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The Washington Nationals might have a healthy lead on the pack, but they're sprinting to the finish line. Up 7.5 games on the Atlanta Braves, the Nats have reeled off five straight after sweeping the Cubs and are looking for more as they turn their attention to the last place Marlins.
The NL East is more or less locked up: with 25 games left, the Nats' magic number for a division victory and the team's first playoff bid since the move to Washington is 18. The second-place team, the Braves, is fine with that, as they have a five-game lead in the hunt for a Wild Card berth. The main drama left in the season seems to be who will earn the second berth amongst the Cardinals, Pirates, and Dodgers - and of course, the battle Washington's Mid-Atlantic neighbors down the road in Baltimore have on their hands for the AL East lead with the New York Yankees.
Here's a peek at the NL East standings before Friday night's games:
The Washington Nationals completed a four-game sweep of the lowly Cubs on Thursday with another loud evening at the plate. The Nats hammered Chicago starter Justin Germano on their way to a 9-2 blowout win. After hitting six homers in back-to-back games, the Nationals went deep twice more Thursday. Adam LaRoche capped the scoring with his fifth homer of the series -- a two-run shot in the sixth that just cleared the fence. The ball hit off the hands of a fan in the front row, but replay review upheld the homer for the red-hot LaRoche. The Nats' first baseman has six homers through the first six days of the month and is emerging as an MVP candidate.
Kurt Suzuki also went deep for the Nationals, taking a 1-2 offering from Germano over the left-field wall in the second inning. The blast came with two men on and gave Washington a 4-2 lead. Suzuki finished the night three for five.
The Nationals then blew things open with another three-run rally in the fourth, and frustrations would boil over for the Cubs one inning later during another bases-loaded threat. Back-to-back bench clearing incidents resulted in four ejections, but no real physical skirmish.
On the mound, Jordan Zimmermann picked up his first career win against the Cubs. He struck out nine and allowed just five hits in seven innings of work. He ensured the Nats would complete the sweep, allowing the offense to take over for the fourth straight night.
The Nats have now won eight of their last nine games and are 33 games over .500.
It started in the bottom of the fifth inning when Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk starting angrily shouting from the dugout. The Cubs are obviously frustrated by the one-sided four-game series and up 7-2, the Nationals stole two bases in the fifth -- likely turning some of their frustration to anger. Quirk might also have been upset that Werth had swung at a 3-0 pitch with the five-run lead. Nationals third-base coach Bo Porter went over to the railing to give it back to Quirk and the benches cleared during the contretemps. No punches were thrown and Quirk was ejected.
Then, in the sixth inning, Cubs reliever Lendy Castillo threw an inside pitch at Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. Castillo missed Harper, but play was halted as the rookie stepped out and sent his thoughts to the mound. The benches cleared and there was plenty of jawing back and forth, with minor pushing and shoving on both sides. Michael Morse and Edwin Jackson seemed the most worked up on the Washington side of things. Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger came into the confrontation hot, initiating the pushing and riling up both Morse and Jackson. Clevenger and Chicago reliever Manuel Corpas were ejected for Chicago. Michael Gonzalez of the Nationals was also sent to the showers for overheating as the bullpens made their way back to the outfield. Castillo was allowed to remain in the game. Warnings were issued to both sides.
Washington leads, 9-2 after six innings.
The Nationals have been on a tear of late, and yesterday they pounded the Chicago Cubs in a 9-1 rout. They'll finish off their three game series this evening, as the Nationals will look to go for the sweep and build on their seven game lead in the NL East. The lineups have dropped, and both of them are found below. First pitch in this one is scheduled for 7:05 PM.
1) Jayson Werth RF
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The Washington Nationals are steamrolling just about everybody these days. They did it again on Wednesday night, beating the Chicago Cubs 9-1 at Nationals Park to take the third game of a four-game series.
Gio Gonzalez was looking for his 18th win of the season and found it with considerable ease. The southpaw was brilliant through seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and no walks while striking out nine.
The big story on offense was the home-run barrage unleashed by the Nats on Chris Volstad, who picked up the loss for Chicago to drop his record to 2-10.
Washington hit six homers for the second straight evening, including two by Bryce Harper and one apiece by Roger Bernadina, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche. All of the blasts were of the solo variety except for LaRoche's, which was a two-run shot.
Washington Nationals reliever will miss the rest of the Cubs series with elbow inflammation.
The lineups have been announced for Wednesday's game in which the Washington Nationals will look to build on their 11-5 Tuesday win and lock up the series win against the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals are giving their usual leadoff man Jayson Werth the day off with Roger Bernadina getting the start in CF. Bryce Harper is back in the starting lineup at RF after hitting a double in his only plate appearance Tuesday.
Full lineups below:
Labor Day is in the past and for the first time since 1997, the Baltimore Orioles own a share of the American League East lead.
Despite being 10 games behind the New York Yankees just a few months ago, Buck Showalter's club has clawed all the way back thanks to a great bullpen and a potent lineup. Now, the two teams will meet on Thursday for a four-game set at Camden Yards in the biggest series that stadium has since in well over a decade.
The AL Central is also a thrilling race with the Chicago White Sox owning just a game lead on the Detroit Tigers. Jim Leyland's group looked ready to take off, but now has faltered in two straight against the hapless Cleveland Indians.
In the National League, the Washington Nationals continue to show why they'll be one of the teams to beat come October. The Nationals are winners of three straight and currently own a 7.5 game lead over the challenging Atlanta Braves.
The Cincinnati Reds are counting the days down until they clinch the NL Central with such a huge lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. However, the Wild Card race for the second spot is tight with the Los Angeles Dodgers battling it out as along with the two aforementioned teams.
For a full look at the standings, click here.
The southpaw has a miniscule 3.10 ERA and has dominated down the stretch. In his last start, Gonzalez picked up the win against the St. Louis Cardinals by spinning a complete game shutout.
The Cubs have had a rough campaign, and so has Chris Volstad. Volstad will be opposing Gonzalez seeking his third win of the year to go against his nine losses. The ex-Marlin has over a 6.00 ERA and is easily suffering through the worst season of his career.
However, Volstad did pick up a win against the San Francisco Giants in his most recent appearance, throwing 5.2 innings and surrendering just two runs.
Time: 7:05 p.m. ET
The Washington Nationals cruised to an 11-5 blowout win over the lowly Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night. The offense exploded early on, chasing rookie starter Chris Rusin in the second inning of his second MLB start. The Cubs bullpen didn't fare much better, as the Nats finished the evening with six homers and 19 hits. The offense has been red-hot since returning home last week but the six homers tied a record since the franchise relocated to DC.
Everyone in the Nationals lineup got in on the act on Tuesday but Adam LaRoche continued his hot streak with a 4-4 evening. LaRoche launched two solo homers, grooving one to center and one to right. His second shot in the 8th wrapped up the 11-run evening as he effortlessly launched it 15 rows deep into the right-field seats. He's now three homers shy of 30 and also closing in on 100 RBIs.
In addition to LaRoche, lead-off hitter Jayson Werth also posted a four-hit night. Werth had three singles and a double, driving in one and scoring two more. Ian Desmond, Jesus Flores, Tyler Moore and Ryan Zimmerman joined LaRoche in going deep during the parade of hits. Moore's two-run blast came just two batters after LaRoche took Rafael Dolls deep in the fourth. Zimmerman led off the sixth with a drive to center that pushed the lead to 9-4.
With the big lead early in the game, starter Edwin Jackson settled in and simply tried to pound the zone. He struck out eight in 5.2 innings, giving way to Christian Garcia in the sixth after the Cubs put together a three-run rally. Jackson improved to 9-9 with the win.
The win combined with a Braves loss on Tuesday pushed Washington's lead to 7.5 games in the standings. Gio Gonzalez will take the hill on Wednesday as the Nats try to clinch the four-game series.
Ian Desmond corked a two-run homer in the first, but the real trouble started in the second. After a lead-off homer by Jesus Flores, Rusin allowed Nats pitcher Edwin Jackson to single, then gave up a pair of doubles to Jayson Werth and Desmond, whose two-bagger netted another two runs to give him four RBI on the evening. After that, Rusin's evening was done, replaced by another inexperienced pitcher, Jaye Chapman, who is making his debut. That puts Washington up 5-0 after two innings of play, as Jackson only allowed one hit in the first inning.
Rusin was a tough-luck loser Aug. 21 after giving up one run in five innings in his Major League debut against Milwaukee. The 25-year-old from the University of Kentucky was a fourth-round pick by Chicago in 2009.
After two months on the disabled list, Chien-Ming Wang is back with the Washington Nationals, although it's unclear what use the team has for the pitcher who has struggled in his two years in Washington.
Wang was 2-3 with a 7.61 ERA in seven appearances for the Nats this season before hitting the disabled list with a hip strain. He's looked worse in rehab, posting an 8.26 ERA in 35 innings of minor league work, most recently a two-inning, six-run outing for Double-A Harrisburg. As of right now, he's a sinker specialist who "has not been able to get his sinker down in the zone".
Wang was once promising for the Yankees, earning 19 wins in back-to-back season and finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2006. But he's only pitched in 18 games over two years with Washington while struggling with injuries, and doesn't seem like a feasible option. With the Nationals headed toward the playoffs, it's not clear how they'll use Wang, besides mop-up duty. He certainly isn't the answer to replacing Stephen Strasburg in the rotation, and will most likely come out of the bullpen.
The Washington Nationals' lineup for Tuesday's contest against the Chicago Cubs has been posted, and the biggest notable change is the absence of outfielder Bryce Harper, who is getting a day off. Replacing Harper in center field will be Jayson Werth, while shortstop Ian Desmond will claim the rookie's No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Here's the Nationals complete lineup:
The Cubs have also posted their lineup:
In other roster news, the Nats recalled outfielder Corey Brown from Triple-A Syracuse. Brown, the Oakland Athletics' first-round selection in the 2007 MLB draft, is getting his first crack at the big leagues. With the Chiefs, Brown had a .285 batting average with 25 home runs, 71 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
With a winning season now locked up, the Washington Nationals will look to build on their MLB-best record on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs. Edwin Jackson will be on the hill for the second game of the four-game set. While he's been impressive and steady all year, the Nats will rely on the veteran righty even more now that Stephen Strasburg's season is winding down next week. Jackson is coming off another strong start, striking out 10 and not allowing an earned run against the Cardinals in eight innings of work.
The Cubs, who have the second-worst record in the National League, are trying to snap a three-game losing streak by putting Chris Rusin on the hill. It will be just the second career start for the 25-year-old lefty. He gave up just one hit and a run in a start against the Brewers two weeks ago. The Cubs are essentially playing out the string at this point, trying to get a look at some of their younger guys with the expanded September rosters. Rusin will have his work cut out for him, as the Nationals lineup has been red hot over the past six games and over this homestand.
First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park.
The Chicago Cubs tried to make a late rally, but the Nationals held on for a 2-1 win on Monday afternoon. The win makes the Nationals 82-52 on the season, guaranteeing them a winning season, the first for the Nationals/Expos franchise since 2003. It will be the first winning season for a Washington-based club since manager Ted Williams guided the 1969 Washington Nationals to an 86-76 record, good for fourth place in the American League East behind Baltimore, Detroit, and Boston.
Adam LaRoche put Washington ahead in the bottom of the second inning when he tagged Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija for a solo home run to right field. The solo blast was LaRoche's 25th of the season.
The Nationals added on the crucial run in the bottom of the eighth on a double down the left-field line by Ryan Zimmerman. Bryce Harper used his speed to score from first on the play, giving Washington the eventual winning run.
Tyler Clippard came on to pitch the top of the ninth and got two out before a Wellington Castillo single scored Anthony Rizzo to make it 2-1 and put the pressure on. Pinch runner Tony Campana reached second on a throwing error by Clippard, but the reliever slammed the door, striking out Josh Vitter to seal the victory and pick up his 30th save of the season.
One negative of the day for the Nationals was leftfielder Michael Morse leaving the game in the fourth inning with a sore right thumb.
Game two of the series is tomorrow at Nationals Park with first pitch at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Duke has bounced around quite a bit in his major league career. The 29-year-old has pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks, compiling a 48-74 record. In seven years, Duke had a 4.56 ERA and gave up well over a hit per inning.
Garcia, on the other hand, will be seeing his first big-league action. The Miami native was originally a third-round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 2005 and made it to Double-A before he moved on to the Nats system.
In his minor league career, Garcia has been very effective at every level and has a combined 2.69 ERA. Both could help Washington out of the bullpen as the season winds to a close.
Ross Detwiler looks to keep the Nats going strong into a series against a Cubs team enduring a bad stretch of play.
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