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Things are not adding up for the Nationals right now


Here is the current state of the Nationals, summed up in one inning of baseball played Tuesday night during a 6-1 loss to the Mets:

They scored a run without producing a hit. Then their first hit of the game actually prevented a run from scoring.

Something’s just not adding up at the moment for a Nationals club that at times looks like the most-dominant team in the National League yet lately has been finding creative and agonizing ways to lose ballgames, and as a result just can’t create much space between itself and the Braves in the NL East.

“I think the way the season’s gone, the way it’s happened with injuries and guys being banged up all year, I think we’re in a pretty good spot,” Jayson Werth said. “We’re finally healthy, and I think we’re playing pretty good baseball. I think the distance will come in time.

“I feel like we’re going to go on a run here at some point, too. I like where we’re at. I like the way we’re playing night-in and night-out. We’ve been pitching good, the defense has been good, the hitting’s been good for the most part. The last couple nights we haven’t been able to get the big hit. But all in all, I feel like we’re in a good spot.”

That may prove to be the case, but at the moment, the Nationals remain in first place in the NL East more a result of the Braves’ struggles — they carried a 6-game losing streak into last night’s late game against Felix Hernandez in Seattle — than as a result of their own consistently impressive play.

They’ve now lost 8-of-13 games since Ryan Zimmerman suffered a serious hamstring strain in Colorado, and their lineup appears to be suffering for it. Though they’ve averaged 12 men on base in each of those 13 games, they’ve scored an average of only 3.5 runs. (Throw out Saturday’s 11-run explosion against the Phillies and that number drops to 2.9.)

The opportunities certainly were there for the taking Tuesday against Zack Wheeler and the Mets. Wheeler put seven men on base during a 10-batter stretch in the second and third innings, yet the only run he surrendered came via a wild pitch (following three walks).

And the hit that actually prevented a run from scoring? It came off Jose Lobaton’s bat, with runners on second and third and one out in the second. Trouble is, it struck teammate Asdrubal Cabrera as he tried to advance from second to third. By rule, Cabrera was out, Lobaton was awarded a single and Ian Desmond had to return to third base. Had Cabrera avoided contact, the groundout would’ve scored Desmond. Instead, the Nats got nothing out of it.

“I didn’t see that ball coming towards me,” Cabrera said. “He hit it hard enough that I didn’t even know. I thought it was right to my left.”

That was probably the low point of the night, though it was hardly the Nationals’ only squandered opportunity at the plate. They also twice hit into double plays with two on and nobody out (Werth and pinch-hitter Steven Souza Jr. were the culprits), saw Werth thrown out at the plate on Adam LaRoche’s sixth-inning single and saw Desmond strand six men on base via two comebackers and a strikeout.

“There’s no common thread,” manager Matt Williams insisted. “There’s no way to say: ‘OK, this is because, this is why.’ No, I mean, I haven’t seen a guy get hit with a batted ball in a while. He tried to skip over it. The ball actually was hit pretty hard by Loby and it skipped off the grass and it just nicked him. It happens sometimes. It seems like it’s going the wrong way the last couple of days, but we can turn that around tomorrow.”

The Nationals will give it another shot Wednesday night. They’ve got two more games with the Mets before heading to Atlanta for a crucial weekend series, hoping they can create enough cushion between themselves and the Braves to ensure they leave town in first place no matter the result.

“We’re pretty much aware of everything,” Werth said. “We know what’s going on around here. I feel like we’re in control of our game and where we’re at in the season. I just feel like at some point we’re going to go on a roll and rattle off some wins. We’ve got some division games coming up. August-September is really the time to go on a roll if you’re going to do it. I feel like we’re poised to finish this thing off, but we’ve got to continue to play good.”

ALDS, Game 2: Rangers vs. Blue Jays lineups

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Here are the Rangers and Blue Jays lineups for Game 2 of the ALDS in Toronto:

CF Delino DeShields
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Prince Fielder
1B Mitch Moreland
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
2B Rougned Odor
C Chris Gimenez
3B Hanser Alberto

SP Cole Hamels

Adrian Beltre is out of the starting lineup after leaving Game 1 with what appeared to be a significant back injury, leaving Hanser Alberto to fill in at third base. With a right-hander on the mound Mike Napoli goes to the bench and Mitch Moreland starts at first base, and manager Jeff Banister also switched up the batting order a bit without Beltre in the No. 3 spot. Robinson Chirinos homered in Game 1, but he takes a seat in Game 2 so that Chris Gimenez can catch Cole Hamels.

LF Ben Revere
3B Josh Donaldson
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Chris Colabello
C Russell Martin
2B Ryan Goins
CF Kevin Pillar

SP Marcus Stroman

Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista are both in the starting lineup after leaving Game 1 with injuries, which is particularly good news in Donaldson’s case because he suffered a potentially serious head injury sliding into second base. Toronto’s only change from Game 1 is subbing Chris Colabello for Justin Smoak at first base with a left-hander on the mound. There’s right-handed power all over the place, so Hamels’ changeup may be the key to the entire game.

Royals will bring back Yordano Ventura to start Game 4

Yordano Ventura
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Thursday night’s rain delay cut Yordano Ventura‘s start short after just two innings, as the Royals opted to turn to reliever Chris Young instead of bringing the 24-year-old right-hander back out to the mound following the delay.

One benefit to that is what manager Ned Yost has decided to do now, which is use Ventura to start Game 4 on Monday. Had he thrown, say, 102 pitches instead of 42 pitches Ventura likely would have started Game 5, forcing the Royals to go four starters deep in their ALDS rotation.

Ventura struggled before the delay Monday, allowing three runs in two innings. However, he finished the regular season by going 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 68 innings over his final 11 starts, which was enough to convince Yost he was the right pitcher to start Game 1 rather than trade deadline pickup Johnny Cueto.

Playoff Reset: Four games in one day!

Cole Hamels

Oh baby.

There’s baseball from noon to midnight today, with a pair of Game 2s in the American League and a pair of Game 1s in the National League.

Tons of great starting pitchers–including the best in the world and a trio of big-name trade deadline acquisitions–and we’ll find out if a home team can actually win a game after starting the playoffs 0-4.

The Game: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
The Time: 12:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Rogers Centre, Toronto
The Channel: MLB Network
The Starters: Cole Hamels vs. Marcus Stroman
The Upshot: Stroman coming back from what was deemed a season-ending knee injury in spring training to start Game 2 of the ALDS is a helluva story and the Blue Jays need him to come up big after David Price failed to do his part in Game 1. Yovani Gallardo somehow wriggled out of trouble against Toronto’s scary lineup, but as a left-hander Hamels has an even tougher assignment versus the never-ending right-handed power. Assuming it’s all in the lineup, of course. There are big health question marks for both sides, as Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista all exited Game 1 with injuries and their respective statuses could swing the balance of power in the series.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 3:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
The Channel: FOX Sports 1
The Starters: Scott Kazmir vs. Johnny Cueto
The Upshot: Two headline-grabbing trade deadline pickups with a lot to prove, as Kazmir and Cueto both struggled for their new teams. Cueto was bumped back to Game 2 after being acquired to front the Royals’ rotation and there was some speculation that Kazmir might not even have a spot in the ALDS rotation. Kansas City losing Game 1 last night and Houston having Dallas Keuchel waiting in the wings for Game 3 puts a ton of pressure on Cueto’s shoulders. Generally one of the toughest pitchers to homer against, he allowed 10 homers in 13 starts for the Royals and the Astros’ power-packed lineup will put him to the test all afternoon. Can the defending AL champs get off the mat quickly or will they head to Houston in need of a win to keep the season alive?

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 6:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Upshot: Former Red Sox teammates Lester and Lackey square off in Game 1 of the first ever playoff series between two of the biggest rivals in baseball, with the Cubs fresh off their Wild Card game triumph over the Pirates and the Cardinals coming off an MLB-high 100 wins. Yadier Molina‘s ability to play through a thumb injury will be key for the Cardinals and it’ll also be interesting to see how much faith manager Mike Matheny has in Adam Wainwright to get late-inning outs as a reliever after returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
The Upshot: Quite a way to finish an entire day of baseball, as the Mets go looking for their first playoff win since 2006 and Kershaw tries to cement his legacy as an all-time great by dominating in the playoffs like he does in the regular season. And don’t overlook deGrom, because last year’s Rookie of the Year winner has a 2.61 ERA and 349 strikeouts in 331 innings since debuting last May. Among all starters with at least 300 innings during the past two seasons Kershaw ranks first in ERA and deGrom ranks fourth, with Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke in the 2-3 slots. This is a speculator pitching matchup.