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Instant analysis: Cardinals 10, Nats 9

Instant analysis: Cardinals 10, Nats 9

Game in a nutshell: What should have been a fantastic pitchers' duel between two of the NL's best (Jordan Zimmermann and Kyle Lohse) instead turned into a wild slugfest filled with twists and turns. The Nationals stormed out to a 6-2 lead after two innings, but then Zimmermann gave all the runs back and more, putting the Cardinals up 8-6 after four. A three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth put the Nationals back on top, 9-8. But then Sean Burnett coughed up the lead in the eighth and left this a tie game. Drew Storen recorded a huge out to end that inning and was given a chance to return for the ninth. But a leadoff single to Allen Craig and then the inability to prevent Craig from stealing second cost the Nationals. David Freese's RBI single scored Craig, and when the Nats went down in the bottom of the ninth, they were handed a frustrating, 10-9 loss. On the bright side, the Braves lost again to the Phillies, so the lead in the NL East remains 6 12 games, with the magic number down to 24.

Hitting highlight: They stormed out the gates with six early runs, then were silenced and saw their lead disappear. But a sixth-inning rally got the Nationals back on top, with contributions from several players. Danny Espinosa got things started with his 15th homer of the season. Jayson Werth then kept things going with a two-out double to right. That forced Cardinals manager Mike Matheny into summoning lefty Mark Rzepczynski to face Bryce Harper. The rookie did his job, drawing a walk, and that forced Matheny to turn to Fernando Salas to face Ryan Zimmerman. Zim responded with a base hit to left, bringing home the tying run. Then he appeared to purposely get caught in a rundown, stalling things just long enough for Harper to come around and score the go-ahead run. A crazy finish to a big inning for the Nationals.

Pitching lowlight: What's going on with Zimmermann? It's a real question for the Nationals right now, because the right-hander hasn't looked right for a while now. He was ambushed for a career-high eight runs in only 3 23 innings today, serving up two towering homers and losing his location during a laborious fourth inning he couldn't even finish. If this was just one blip on the radar, it wouldn't be cause for concern. But this has become a disturbing trend. After posting a 2.28 ERA over his first 21 starts this season, Zimmermann's ERA over his last six outings is now 6.16. Is there a problem with his shoulder? His velocity has been strong throughout this stretch. Whatever the reason, the Nationals have to hope their presumed playoff ace can figure things out, stat.

Key stat: The Nationals are the only MLB team to post a winning record in each of the season's first five months: April (14-8), May (15-13), June (15-10), July (17-9), August (19-10).

Up next: The series concludes with Stephen Strasburg on the mound for one of his final starts of the season. Veteran Jake Westbrook gets the nod for the Cardinals in the 1:35 p.m. contest.

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Whoa. Dusty Baker not returning as Nationals' manager. What comes next?

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Whoa. Dusty Baker not returning as Nationals' manager. What comes next?

The Washington Nationals announced Friday Dusty Baker will not return as manager of the club in 2018. 

Baker led the team to the first back-to-back division titles in franchise history, and the Nationals were 192-132 under Baker, but they failed to make it to an NLCS.

Baker is 14th in MLB history with 1,863 career wins.

The next Nationals' manager will be their seventh since they arrived in DC.

Only the Marlins have had as many.

"I'm surprised and disappointed," Baker told USA TODAY Sports. "They told me they would get back to me and I told them I was leaving town yesterday and they waited 10 days to tell me."

"I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back to back years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It's hard to understand." 

The team also announced the contracts for the Major League coaching staff have also expired, and the search for a new manager will begin immediately.

RELATED: BRYCE HARPER THANKS NATIONALS' FANS FOR SUPPORT

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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy undergoes successful knee surgery

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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy undergoes successful knee surgery

While Nats fans were still digesting the news that Dusty Baker will not return as manager next year, the team released some more surprising news. 

Second baseman Daniel Murphy underwent knee surgery today, per an official team report. 

Washington Post reporter Chelsea Janes reported that the surgery is considered significant and the team won't put a timeline on the recovery process:

"The procedure, according to the statement released by the team, repaired articular cartilage in Murphy’s right knee. For those interested in the details, it was a debridement and microfracture surgery, and orthopedic surgeon Timothy Kremchek performed it."

"For those concerned with the implications of the procedure, those are still unclear. The statement clarified that Murphy’s rehab “will progress throughout the offseason,” as one would hope, and did not include a timetable.

RELATED: HARPER THANKS FANS FOR SUPPORT