Archive for the ‘Adam LaRoche’ Category

The Nats’ Season Ends In San Francisco

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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A strangely quiet line-up, a misplayed grounder, a well-placed bunt, a defensive gem, and a wild pitch ended Washington’s season on Tuesday night, as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Washington Nationals, 3-2. The defeat ended the Nationals season, as the Giants now go on to face the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League championship.

The difference in this series, as any Nationals fan will tell you, was Washington’s strangely quiet line-up. While Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper hit well against Giants’ pitching in the series, San Francisco was able to consistently quiet the bats of Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond — the heart of Washington’s offense.

The same was true on Tuesday, with a medley of Giants pitchers (from starter Ryan Vogelsong to closer Hunter Strickland) throwing on oh-fer to Span (0-4), Werth (0-3), LaRoche (0-4), and Desmond, who notched a single hit. Even the normally productive Anthony Rendon (0-4) proved unable to provide the Nationals with needed offense.

The misplayed grounder on Tuesday came in the 2nd inning, when a hit back to the pitcher off the bat of Juan Perez was muffed by Nationals southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez, putting two Giants runners on base with no one out. A well-placed bunt (by Ryan Vogelsong) one batter later loaded the bases, with the Giants then scoring two runs — on a walk to Gregor Blanco and a Joe Panik ground out to first, which scored Perez.

Did Gonzalez pitch well? The 2-0 score at the end of two reflected the reality of the series: the Giants were moving runners on bloops, bleeders, walks and errors — a habit of championship teams. They were finding a way to win. At no time was this more apparent than in the 6th inning, when a long drive off the bat of Jayson Werth was snagged by right fielder Hunter Pence, who made a Roberto Clemente-like back-to-the-wall catch.

But the game came down to a Nationals miscue in the 7th inning, when Nats fireballer Aaron Barrett came on in relief of Matt Thornton and walked Pence to load the bases. Barrett then threw a wild pitch to Pablo Sandoval, which scored Panik with the go-ahead and eventual winning run.

Barrett made up for the gaffe when he tagged out Buster Posey after blooping a ball to the backstop on an intentional walk, but the damage was done — and San Francisco was the 3-2 winner of the game, and the victor in the series. “I got lucky, obviously, with the wild pitch,” Barrett said after the loss. “The bottom line is I didn’t make pitches when I had to, and it ended up costing us the game.”

If there was a Washington hero for the loss, it was Bryce Harper, who showed that he can be a big-game player in a winner-take-all series. Harper ripped his third homer of the Nats-Giants toe-to-toe in the top of the 7th inning on a 97-mph Hunter Strickland fastball, a long and deep fly ball that ended up in McCovey Cove.

“This is tough,” center fielder Denard Span said after the loss. “We didn’t play well all series. That’s the bottom line. The Giants made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. The little things added up.” Nats skipper Matt Williams called the defeat “bitter,” but praised his team for their 96 win season. “I’m proud of them,” he said.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Winners go on to play another day, while losers talk about things like “perspective” — as in, “I know we lost, but let’s put this in perspective.” Still, it’s worth standing back, particularly after a season-ending loss like the one last night, to talk about history . . .

Back in 2010 I wore my ‘Curly W’ hat to the Roy Halladay-Tim Lincecum post-season face-off in Philadelphia, calculating that no one would really look to see whether the cap bore the trademark Philadelphia “P.” I was mostly right, though one Philadelphia fan gave me a puzzled look: “Really?” he asked, eying my hat. “Why would you root for such a loser . . .”

I might have told him that if anyone should know about losing it was a fan of the Philadelphia Stinking Phillies, Established in 1883, it took the Phillies 22 years to just appear in a championship game (which they did, in 1915), and just under one hundred years to win their first one, which came in 1980 . . .

If you study the Phillies or Cubs or White Sox or Twins or Braves (or just about anyone else, perhaps, excepting the Cardinals and Yankees) you realize that it sometimes takes years to build a winner — and a little bit of luck to win it all even when you have one . . .

That’s true for the Nationals too. It’s taken ten years for the Nationals’ front office to build a winner, but it might have taken a lot longer. Back in 2008, the Nationals offered a huge contract to Mark Teixeira, and were disappointed when he decided to sign with the New York Yankees. He signed with them because they were a “winner” . . .

But here’s the thing: If Teixeira had signed with the Nationals, the team might have had a stronger 2009 and finished with, say, 63 wins instead of 59. Which means? Which means that Bryce Harper would probably be playing in Pittsburgh (or in Baltimore) instead of in Washington . . .

So what would you rather have — Mark Teixeira playing first base, or Bryce Harper in left field? Which is why we take universal take-it-to-the-bank judgments about baseball (or about anything else, for that matter) with more than a grain of salt . . .

We’re going to hear a lot of such judgements in the days ahead: the Nats loss to the Giants shows “they’re not ready for prime time,” that the Nats don’t know how to don’t “step up on the big stage,” that skipper Matt Williams “needs seasoning,” that the Nationals need to show some “character . . . ”

What a bunch of baloney. This has nothing to do with character. The Giants didn’t win their series against the Nationals because they’re better citizens, they won it because they hit some timely bleeders and some down-the-third base line bunts . . .

Perspective? How this for perspective: If the “just a little outside” Zimmermann called “ball” in game two had been called a “strike,” we’d still be playing . . .

It was a great season. It was fun to watch. The Nationals are a fine baseball team. They didn’t win it all, but that’s the way it goes . . .

So here’s the argument for perspective. When you lose a series like this one, you pack up your bats, you hop on the airplane, you start planning for next year — and you live to fight another day. In almost everything else, that’s never an option . . .

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It’s Nats-Giants In NLDS

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

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Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, 8-0, propelling San Francisco into the National League Division Series, where they will face the Washington Nationals. Bumgarner threw a complete game four hitter in leading the Giants.

The Giants’ win came off the arm of Bumgarner, and the bats of shortstop Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. Crawford hit a grand slam home run in the fourth inning to give San Francisco a four run lead, while Belt chipped away at Pirates pitching with two hits and three RBIs.

“We got outplayed tonight,” Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker said after his team was eliminated from the post season. “Bumgarner went out there, he did what he wanted to do. He put up the strike zone and he made it tough on us.”

The Giants victimized Pittsburgh starter Edinson Volquez, who was rocked for five runs in just five innings of work. The Pirates followed with five relievers, but Pittsburgh’s hitters still couldn’t get to Bumgarner, who threw 109 pitches in the game, 79 of them for strikes.

The Giants win sets up a five game series with the Nationals in Washington. The Nats are expected to throw ace Stephen Strasburg in the opening game of the series on Friday, while the Giants will throw veteran Jake Peavy and follow with another veteran, Tim Hudson. The Nationals took five of the seven games in which they faced the Giants this year.

While Washington has yet to make its final roster and starting rotation decisions, the team is expected to follow Strasburg with Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Gio Gonzalez will be the sole Washington lefty starter should Washington need him. The first game of the series will be played at 3 pm on Friday at Nationals Park.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Washington’s Internet Baseball Writers Association announced their 2014 player awards on Wednesday, and CFG was one of the voters. Anthony Rendon took top honors among the voters in winning the Goose Goslin Most Valuable Player Award while Jordan Zimmermann was named the winner of the Walter Johnson starting pitcher award . . .

Centerfield Gate was outside this mainstream: we voted Denard Span the team MVP and Doug Fister the team’s best starting pitcher (this was before we saw Zimmermman’s no-hitter, which might have changed our vote). Drew Storen received the best reliever award, while Adam LaRoche was named the teams best slugger . . .

It’s worth reviewing the season’s final player stats — to show just how solid the Nationals were in the regular season. Washington’s Span led the the N.L. in hits (tied with Philadelphia’s Ben Revere), Anthony Rendon was fifth and Jayson Werth was in the top 30 . . .

Anthony Rendon led the league in runs scored (with 111), while Werth was third in OBP (.394). Rendon and Span were fourth in doubles, Adam LaRoche was fifth in RBIs and Span was fifth in stolen bases. It was a solid year for the team at the plate (fifth in BA, fourth in OBP, fifth in Slugging, fourth in OPS) . . .

But no one outshone the Nationals on the mound, where Washington finished first in team ERA, was second in the league in shutouts (behind the Dodgers) and gave up fewer walks than anyone. Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann finished in the top ten in ERA, while Stephen Strasburg finished tied with Johnny Cueto for the league lead in strikeouts . . .

The Nationals had the second best bullpen in the National League (just behind San Diego, and measured by bullpen ERA), and has to be accounted as having one of the best benches. The Nats weighed in with the best record in the National League, at 96-66. But the most important test yet remains, and it begins tomorrow — against the Giants . . .

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Nats Poised To Win The East After 3-0 New York Victory

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals continued their dominance of the New York Mets on Sunday, notching a convincing 3-0 victory that extended their lead to ten games over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The victory brought the Nats record against the Mets to 13-3 for the year, with the team winning nine of ten games at Citi Field.

Oddly, the Mets have a winning record against the rest of baseball, and would finish the season above .500 were it not for their record against the Nationals. That is, while the Mets are 3-13 against the Nats, they are 69-65 against everyone else.

The Nationals win came against Mets starter Jonathon Niese, who stymied Washington’s offense until Wilson Ramos blasted a two run home run against the looming southpaw in the key 7th inning. The loss was Niese’s eleventh of the season, as the Mets record fell to 72-78 on the 2014 campaign.

“Towards the end of the year you want to play your best baseball,” Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann said after the victory, “and I think we’re doing that.” Zimmermann added that he thought it would be “really great” for Washington “to win this whole thing” in their upcoming away series in Atlanta. The win in New York marked Zimmermann’s sixth consecutive win.

Zimmermann threw a solid 6.2 innings, striking out five, in registering his twelth win of the season. The Ace of Auburndale was able to wriggle out of number of tough jams in his six-plus innings of work, which included a bases loaded threat in the bottom of the 4th. The Mets were 0-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Nationals banged out eight hits versus New York pitching, with Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond both continuing their hot-as-a-firecracker September. Werth and Desmond were both 2-4 on the day, with Desmond crossing the plate twice. The Saturday win followed a 10-3 butchering on the Mets on Saturday.

The Nationals bullpen once again provided a stellar outing in relief of Zimmermann. Lefty Matt Thornton and righty Tyler Clippard pitched the Nationals through the 7th and 8th innings, with Drew Storen closing the game in the 9th. Storen picked up his fifth save on the season.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals, at 85-63, own the best record in the National League — by a single game over the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are 84-64. The Los Angeles Angels, with 93 wins lead all of baseball, while the Baltimore Orioles have 88 wins and are nearly shoo-ins to win the A.L. East . . .

The Nationals will now travel to Atlanta, where they will line-up against the Braves in a crucial three game series. The Nationals could seal a division championship with a sweep, while Atlanta needs to win to stay relevant in the Wild Card race in the National League. Atlanta trails the Giants and Pirates by three-and-a-half games in the Wild Card race . . .

The Braves have dropped two in a row to Texas Rangers, the worst team in baseball. Braves fans aren’t happy about it. “Braves lose to Rangers, season all but over,” Braves blog Talking Chop headlined yesterday. The “offense is completely broken” Talking Chop reported, but then focused on Atlanta’s defensive problems . . .

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LaRoche, Rendon Power Nats Past Mets

Friday, September 12th, 2014

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On a night when beanballs and inside pitches seemed to dominate the game (and which saw Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton go down in Milwaukee), home runs from Adam LaRoche and Anthony Rendon sparked a 6-2 Nationals win against the Mets at New York’s Citi Field.

LaRoche continued his hot hitting in September and has turned into a Mets killer. He is hitting .361 against the Mets this year and is hitting .393 with five home runs and 15 RBIs since September 5. LaRoche has turned into the Nats dominant bat in the final run to October.

The Nationals victory came at the expense of New York starter Bartolo Colon, who had his own problems with inside pitches. After LaRoche homered in the first to score two runs, Colon hit the next batter, shortstop Ian Desmond. When Anthony Rendon homered in the fourth, Colon then hit Jayson Werth — and Colon was tossed from the game.

While it was obvious that Colon had hit Werth on purpose, the Nationals right fielder later said he wouldn’t speculate on whether that was the case: “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter what I think,” Werth told reporters. “The umpire thought so. He hit Desi earlier in the game after a homer. He hit me right after. The home-plate umpire thought that was enough.”

While the Nationals ended up putting six runs on the board, the two home runs (and the four runs they plated) would be all that Washington needed. The Nationals were rewarded with a solid performance from starter Tanner Roark, who threw 6.1 innings, giving up seven hits and just two earned runs.

“I was commanding both sides of the plate. I’m not trying to nibble. I’m trying to make pitches, but trying to go right after them,” Roark said of his performance.

The Colon HPB’s earned retaliation from the Nationals, as reliever Matt Thornton hit Daniel Murphy in the bottom of the 8th. Murphy left the game with a contusion on his wrist and is reportedly day-to-day.

The Nationals also got solid pitching from the Washington bullpen, which worked out of two potential Mets rallies. The Mets loaded the bases in bottom of the seventh and the bottom of the eighth innings, but Craig Stammen dampened the Mets in the 7th while Tyler Clippard tamed the Mets in the 8th.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Okay. Okay. Okay. We were wrong. Back before the All Star break would took issue with the decision to put Pirates outfielder and sometime third sacker Josh Harrison on the All Star team, pointing out that his numbers didn’t reflect the honor, and plumping for our own nominee, Adam LaRoche . . .

We’ll stick by the spirit of our claim, particularly given LaRoche’s amazing September, while acknowledging that Harrison has become Pittsburgh’s MVP — and that in spite of (and while acknowledging) yet another solid season from last year’s MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Harrison led the N.L. in total bases in August with 71, extra base hits with 19 and a slugging percentage of .602 . . .

Harrison could also win the N.L. batting title. Harrison is hitting .314, while N.L. leader Justin Morneau is hitting .317. And Harrison has been tearing up opposing pitching in September: he’s 11-32 since September 1 with four doubles. And at third base, Harrison has been a whiz . . .

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Nats 6-4 Victory Extends N.L. East Lead

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

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The Nationals sent nine hitters to the plate in the first inning against Atlanta starter Ervin Santana last night at Nationals Park and scored four runs, an avalanche of offense that stunned the Braves and led Washington to its second win in a row against their division rivals. The final 6-4 score extended the Nationals lead in the N.L. East to nine games.

“They came out swinging the bats and were really, really aggressive with the first couple pitches of every at-bat,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Usually, when they do that against [Santana], they get quick outs. But they found the outfield grass and put a big number up — four runs. We weren’t able to recover after that, but we battled.”

It would now take a near miracle for the Braves to overtake the Nats for the division crown, though four games remain between the two teams. The beneficiary of last night’s victory, played before an excited crowd of nearly 30,000 partisans, was Jordan Zimmermann, who threw six complete innings in picking up his eleventh win on the season.

The Nationals first inning onslaught included a double from Denard Span, a Jayson Werth walk and singles from Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos — all of which led to three early D.C. runs. An Asdrubal Cabrera sacrifice fly scored the fourth run of the inning.

The Washington victory marked another great game for hot-hitting first sacker Adam LaRoche, who was 2-3 with two RBIs on the night. “It feels like we’re just that much closer,” LaRoche told the press after the victory. “Not to take anything for granted until this thing is sewn up, but these are big. This time of year, playing the team chasing you, to be able to win a couple.”

While the game dimmed the end-of-season prospects for the Braves, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman said his team wasn’t about to give up. “We still have a chance,” Freeman said. “Once we’re fully eliminated from the division race, then we’ll worry about the wild card.”

Atlanta attempted to climb back into the game by putting two runs on the board in the fourth and sixth innings, which included a home run off the bat of Justin Upton. But other than the Upton home run, righty Jordan Zimmermann was steady and efficient in setting down Atlanta hitters.

“I felt OK. I didn’t have my best stuff. The fastball was like a tick off. I ran into some deep counts,” Zimmermann said of his six inning outing. “A couple of at-bats by Bonifacio cost me 15 to 20 pitches. That’s why I wasn’t able to go longer. Overall, I felt OK. It was just a little bit of a battle tonight.”

As has now become common practice, Nats manager Matt Williams successfully mixed and matched his relievers against Atlanta’s long-ball hitting line-up. Aaron Barrett, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen took the Nationals through the end of the eighth inning, while Drew Storen notched his third save in a row and his fourth on the season.

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Nats Edge Atlanta In Dramatic 2-1 Win

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

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The Nationals are playing October playoff baseball in September at Nationals Park, with dramatic pitching performances and clutch come-from-behind victories that are vaulting Washington to the top of the National League East. Last night, in a dramatic playoff atmosphere, the Nationals edged the Altanta Braves behind the pitching of Doug Fister, 2-1.

The victory put the Nationals eight games ahead of second place Atlanta and reduced the team’s magic number to win the East at 12 games. Fister, who threw seven inning of two hit baseball to notch his 13th win of the season, was the key to the win. Fister induced eleven ground ball outs and struck out three in the victory. Atlanta’s Mike Minor took the loss.

“We’ve struggled all year against the Braves,” Drew Storen, who pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning to register his second straight save, said of the win. “It’s nothing new to anybody, but for us to go out and play our game — and that’s a tight game that can swing either way — for us to lock that down is really good.”

The Nationals scored early against Minor, with Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond singling in the first inning. Desmond’s single scored Rendon for the Nationals first run. The Nats scored again in the bottom of the 7th when Jeff Kobernus, pinching running for Wilson Ramos, scored from third on a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Rendon.

Atlanta’s Mike Minor matched Fister pitch-for-pitch, until being pulled by Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez after six complete innings. The scrappy Minor kept the Braves in the game just enough that, in the seventh inning, the Braves threatened to grab the lead after Fister walked Freddie Freeman and Tommy La Stella. But Fister was able to pitch out of the jam, inducing a ground ball out from shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

“Tonight was a baseball game, a well-played baseball game on both sides and well pitched,” Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. “No errors or mistakes there for either team. Their pitcher was able to hold us to one less run, and them getting the extra run with a groundout. It didn’t take a lot. That’s the definition of a good game.”

A crowd of 25,000-plus watched the Nats victory, but was more raucous than usual — a sign that Nats fans know that their team doesn’t always play its best against their division rivals. Which gave added drama to the victory and made the contest feel like a do-or-die October playoff game.

“It would be nice to win the division knowing that we can beat the Braves more than winning the division knowing that we can’t beat the Braves,” Washington reliever Craig Stammen said. “This proves we can play good baseball against a good team and prepare us for a playoff-type atmosphere if we get to that point.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Crew has lost 12 of their last thirteen games and plummeted out of first place in the National League Central. They now trail the St. Louis stinking Cardinals by six games and are struggling to stay in the Wild Card race . . .

Last night in Miami, and against a team that is three games under .500, Milwaukee lost a 6-4 decision to the Marlins, while gamely attempting a last gasp two run effort to rally in the eighth inning. It was not to be. “We can’t make the pitch when we need to,” first sacker Mark Reynolds said after the loss. “We can’t get the big hit when we need it. It’s just a culmination of frustration . . .”

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LaRoche’s Bat Salvages Phillies Series — Storen Gets The Save

Monday, September 8th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche slugged two home runs, Gio Gonzalez tossed a solid six innings and reliever Drew Storen earned his second save of the season as the Washington Nationals downed the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on Sunday, 3-2. The victory, coupled with an Atlanta loss, reduced the Nationals “magic number” to win the N.L. East to fourteen games.

LaRoche has been on fire for the Nationals over the last week. LaRoche has ten RBIs in his last four games, along with three home runs. His first home run in the second inning on Sunday tied the game at one run apiece, while his second in the fourth tied it at two.

LaRoche has had a career of success over Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels, who provided a solid performance for the Ashburns on Sunday (6.1 innings with three earned runs). “It was just one of those days where he left a couple of pitches right over the plate,” LaRoche said in explaining his success against Hamels.

After two tough losses to the Phillies, and reliance on an over-taxed bullpen, Washington needed a good outing from its starter, and Gio Gonzalez gave it to them on Sunday. The lefty picked up his eighth win on the season in throwing 105 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.

But the game also had its quota of strange, and not very good, plays — at least for the Nationals. The Phillies notched their first run of the game in the first inning on an unusual throwing error from Denard Span in center to Anthony Rendon covering third, who then retrieved the ball and threw it past Jose Lobaton at home plate. The two errors gave Philadelphia its first run of the game.

Then, in the sixth inning, after Nats shortstop Ian Desmond doubled to left field, a Cole Hamels balk moved him to third. Desmond then sprinted home on a long sacrifice fly to left field off the bat of Scott Hairston that barely stayed in the park. It was the first time in Hamels’ memory that he’d lost a game by a balk: “It’s unfortunate,” Hamels said.

The Hairston sacrifice vindicated Matt Williams’ view that Hairston would contribute against Hamels. “He has good numbers against Hamels,” Williams confirmed after the win. “He has seen him well and hit him well over time. I wanted to give him that opportunity, for sure.”

“Cole wasn’t as sharp with his command and just controlling the ball,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said after the Hamels loss. “And then the balk kind of came into play. It was a questionable call. He does that often.”

With the Nationals up 3-2, Washington skipper Matt Williams called on Drew Storen to save the game, the first time the righty had come on in the role since Williams announced that the team would give a struggling Rafael Soriano some time off to correct the flaws in his delivery.

Storen was philosophical about his new role, which he will presumably share with others in a “closer by committee:” set up shaped by Williams. “Really, the only thing different is the run to the mound — fans are real into it,” Storen said after notching his save. “You soak that in for a second, and move on, and lock in and do what you need to do.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Count the Phillies as among those in baseball who have consistently had the Nationals’ number. The Nats had lost five straight against Philadelphia coming into Sunday’s game and finished out the season with a 9-10 record vs. their N.L. East rivals . . .

Among the elite teams in baseball, the Nationals have losing records (as Adam Kilgore points out) against five other solid squads — the Braves, Orioles, Angels, Athletics and Cardinals (of course), and a losing record against Philadelphia . . .

Here’s how Kilgore explains it: “The Nationals went 6-3 against the Phillies before the all-star break, then split a four-game series against them in early August. This month, the Phillies have turned their bullpen from disastrous to dominant . . .”

The Nationals “magic number” to clinch the National League East now stands at 14, the result of Atlanta’s 4-0 loss on Sunday to the Miami Marlins. The 4-0 shutout confirmed what has ailed the Braves in the last part of the 2014 campaign: they can’t hit worth a damn . . .

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