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Men among boys

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Men among boys

It took nearly 79 seasons of baseball in the District of Columbia for the home team to hit six home runs in one game for the first time.

Then it took only 24 hours for the Nationals to do it again.

And at the end of Wednesday night's 9-1 thrashing of the Cubs, all anyone could do was sit back and marvel at what this suddenly juggernaut of a lineup was able to accomplish.

Twelve homers in two days? It defies logic.

"I don't know what's going on," said Adam LaRoche, who contributed two of them during Tuesday night's win and another on Wednesday. "Whatever we're doing, we need to continue to do it every day. Whether it's the meals we're eating, the cage work, you name it. Just one of those stretches that you can't really explain."

How rare was this accomplishment? So rare it had only happened twice before in the modern era: the 1996 Dodgers and the 2003 Angels.

"It's not going to happen all the time," Danny Espinosa said. "But we definitely have the power potential to do that."

Indeed, the Nationals lineup -- healthy at last after a slew of early-season injuries -- is as potent as any in baseball right now. They could wind up with five 20-homer regulars. Seven different everyday players boast a slugging percentage of at least .423.

And they've put it all together over the last two nights to leave the Cubs dazed, confused and curled up in the fetal position, begging to be spared.

"That's just men playing against boys right now," manager Dale Sveum said.

Sveum may have forgotten one of those "men" is only 19 years old. He's not alone, because members of the Nationals tend to forget Bryce Harper is so young when they watch him tear up big-league pitching like he has over the last three weeks (he's hit .333 with seven homers and 12 extra-base hits since August 17).

"We don't treat him like he's 19," LaRoche said. "He plays so far above a 19-year-old that we're going to treat him like one of the guys."

Harper was in peak form Wednesday night, reaching base in four of his five plate appearances. He drew a pair of walks, lined out hard to right field but most impressively clubbed two home runs: one an opposite-field shot into the visitors' bullpen, the other a second-deck bomb down the right-field line.

With that surge, Harper's rookie season home run tally now stands at 17. In the history of baseball, the only teenagers ever to hit more are Tony Conigliaro (24) and Mel Ott (19).

"I feel good up there," Harper said. "I'm just trying to go up there and have good at-bats and look for one pitch that I can drive and really try to get it. It's nice to have everybody around me hitting. I think one person hits, everybody hits."

Harper's power barrage Wednesday came in front of two familiar faces: His parents, Ron and Sheri, who flew in from Las Vegas the previous night.

Was it cool to hit two homers with his folks in attendance?

"They've seen it a couple times," Harper said with a wry smile as he left the clubhouse.

Why wouldn't everyone on the Nationals roster smile after this one? The offensive explosion was the major storyline by night's end, but lest anyone forget another dominant start by Gio Gonzalez.

Coming off the first shutout of his career, Gonzalez carried a no-hitter into the top of the sixth. He finally departed after seven scoreless innings, extending his current streak to 16.

He also earned his 18th victory of the season, matching Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for the major-league lead. He's the first Washington pitcher to win 18 games since the Senators' Bob Porterfield won 22 in 1953.

"It means a lot," said Gonzalez, who had a ball with the words "18th win" inscribed on the sweet spot in his locker. "These guys perform every night for me. Not only that, they put up runs for me. ... I think it's all thanks to them, the reason why I'm moving up to where I'm at now."

It's tough to lose when your teammates homer six times for you. Such is life right now for the best team in baseball, one that keeps finding new ways to impress and keeps finding new victims to pound into submission.

"This is by far the best team we've played all year," Sveum said. "It's like an American League lineup, too. Guys that hit the ball a long way and grind at-bats out and take advantage of any mistake that is thrown. Pitching, bullpen, starting pitching, defense, speed, power ... that's as good a team as there is in the National League."

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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.