Yankees vs Nationals

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The Nationals and Yankees, perhaps the two hottest teams in baseball, will convene for a two-game, star-studded set at Nationals Park beginning Tuesday.

Washington, coming off a 6-1 West Coast road trip, has won 12 of 14 games behind one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. The Yankees, meanwhile, are 19-3 since starting the season 9-9. All 19 wins have come against clubs over .500. They have been nearly unstoppable because …

… there isn’t much they don’t do well. Entering Monday, their pitching staff ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings, third in FIP, and 10th in ERA. Their offense, which features Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez supplying middle-of-the-order muscle, is first in on-base-percentage, second in slugging and tied for fifth in home runs. Blend those ingredients and you have a club tied for the best record in baseball.

The start has New York on a 113-win pace, which has some already comparing this iteration to the historic 114-win club of 1998. Our Dave Sheinin broached the comparison in an interview with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman in his breakdown of the Yankees’ return to dominance on Monday. Make sure to read that before the series opener.

[You’re not crazy to think the Yankees have reached their full and terrifying potential]

The Nationals’ decision to move Max Scherzer up in the rotation to pitch on regular rest Wednesday makes sense. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has been arguably the best pitcher in baseball this season, featuring a 1.69 ERA and a league-best 91 strikeouts through nine starts. The team should want him out there as often as possible, especially given its recent offensive woes. The adjustment also creates a couple tantalizing matchups; not only will Scherzer face the Yankees’ vaunted lineup, he will pitch opposite CC Sabathia.

It isn’t quite as sexy as the Scherzer-Kershaw Hollywood duel from last month, but Scherzer-Sabathia in the District is nonetheless a battle between two likely future Hall of Famers. While Scherzer is somehow still firmly in his prime a few months shy of his 34th birthday, the 37-year-old Sabathia has reinvented himself as he approaches the end of his career. The towering left-hander has posted a 2.23 ERA in seven starts by mixing and matching effectively.

Long gone are the days of a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s. Sabathia, who has tallied 239 career wins in 18 seasons, now relies on command and producing weak contact; he’s striking out 6.9 batters per nine innings — which would be his lowest output since 2003 — but walking just 1.2 per nine, which would be a career best. Scherzer, of course, doesn’t believe in pitching to contact. He wants to strike everyone out. That strategy works for him just fine. It’ll be a fascinating matchup between two hurlers approaching their craft in different ways.

Ideally, the Nationals wouldn’t have to rely on Michael A. Taylor’s bat. They would have a complete lineup with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Adam Eaton assuming the offensive load. They would look to Taylor for his Gold Glove-caliber defense and welcome whatever he could contribute at the plate.

But the Nationals are not living in an ideal world, not with Murphy, Eaton, Zimmerman, and Matt Wieters all on the disabled list, so they could use all the offensive contributions they can get. Taylor, however, isn’t providing many. Since April 27, the center fielder is 8 for 60 (.133) with one home run, four doubles, 21 strikeouts, and three walks. His batting average for the season has plunged to .186 in 42 games. His OPS is .564, the seventh-lowest mark in baseball among qualified batters, while his 32.1 percent strikeout rate is the sixth-highest.

Taylor has played through a minor groin injury but is still contributing defensively and, when he gets on base, on the base paths. But the Nationals could use more from him at the plate.

WASHINGTON — Masahiro Tanaka’s Tuesday night ended far better than it started.

As a result he and Tyler Austin, had the Yankees in position to win their 20th game in 23 tries.

Tanaka allowed a first-inning homer, then watched the Nationals tack on two more runs in the second inning, which put the Yankees in a three-run hole against a team that had won 13 of its last 15 and had standout lefthander Gio Gonzalez and his killer curveball on the mound.

But by the time the heavy thunderstorms that created havoc up and down the East Coast hit Nationals Park, delaying the game at 9:01 p.m., just before the Nationals came to bat in the sixth, Tanaka had settled, allowing his offense to rally to tie the score at 3.

The game, officially suspended at 10:08 p.m., will be resumed at 5:05 p.m. Wednesday.

Tanaka, after allowing an RBI double to Pedro Severino with one out in the second that made it 3-0, retired his final 11 batters.

Tanaka allowed three runs and four hits over five innings. He struck out two and did not walk a batter.

The Yankees, an MLB-best 28-12 coming in and with a half-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, slowly grinded away at Gonzalez. The left-hander, taking the mound 4-2 with a 2.22 ERA this season, frustrated the Yankees early, stranding two runners in each of the first two innings.

But Austin, in a 0-for-23 slump coming into the night but with a single in his first at-bat of the game, crushed a two-run homer in the fourth, a 28-pitch inning for Gonzalez that cut the Yankees’ deficit to 3-2. His sacrifice fly in the fifth, a 34-pitch inning for Gonzalez that finished his night at 111 pitches, tied it at 3. Gonzalez allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in five innings. He struck out five, four in the first two innings, and walked four.

Tanaka retired the first two Nationals he faced in the first but threw a flat 1-and-1 sinker to Anthony Rendon, who blasted it out to left for his fourth homer and a 1-0 Washington lead. It was the ninth homer allowed by Tanaka this season, the most on the staff.

The Nationals added on in the second, a 27-pitch inning. Veteran Howie Kendrick, a longtime Yankee tormentor as he came in with a career average against them of .346, led off with a double. After Mark Reynolds struck out, Andrew Stevenson grounded sharply to short, where Didi Gregorius tried for a backhand stop but couldn’t quite come up with it, the play scored an RBI single. Severino followed with his double. Tanaka then bore down, beginning his streak of 11 straight retired by striking out Gonzalez.

The Yankees got a break, and capitalized, in the fourth. Gregorius led off with a routine fly to left, where Matt Adams drifted over and settled under it. But Stevenson, the center fielder, continued to call for the ball and knocked it away at the last moment, allowing Gregorius to pull into second on the error. Austin followed with his sixth homer.

The Yankees went back to work in the fifth. Aaron Judge walked for the second time and Giancarlo Stanton collected his 1,000th hit, a blooper to right. As lightning continued to flash, Gary Sanchez worked a walk to load the bases. Gregorius grounded into a 3-2 fielder’s choice, extending his slide to 1-for-38, but Austin just missed on a grand slam, settling for a sacrifice fly to the middle of the track in center, which brought in Stanton.

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