut on July 19. In his last outing, he struck out 11 Braves over seven innings while giving up two runs, only one of which was earned.

Tanner Roark has become a staple of the back end of the Nationals rotation after going back and forth between starting and relieving last year. He is posting a 13-6 record with a 2.87 ERA as he takes the mound when the series shifts to our nation's capital on Wednesday. But Roark has struggled against the Birds, going 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA, his highest against any opponent, in three appearances (two starts) versus the Orioles. Then Max Scherzer will take the mound in the Battle of the Beltways finale on Thursday. The former American League Cy Young Award winner has pitched to a 13-7 record and 3.05 ERA in his second season in D.C. Against the Orioles, Scherzer is 4-2 with a 3.81 ERA in eight starts.

Closer has been an issue for the Nationals over the past couple of years, but it seems they may have finally found their man in Mark Melancon. After a deal with the Pirates before the non-waiver trade deadline that sent lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and a minor leaguer to Pittsburgh (and the eventual release of former closer Jonathan Papelbon), Melancon has allowed just one run in 9 1/3 innings with the Nats.

And because I know you're wondering, here are some quick numbers on the Nationals-Orioles rivalry (since the Nats came to D.C. in 2005):

* The Orioles lead the all-time series 33-23, going 17-11 at home and 16-12 at Nats Park
* The Orioles won last year's season series 4-2, winning all three games in D.C.
* The Nationals have only won one season series, going 4-2 in 2007
* The season series has been split three times, each 3-3 in 2006, 2008 and 2011
* Neither team has ever swept the season series

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