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Second time's a charm for Nats

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Second time's a charm for Nats

NEW YORK -- The major-league schedule is a quirky beast. The Nationals wrapped up their season series with the Reds on Mother's Day, yet they won't face the Cardinals for the first time until Labor Day weekend.

Then there are the Mets, who are about to conclude a nine-day stretch in which they play the Nationals six times. Which produced Tuesday night's matchup between Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey, a showdown of All-Star hurlers that would have been noteworthy if not for the fact the two had just squared off five days earlier in Washington.

That encounter was won convincingly by the Mets, with Gonzalez putting forth his worst start of the season and the Nationals struggled to lump hits in bunches against Dickey.

Five days later, the Nationals turned the tables. They racked up five consecutive hits off Dickey in the top of the seventh, highlighted by Adam LaRoche's second-deck homer. And Gonzalez authored perhaps his best start of the year, surrendering one unearned run and only two hits over seven brilliant innings to atone for his previous outing and lead the Nationals to a 5-2 victory.

"He was out there to prove something," manager Davey Johnson said.

Gonzalez wasn't alone. Perhaps the entire dugout was motivated to put together a performance like this against the NL's most-successful pitcher this season.

The end result was a thoroughly satisfying victory, the Nationals' fourth straight and one that brought their record to a season-high 18 games over .500. Even if they went 33-33 the rest of the way, they'd still wind up with 90 wins.

"I think we're clicking pretty good right now," LaRoche said.

They are clicking because they're getting contributions from every aspect of the roster. Baseball's best rotation continues to overwhelm opposing lineups, with the last five starters all going at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer. A resurgent lineup has belted out eight homers over the last six games. And a deep and talented bullpen has (with one minor exception during Friday night's debacle against the Braves) shut the door on the opposition.

The Nationals won Tuesday night's game thanks primarily to Gonzalez's pitching excellence and the late offensive surge against Dickey. Each was impressive in its own right.

Gonzalez admitted he carried some extra motivation into this start after lasting only 3 13 innings Thursday against the same lineup.

"I wanted to redeem myself from my last start, give our team a chance to go out there and try to compete," he said.

The left-hander was able to do that by aggressively attacking the strike zone and not wasting any pitches. He needed only six pitches to induce three groundball outs in the bottom of the first, then retired 11 batters in a row from the third through the sixth innings.

"Just from what we saw last time and before the game, we usually talk about a game plan, and we talked about being more aggressive in the zone and attacking the hitters," catcher Jesus Flores said.

By the time he escaped a mini-jam in the seventh, Gonzalez's pitch count sat at a mere 87. Johnson said he was prepared to let him take the mound for the eighth, but when the opportunity to pinch-hit for his starter and attempt to tack on some insurance runs presented itself, the manager decided to take it.

"He can go high, up to 120 pitches as far as I'm concerned," Johnson said. "But the guys were fresh that I wanted to bring into that ballgame, and I thought we could ice it down, and we did."

By that point, the Nationals had taken a 5-1 lead, thanks to a sudden barrage of hits off Dickey. They had scored their first run in the fourth on doubles by Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa (who hit right-handed against the knuckleballer). But otherwise they had been stymied once again by the 13-game winner who has mastered control of the knuckler like perhaps no one who has ever thrown the pitch.

"It seems like he never throws a bad one up there that doesn't do anything," LaRoche said. "He'll sneak some fastballs in there, but for the most part when he throws that ball, it's moving. You just hope when you swing, your bat's in the right spot."

Seeking any advantage he could get to make that happen, LaRoche found himself using Roger Bernadina's bat for this game, which is two ounces lighter than his usual lumber. The theory, devised by injured teammate Ian Desmond: A lighter bat should allow for better control and more ability to adjust as the knuckleball is approaching the plate.

It didn't seem to make any difference during LaRoche's first two plate appearances; he walked in the second, then grounded out in the fourth. But then he connected on a 79 mph knuckleball down in the zone with two outs in the seventh, and sent it soaring into the second deck down the right-field line.

It was LaRoche's first hit in nine plate appearances against Dickey this season, only his third in 19 career head-to-head encounters.

Must've been the bat.

"Whether it's true or not," LaRoche said, "it worked once."

A conversation Rick Eckstein had with several batters before the seventh inning might have helped as well. The hitting coach noted too many of his hitters were letting Dickey's knuckleball get too deep in the strike zone before swinging. Go after it out in front of the plate, Eckstein suggested, and catch it before it breaks.

Whatever the reason, the heart of the Nationals lineup sprung to life in that inning. LaRoche's two-run blast came after Michael Morse singled. Espinosa, Bernadina and Flores all followed with their own singles, the last one bringing home two more insurance runs and putting the Nats in position to erase the bad memories of last week's loss to Dickey with a resounding victory this time around.

"What a great game and a great comeback," Johnson said. "I loved seeing it."

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Max Scherzer Giving Away Memorabilia For Good Cause

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Max Scherzer Giving Away Memorabilia For Good Cause

By Ryan Wormeli

Max Scherzer is the ace of the Nationals staff, a fan favorite, and the 2017 National League Cy Young award winner. He's also a soon-to-be father whose wife, Erica May-Scherzer, once accidentally threw out the jersey he wore when throwing his 2nd career no-hitter. This time around, I'm guessing they talked it over first before deciding to sell some of his memorabilia garage-style for a new fundraiser.

We don't have any more information about the fundraiser yet, but May-Scherzer posted some photos on Twitter this afternoon. 

And in case you're wondering, no, the Scherzer family cat featured in one of the pictures isn't for sale (we assume). Plus, even if they were willing to part with their cat, considering Scherzer is on a contract worth over $200 Million, their price would probably be pretty steep. How much would you pay to adopt the cat of a 3-time Cy Young winner?

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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.