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Nats ready for weekend with Phillies

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Nats ready for weekend with Phillies

As much as the Nationals have tried to promote this weekend's "Take Back Our Park" initiative and get local fans to overtake the hordes of Phillies faithful who traditionally make the trek down I-95, there's really only one way to accomplish their mission.

Win.

If the Nationals consistently beat their hated rivals to the north, more of their own fans will watch in person and fewer Philadelphia loyalists will invade South Capitol Street.

And if ever the stars were aligned to do such a thing, this would be the weekend.

When the two teams take the field tonight, the Nationals will reside alone in first place in the NL East, a full 3 12 games ahead of the fourth-place Phillies.

They'll also have their top three pitchers lined up for the weekend: Stephen Strasburg tonight, Gio Gonzalez tomorrow afternoon, Jordan Zimmermann in Sunday night's nationally televised finale.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, won't send ace Roy Halladay (who just pitched Wednesday night) or veteran Cliff Lee (on the disabled list) to the mound. Manager Charlie Manuel also won't have first baseman Ryan Howard or second baseman Chase Utley (each on the DL) in his lineup.

True, the Nationals are dealing with their own spate of injuries and are likely to be without Ryan Zimmerman (shoulder), Michael Morse (lat) or Adam LaRoche (oblique) all weekend. But they enter this series feeling good about themselves and feeling like they're ready for their toughest test of the young season.

"I would say so," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "I think everyone knows what type of team they are. They are definitely banged up, and so are we. I think, all things considered, it's still going to be a good test because it's still pretty equal ground. We've got our horses going for us, and we'll see what happens."

Inside the Nationals clubhouse, players and coaches are trying to downplay the significance of this series.

"You know what, as a manager and as a ballplayer, every game's a big game," manager Davey Johnson said. "You're only as good as your last at-bat, the last pitch you threw, the last game you managed. I don't put any more significance on if it's April or September. They're all important. I try not to get too high or too low."

That said, the Nationals do feel like they stack up better against the five-time NL East champs than they ever have. They also enter the weekend a confident bunch after winning last season's series against Philadelphia, 10-8.

"Did it make a whole lotta difference in our season? Probably not," Werth said. "Did it make a difference in their season? I don't know. We played good ball in September and we showed the type of team that we are coming down the stretch. I think that kind of set the tone for this season. So in that regard, it's good."

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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.