The Baseball Page: May 19, 2013

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Nationals Report

The Nationals aren't doing themselves any favors. In his last seven starts, ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg has allowed 21 runs. But because of shaky defense behind him, only 12 of those have been earned runs.

So Washington is making Strasburg work extra hard to pitch into the fifth, sixth or seventh inning. The frustration level was high after the team lost six of his previous seven starts before a win in San Diego on Thursday. But that game showed Strasburg on the way to righting his season. He shook off another Ryan Zimmerman throwing error to escape a jam in the fifth inning with just one run allowed and -- for the first time in his career -- pitched into the eighth. Those are both big steps for a player whose ability to shake off bad breaks was coming into question.

Don't look at the record. Strasburg is 2-5 overall, but in six of his starts, they've scored two or fewer runs to go along with that sub-par defense. In another, they scored three runs. He hasn't pitched perfectly. But he's headed in the right direction, with 19 strikeouts to just six walks in his last three outings and a 2.83 ERA overall.

MLB Storylines

1NL East tightens » A red-hot start had the Atlanta Braves quickly on top of the NL East. That 13-2 record through 15 games made some wonder if the Braves could potentially run away with a division that some saw as baseball's best with the Nationals and Phillies included. But it's been a struggle since then. Atlanta lost outfielder Jason Heyward to appendicitis on April 21 -- he returned Friday -- and reliever Jonny Venters to Tommy John surgery this week. Even with Washington scuffling thanks to injury problems of its own, the Braves' division lead was down to ? game entering the weekend.

2Indian summer coming » Only the Texas Rangers have opened a substantial lead in their division -- seven games in the AL West entering the weekend -- so there are plenty of surprise teams still keeping hope alive as we race towards June. The Detroit Tigers were expected to run away with the AL Central. But so far, so good for the Cleveland Indians, who have used a solid offense and a good bullpen to remain tight with the Tigers. Credit part of that to a dynamic defensive outfield led by free agent acquisition Michael Bourn. Catcher Carlos Santana ranked sixth in the majors in OPS to lead the Indians.

3Fallen Angels » Things are starting to get out of hand in Anaheim, where the Los Angeles Angels fell more than 10 games under .500 for the first time this season. That's not a neighborhood you want to be hanging out in as Memorial Day approaches. But the spending spree that landed the Angels Josh Hamilton over the winter and Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson the year before hasn't accomplished much as of yet. The team just missed out on the final AL wild card spot last season and entered the weekend already 12 behind rival Texas for first place.

Who's hot?

1. Jake Peavy » Six quality starts in seven turns for the resurgent White Sox righty.

2. Felix Hernandez » The King has 64 strikeouts to 10 walks on the season and a 1.53 ERA.

3. Raul Ibanez » The Ancient Mariner had four homers and 11 RBI over a four-game stretch.

Who's not?

1. Cole Hamels » The Phillies are 1-8 when their should-be ace takes the mound this year.

2. Craig Kimbrel » Three blown saves in less than a month for the usually-reliable Braves closer.

3. Prince Fielder » The Tigers slugger is hitting a paltry .235 in May entering Friday's game.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner