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Harper dealing with first slump

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Harper dealing with first slump

When Bryce Harper, following last night's 8-0 trouncing at the hands of the Phillies, described himself as "all over the place right now," he might have been referring to the 0-for-11, five-strikeout skid in which he's currently mired. He might also have been thinking farther back, recognizing his struggles at the plate have been going on much longer than many may realize.

On June 12, Harper went 3-for-4 with a home run in Toronto, a game best remembered for the "clown question" that was asked of the rookie, setting off a worldwide sensation.

Harper has played in 41 games since then, starting all but one, and his offensive numbers are anything but spectacular: He's hitting .214 with two homers, 10 RBI, 42 strikeouts, a .283 on-base percentage and a .592 OPS that if extrapolated out over the full season would rank 148th out of 151 qualifying major-league hitters.

"I'm trying to find some mellowness in the plate and in the box," Harper said last night in his latest attempt to usher a funny-sounding phrase into the lexicon. "Just trying to work at it every day and try to take something good from every at-bat and take something good from every game."

Is Harper trying to force things, trying too hard to get himself going again?

"I don't think I'm trying to do too much at all," he said. "I'm trying to keep my strikeouts down and my walks up. That's the biggest thing. Trying to square some stuff up and try to have good ABs and try to battle."

Harper is doing a a reasonably good job battling at the plate. He's still seeing 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, which among Nationals regulars ranks only behind Adam LaRoche (4.1) and Ryan Zimmerman (3.9). And his 10.1 percent walk rate ranks below only LaRoche (11.1 percent).

But he does seem to be expanding his strike zone more these days, chasing breaking balls down and away from left-handers in particular. There was a point in June in which Harper was hitting a stunning .375 against lefties; he's now hitting .246.

In his defense, a lot has been asked of Harper, who at 19 has been one of the few mainstays in a lineup decimated by injuries.

We also have to remember that he is indeed 19, and still producing more than just about any teenager who has ever reached the big leagues. His current .756 OPS ranks sixth among all 19-year-olds with at least 350 plate appearances, better than Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr., Robin Yount and Al Kaline.

But for perhaps the first time in his life, Harper is experiencing a prolonged slump. It's just one more important hurdle to cross for any rookie.

"You just try to battle as best you can and not worry about what's going on around you," he said. "As long as you go up there and try and stay within yourself and battle as best you can, good things will happen."

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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.