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Sun wreaks havoc with Nats in loss to Brewers

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Sun wreaks havoc with Nats in loss to Brewers

There's apparently something about the September sun at Nationals Park, the way it hovers just above the third base stands in late afternoon and aligns itself perfectly with routine flyballs hit to center and right fields.

"Once 4:05 comes around, you've got the shadows at the plate," Bryce Harper said. "You've got the left field stands, with the red seats or whatever. And then you've got the sun monster behind. It's just something that happens, and you've just got to play with it and hopefully it doesn't happen any more."

"It" is the stomach-churning feeling outfielders get when they realize they can't see a routine flyball fast approaching them from underneath that bright sun. "It" was a feeling both Harper and Jayson Werth experienced Sunday afternoon, each at critical moments during what would become a 6-2 loss to the Brewers.

Harper completely lost sight of Ryan Braun's fourth-inning flyball to center, letting it fall to the ground for a gift double. Braun wound up scoring Milwaukee's first run of the game.

"You can't catch what you can't see, you know?" Harper said with a shrug. "Nothing you can do about it."

Three innings later, Werth suffered the exact same fate, losing Carlos Gomez's flyball to right with the bases loaded and helping turn a 2-2 game into a comfortable lead for the Brewers.

"You guys saw the game," Werth said, walking past reporters without answering questions.

It would be one thing if these freak plays could be chalked up to one bad afternoon with a bad sky. But the exact same thing happened to Harper 14 days earlier, and there's legitimate reason to wonder if it might happen again.

The Nationals have four more home games this season, and two of them (tomorrow's series finale against the Brewers and the Oct. 3 season finale against the Phillies) are afternoon games.

Worse, there's a decent chance the Nationals will be scheduled to play one or more afternoon playoff games next month, creating the possibility of a similar play wreaking havoc at a most inopportune moment.

Which begs what may sound like a silly question but may actually have merit: Is there anything at all the Nationals can do to try to prevent this from happening again? (Aside, of course, from engineering a 2-square mile sun blocker and installing it on South Capitol Street in the next two weeks.)

"Well, we may come out early and try to shag some flyballs," manager Davey Johnson said. "Maybe when we have a night game or something. Seems to be around 2-3 o'clock when they're having trouble. Outfield coordinator Bo Porter was starting to play them around so they'd get a little better angle on the sun. And then they started hitting the ball where we weren't playing. Strategy, nothing worked today."

To be sure, there were other reasons the Nationals lost this game. Their lineup squandered multiple opportunities to bring home runners in scoring position. Their pitching staff surrendered 15 hits and issued four walks, giving the Brewers plenty of opportunities to score (which they did).

Really, though, the tone for the entire afternoon was established several days ago when Johnson named Chien-Ming Wang his starter. After Tuesday's rainout forced Wednesday's doubleheader, the Nationals had no choice but to use a spot starter for this game. And of the available options -- Wang, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke -- Johnson felt Wang was his best.

The veteran right-hander hadn't started a big-league game since June 19 and he hadn't started any game since Sept. 1 for Class AAA Syracuse, so the Nationals knew entering this one the odds of a long start were slim.

Wang actually pitched better than expected, keeping the ball in the strike zone and forcing the Brewers into hitting mostly groundballs. But a 30-pitch fourth inning -- aided in part by Harper's lost flyball -- left him with 69 pitches overall and left Johnson to turn to his bullpen early.

"As a player, I definitely want to keep pitching today," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "But I know I only have three days off since his last relief appearance and probably they consider for that reason, so they took me out."

Five different Nationals each pitched one inning of relief, none of them retiring the side. Ryan Mattheus took the brunt of the abuse, allowing three runs on four hits in the seventh, though again that inning was prolonged by Werth's misplay.

"I thought we played well," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Balls we had chances on, we made plays. What are you going to do? Tip your cap to the sun."

All of it added up to a loss, the Nationals' sixth in their last nine games. The Braves' 2-1 victory in Philadelphia allowed them to close the gap in the NL East to 4 12 games and leave the Nationals' magic number to clinch the division at 6.

They'll be back on the field tomorrow for another 1:05 p.m. matinee against Milwaukee.

The forecast: 69 degrees and abundant sunshine.

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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.

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

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Nats' Max Scherzer wins second straight NL Cy Young Award

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals has coasted to his third Cy Young Award and second straight in the National League.

Scherzer breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The honor was announced Wednesday on MLB Network.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit. He became the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs.

RELATED: WIETERS WILL RETURN TO NATS IN 2018 

Scherzer was 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and a league-leading 268 strikeouts for the NL East champion Nationals.

Kershaw has already won three NL Cy Youngs, and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts.

Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians easily won his second AL Cy Young Award earlier in the day. He got 28 of the 30 first-place votes, with Boston's Chris Sale second and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees third.

Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball.