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Hamels handles Harper, Nats

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Hamels handles Harper, Nats

PHILADELPHIA -- Lost amid the intentional plunking, the acknowledgement of the intentional plunking and the backlash that followed the intentional plunking was one minor fact.

Cole Hamels is good. Really good.

"He's one the best pitchers in baseball," Bryce Harper said. "He's 7-1 for a reason."

Hamels is indeed 7-1 now thanks to another dominant performance against the Nationals Wednesday night, resulting in a 4-1 victory for the Phillies.

While everyone else wanted to see what would happen when Hamels and Harper squared off for the first time since their emotionally charged encounter on national television 2 12 weeks ago, the Philadelphia left-hander just went out and did what he does best.

Hamels carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, escaped a potential jam in that frame, then departed after eight scoreless, lowering his ERA to 2.17 in the process.

"It wasn't in my head at all," Hamels said of his tiff with Harper. "I had nine guys that I had to face, so it wasn't on my mind."

As was the case earlier this month in the District, the Nationals went up against Hamels with an opportunity to sweep the Phillies and make a definitive statement against the franchise they've sought to overtake in the NL East the last five years. And as was the case in that previous encounter, they were shut down by the lefty, unable to get comfortable at the plate against his assortment of pitches.

"When he's throwing 93-95 and has got that cutter working, his change-up can be devastating," said Danny Espinosa, who broke up the no-hitter attempt with a sixth-inning double. "He was throwing hard tonight, and his change-up was around 82. So when you have that much of a difference between your fastball and your changeup, that's kind of tough."

Perhaps the only member of the Nationals lineup who didn't look fazed against Hamels was Harper, who went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk and struck a flyball to deep left field in the top of the first that didn't quite carry enough. Said Harper: "I think I should've hit that ball out."

The 19-year-old's single to right in the sixth, on the heels of Espinosa's double, looked like it might get the Nationals on the board at last. But third base coach Bo Porter waved Espinosa around, and Hunter Pence fired a bullet to the plate to get him on a bang-bang play.

Espinosa got up limping a bit, and he had his lower right leg wrapped in ice after the game, though he insisted he was fine.

Porter's decision to send Espinosa was perhaps a questionable one, and it looked worse when Ryan Zimmerman followed with what would have been an RBI single. Manager Davey Johnson, though, seemed more upset that Harper didn't advance to second on the throw home, a move that might have allowed him to score on the subsequent Zimmerman single.

"I think Harper should have been on second base," Johnson said. "High throw. We would've been in better position."

The Nationals had one more opportunity to get to Hamels when Jesus Flores tripled to open the eighth, though they stranded him on third base, with Harper grounding out to end the inning and send Hamels to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd of 43,926.

At that point, the Nationals trailed 4-0, starter Edwin Jackson having surrendered three runs and closer-turned-mopup man Henry Rodriguez having served up a homer to Shane Victorino.

They did get one run back in the ninth when Adam LaRoche homered off Jonathan Papelbon, but it was far too little and far too late to alter the outcome of this game.

Thus, the Nationals missed yet another opportunity to sweep a series. Despite putting themselves in position to do it nine times already this season, they've yet to finish the job.

"We wish we could've got that sweep, definitely," Harper said. "But to get two out of three against them, I think, was huge."

At the end of the night, the Nationals can still boast about taking four of six games from the Phillies so far this season, not to mention their standing atop the NL East and Philadelphia's current standing at the bottom of the division.

"I think it's close. I think we've got them, though," said Phillies manager Charlie Manual, not particularly known as a math whiz.

For all the attention thrust upon this burgeoning rivalry with Philadelphia, the Nationals know they face an even bigger test this weekend in Atlanta against a Braves club that could be tied with them for first place come gametime Friday.

"The NL East is really good," Harper said. "Great pitching, great hitting. Everybody tries to battle every day. The Phillies are who we're probably going to go after the next couple years. They're good. And we're good. It's all good. Whatever."

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Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

Why Bryce Harper would be a bargain at $500 million

$500 million.

That number is so hard to wrap your brain around, but it's a number a lot of professional baseball players may soon start seeing on their contracts.

One player who could be the first to see that amount within the next year is Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Harper will become a free agent in 2018 and people are already projecting his market value at close to $500 million, if not more.

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton signed a contract back in 2014 for 13 years, $325 million, holding the league record.

For Fancy Stats writer Neil Greenberg, $500 million is a bargain for someone of Harper's caliber.

"Harper is every bit as good [as Stanton] but he's also young," Greenberg told the Sports Junkies Friday.

"I mean, we don't see a player that's as good as Harper, that's as young a Harper, hit the market almost ever I want to say. You look at how many years of his prime he has left and then even if you start to give him just the typical aging curb off of that prime, he's probably worth close to 570 million dollars starting from 2019 and going forward ten years. And that includes also the price of free agency going up and other factors."

Harper, who is only 25 years-old, brings more to a team than just talent. He's one of the most recognizable figures in baseball, bringing tremendous marketing opportunities to an organization. Greenberg dove deeper into how that will increase his market value.

"And that's just for the on-the-field product. You talk about all the marketing that's done around Bryce Harper [and] what he does for the game. In my opinion, and based on the numbers that I saw, he's a bargain at $500 million."

Don't we all wish someone would say $500 million is a bargain for us?

After crunching the numbers, the biggest takeaway for Greenberg is the return on investment the Nationals have gotten out of Harper.

"Like if you look at his wins above replacement throughout his career, he's given you 200 million dollars in value for 21 million dollars in cash and he's due what another 26 or 27 million this year. I mean he's already given you an amazing return on investment."

"So, if you're the Nationals having - benefited from that - you know you have a little bit of, I guess, wiggle room in terms of maybe you're paying a little bit for past performance 'cause, you know, when a player is on arbitration in their early years they don't really get paid that much."

The Nationals still have Harper for one more season and many feel they need to make him an offer sooner than later. Whenever and whoever he gets an offer from, it's going to be a nice pay day for him.

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has coasted to his third Cy Young Award and second straight in the National League.

Scherzer breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The honor was announced Wednesday on MLB Network.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit. He became the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs.

RELATED: WIETERS WILL RETURN TO NATS IN 2018 

Scherzer was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading 268 strikeouts for the NL East champion Nationals.

Kershaw has already won three NL Cy Youngs, and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians easily won his second AL Cy Young Award earlier in the day. He got 28 of the 30 first-place votes, with Boston's Chris Sale second and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees third.

Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball.