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Giancarlo Stanton is on fire going into 3-game series against Nats

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USA Today Sports

Giancarlo Stanton is on fire going into 3-game series against Nats

MIAMI — During his home run binge, Giancarlo Stanton is also content to settle for singles.

Stanton went eight for 10 to lead the Miami Marlins to a three-game weekend sweep of San Diego, raising his average to a career high .296. He hit three homers, increasing his season total to 50, along with three singles and two doubles.

"A lot of people from the outside are probably thinking he's just going up there trying to hit a homer every at-bat, but that's not the case," teammate Christian Yelich said.

The series raised Stanton's average in 23 games since Aug. 4 to .402. That includes 13 singles, five doubles and 17 homers for an OPS of 1.531.

"It's unbelievable," Yelich said. "You feel everything he hits is an absolute rocket, and if it gets up in the air, it's a homer."

A recent tweak in Stanton's stance has helped him lay off outside breaking pitches, long his biggest weakness. Swinging mostly at strikes, he's willing to hit the ball the other way or on the ground or both, depending on the situation.

The goal, he said, is to make the most of every trip to the plate.

"That is the biggest key," Stanton said. "You never know which at-bat is going to give you a chance. If you don't give in, you're set up for something good."

The home runs make the headlines, but the surprising Marlins have surged into the NL wild-card race because Stanton seems to do damage almost every time he bats.

It's no fluke he's flirting with .300, manager Don Mattingly said.

"You're seeing a more disciplined hitter in the sense of covering zones and laying off bad stuff," Mattingly said. "He's taking what they give, and for him, taking what they give can go all over the ballpark."

Opponents continue to pitch to Stanton. He had 66 bases on balls through Sunday, which tied for ninth in the majors, and may fall short of his career high of 94. His walk rate hasn't risen lately even though he has hit 17 homers in August, one shy of the major league record for the month.

When Dee Gordon singled to start the eighth inning Sunday in a tie game, Padres manager Andy Green decided to pitch to Stanton. The result: his 50th homer and a Marlins win.

"Every time he comes to the plate, you contemplate walking him," Green said. He decided not to because of the hitters behind Stanton.

In May, Mattingly moved Stanton up to the No. 2 spot in the order, and he has hit .317 since. With Christian Yelich (15 homers, .283) and Marcell Ozuna (31 homers, .309) batting behind Stanton, he has been tough to pitch around, Green said.

"It's a byproduct of how Donnie has put that lineup together," Green said. "If he is deeper in the order, it's much easier to get around him."

Stanton began the week on pace to finish with 63 homers. By continuing his pace since Aug. 4, he would finish with 74, one more than Barry Bonds' 2001 record.

Meanwhile, he's leading a remarkable turnaround by the Marlins, who started 14-27 but have a shot at their first postseason berth since 2003. For Stanton, who is in his eighth season, that means playoff-race pressure for the first time.

"There's no pressure for me," he said. "I have to be prepared as anybody, but that's standard. That's not pressure."

He'll continue stepping to the plate prepared to hit homers -- or singles.

MORE NATIONALS: Mets and Nats split the series, ending with a double-header

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.