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Brutal stretch for Nats has end in sight; Taylor's heating up

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Brutal stretch for Nats has end in sight; Taylor's heating up

With their 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals have now lost six of their 10 games since the All-Star break ended. Max Scherzer has been beaten twice during that stretch. Their offense has averaged 3.8 runs per contest. The Mets have cut the division lead back down to two games.

Although those seem like warning signs, the stretch the Nationals are playing through makes it hard to analyze any sort of collective slump.

Since the All-Star break, the Nats have faced a gauntlet of elite starting pitchers with many of their own regulars missing due to injury. It started with the Dodgers who had Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. It continued with the Mets who pitched Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. And it didn't stop against Pittsburgh, as the Pirates rolled out Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.

The Nationals are off Monday night before picking back up Tuesday in Miami. They will face Marlins ace Jose Fernandez (3-0, 2.77) in the series opener. He returned from Tommy John surgery on July 2 and has dominated in his four starts since.

Tuesday will be the 11th game for the Nationals in the second half. Through 11 games the collective ERA of the starters they have faced and will face (Fernandez) is 2.22. Nine of them have either been All-Stars or earned Cy Young votes within the last three years. The other two are Mike Bolsinger of the Dodgers and Syndergaard of the Mets, both of whom boast sub-3.00 ERAs at this point in the season.

The Nationals just got Anthony Rendon back, but they remain without Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span. With all those names missing, it's a wonder how they beat Bolsinger, Harvey, Syndergaard and Burnett in their four second-half wins.

The good news is that after Fernandez, their schedule will ease up considerably. Of their next 32 games, 25 are against teams not currently holding playoff spots. Three of those 25 non-playoff opponents will come at the New York Mets, but they will also see the Marlins twice, the Rockies twice, the Diamondbacks for four games, the Brewers at home and the Padres at home. The Marlins and Rockies hold the second- and third-worst records in the majors.

Somewhere along that run the Nationals should get back Werth and Zimmerman, and perhaps very soon. Span is behind them, but will likely come back some time during that stretch. They could also add pieces before the non-waiver trade deadline and in August through the waiver wire.

The stage is set over the next month for the Nationals to take off and create some room between themselves and the Mets in the NL East. Anything can happen, but the next few weeks certainly appear favorable for the Nats.

Michael Taylor homers again

Rookie Michael Taylor homered for the second straight game on Sunday to push his season total to eight. He now has six hits in his last 10 at-bats with two homers and three RBI. Through 82 games played he has eight homers, 39 RBI and 11 steals.

Those numbers aren't bad at all, especially if you consider his relative inexperience at the age of 24. Sure, you'd like his average to be above .240 and his on-base percentage above .283. But there's no question Taylor's play has been a nice development for the Nationals this season.

On Sunday, Taylor also made a highlight reel catch in the bottom of the fifth inning to rob Gregory Polanco of a would-be double. He seems to be improving game-by-game at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths.

What Taylor's role is long-term is hard to tell, whether he can be a true leadoff hitter and whether he's ready to step in next season if Span walks in free agency. But for now, he could be exactly what they need once Span and Werth return from the disabled list. Taylor can make starts for either player here and there, and come October his speed (3 SB in last 5 games) could be a huge asset for the Nats.

 

 

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm