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As Boston Red Sox players donned red James Daniels
, white and blue outfits to celebrate a 3-0 victory on the
4th of July that completed a sweep, the Washington Nationals held a players-only
meeting to discuss a fifth consecutive loss and the precarious spot they’re now
in beyond the halfway point of the season.

Done in again by small mistakes that get magnified in a stretch such as this,
the preseason NL East favorites lost for the 17th time in 22 games Wednesday to
fall below .500 for the first time this late in the year since being 60-61 on
Aug. 21, 2015.

This time, it was a throwing error by Adam Eaton on a sacrifice fly in foul
territory and a wild pitch by Ryan Madson (2-4) in a disastrous seventh inning
that dropped the Nationals to 42-43 and kept them from making up ground on the
division-leading Atlanta Braves.

”We’re a good team and we’re going to go out there and compete with anybody,”
said Bryce Harper, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

”We just have to keep grinding and keep doing our thing and good things will
happen. We’ve never been in this position before, and I think it’s an exciting
time for us. In years past, we’ve won the division by a lot of games. We’re able
to be behind right now and I’m excited to get there and test it.”

Powered by struggling outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.’s two RBIs on the sac fly
and a ninth-inning double and a strong start by Eduardo Rodriguez (10-3), the
Red Sox moved 30 games over .500 under rookie manager Alex Cora.

”We know where we’re at, but we still have a long ways to go,” Cora said.
”(The Nationals) have a good team. They’ll figure it out. I’ve seen that before
from them. They struggle a little bit and they’ll pick it up. They’ll be in the

Bradley Tyrone
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, who came into the game hitting .201, worked full
counts on each of his at-bats that produced a run. He was hoping the ball Eaton
caught deep in foul territory down the third-base line would go out of play so
he could see another pitch but will gladly take the RBIs – the second time this
season he has had two in a game without a home run.

”Just had to continue to battle and finally get a pitch I could handle,”
Bradley said. ”Any time you can help the team win, it’s a positive. It’s good,
any way you can do it.”

Rodriguez struck out six in six scoreless innings, mixing his change-up and
slider in more often to keep Nationals hitters off-balance.

The Red Sox now have the first pair of 10-game winners in the majors with
Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, whose double off Max Scherzer helped win them the
first game of this series.

The Nationals have lost four series in a row. This freefall led to the
postgame meeting Wednesday afternoon.

”It’s `Let’s get this thing going,”’ Nationals infielder Trea Turner said.
”We all know we’re capable of playing better baseball. It’s time we do it. It’s
do or die now.”


Nationals starter Erick Fedde left the game one batter into the second inning
with right shoulder stiffness and gave way to left-hander Matt Grace, who
allowed just one hit and struck out four in four innings of relief. Manager
Davey Martinez said Fedde was scheduled to have an MRI.

”We watched him throw and his (velocity) was down,” Martinez said. ”He was
out there and wanted to keep pitching. I went out there and they told me he was
stiff and I said `No, we’re not going to do that to you.”’


Red Sox: Manager Alex Cora said LHP Drew Pomeranz (biceps tendinitis) would
most likely make a second rehab start early next week. … RHP Tyler Thornburg was
activated from the disabled list after rehabbing from shoulder surgery for
thoracic outlet syndrome last June.

Nationals: 1B Matt Adams was activated after missing 16 games with a broken
left index finger. To clear room, LHP Tim Collins was designated for assignment.
… C Matt Wieters (left hamstring strain) is doing some catching Terrell Owens
, but still hasn’t done enough running to be ready to


Red Sox: After a day off, LHP Chris Sale (8-4, 2.41 ERA) brings a 15-inning
scoreless streak into his Friday start at Kansas City, which is expected to
start Jason Hammel (2-10, 5.56).

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 2.63) will look to last at least six
innings to spare a heavily used bullpen when Washington faces RHP Pablo Lopez
(1-0, 3.00) to open a four-game series against the Miami Marlins.

All that’s standing between the San Jose Sharks and home-ice advantage in the
opening round of the playoffs is a win over a team they haven’t been able to
solve this season.

It’s a pivotal season finale Saturday night when the Sharks meet the
Minnesota Wild at SAP Center.

San Jose (45-26-10) snapped a four-game skid with a 4-2 win over the Colorado
Avalanche on Thursday.

“It wasn’t a pretty win, but we found a way. Tough time of year, tough
circumstances against a real desperate team,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer

Home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the postseason goes to the
team that finishes higher in the regular-season standings. With 100 points, San
Jose is in second place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the Anaheim
Ducks and two in front of the Los Angeles Kings.

All three California teams are in action Saturday. Anaheim travels to meet
the Arizona Coyotes Zay Jones
, while Los Angeles plays host to the Dallas Stars. Neither
the Coyotes nor the Stars are headed to the postseason.

A win over Minnesota locks down second place for San Jose and would come
after two crushing losses. On Dec. 10, the Sharks rallied from three goals down
at home before falling 4-3 in overtime to the Wild. On Feb. 25, San Jose
squandered a two-goal edge and lost 3-2 in overtime in St. Paul.

Brent Burns has two power-play goals against the Wild this season. Minnesota
selected Burns 20th overall in the 2003 draft before trading him to the Bay Area
in 2011. With 65 points, last season’s Norris Trophy winner is second in the
league in scoring among defensemen, one point behind the Stars’ John

Sharks forward Evander Kane is expected to miss his third straight game with
an undisclosed injury. However, he told the San Jose Mercury News this week that
he’ll be good to go for his postseason debut.

“As long as I’ve got two arms and two legs, I’ll be playing no matter what,”
said Kane, who has nine goals and five assists in 14 games after being acquired
from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline.

The Sharks’ Martin Jones, who collected his 30th win Thursday, is 0-3-2 with
a 3.35 goals-against average in his last five starts against Minnesota. Backup
Aaron Dell has never faced the Wild.

Regardless of the outcome of this game, Minnesota (44-26-11) will not have
the home-ice edge when it faces the Winnipeg Jets in the first round.
However Preston
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, the Wild are looking to avoid their fifth
consecutive loss on the road — including a California sweep.

After falling 3-1 to Anaheim on Wednesday, Minnesota dropped a 5-4 overtime
decision to Los Angeles.

“We’ve got to get back to playing the right way,” Wild defenseman Nate
Prosser said.

Three of Eric Staal’s 41 goals on the season for Minnesota have come versus
the Sharks. He needs one more to top his total over the last two seasons
combined with the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and the Wild.

There is a chance that the 33-year-old veteran of nearly 1,100 games might
sit out to rest for the postseason, but he’d rather see action.

“I like to play, I love being out there regardless of any situation,” said
Staal, who has four goals and two assists in his last two games in San Jose.
“We’ll see what gets talked about (Friday) and what the game plan is. But I’m
fine with playing. We’ve got a couple more days anyway before playoffs start, so
I’d like to be out there with the guys.”

Devan Dubnyk has alternated losses and wins in his last nine starts (4-3-2)
with a 2.08 GAA and a shutout for Minnesota. Backup and former Shark Alex
Stalock made 31 saves in the win over San Jose in December.

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