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Behind Harper power surge, Nats outlast Marlins


Behind Harper power surge, Nats outlast Marlins

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: No matter how much the game has changed over the decades, through deadball eras and steroid eras, there's always been something special about the 3-homer game. It's a single-game feat accomplished by some of baseball's greatest, but not all. And on this warm Wednesday afternoon on South Capitol Street, Bryce Harper added his name to the list with the best power display of his young career.

Harper homered in each of his first three at-bats, all off Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler, to stake the Nationals to a 5-2 lead and elicit a curtain call from the crowd of 31,417. He came up to bat again in the bottom of the seventh with a chance to really make history, settling instead for a mere RBI groundout that extended the Nats' lead to 7-2.


That lead wasn't as safe as Matt Williams would have hoped, though. Max Scherzer, after dominating most of the afternoon, faded in the top of the eighth and served up a towering, 3-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton that trimmed the lead to 7-5. Tanner Roark had to pitch out of a jam to finish the eighth, then Drew Storen needed to strike out Stanton and Marcell Ozuna with the tying runner on base to record the save.
With that victory, the Nationals took this series from their division rivals. They've now won 7-of-9 overall and moved back within 1 game of the .500 mark.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Hmm, nothing really stands out here as a highlight. ... Wilson Ramos did double in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Other than that ... oh yeah, that Harper kid. What can be said other than he was phenomenal. His first homer was an opposite-field shot that landed in the visitors' bullpen. His next two were absolute bombs, each landing in the second deck high above the wall in right-center. Giancarlo Stanton didn't even bother moving on the last one; he knew where it was going. A 3-homer game is remarkable in and of itself, but Harper is in some really exclusive company with this one. He's the youngest to hit three homers and drive in five runs in a game since Al Kaline on April 17, 1955.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: The final line (7 IP, 10 H, 5 ER) doesn't look great, but Scherzer was great on this day, done in by a flurry of hits in the second and then Stanton's towering homer in the eighth. In between, the right-hander struck out 10, didn't walk a batter and completely overwhelmed the Marlins lineup. Should he have been allowed to retake the mound for the eighth? That's debatable. He was sitting at 101 pitches but had retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced. He then gave up back-to-back singles to Dee Gordon and Martin Prado, getting a mound visit from Steve McCatty. Scherzer stayed in to face Stanton, who worked the count to 3-2 and then launched a ball over the left-field wall to make this game interesting again.

KEY STAT: The only other Nationals to hit three homers in a game are Alfonso Soriano (2006), Adam Dunn (2010) and Ryan Zimmerman (2013).

UP NEXT: After 16 straight games in four cities, the Nationals get a much-deserved day off Thursday. They'll open a weekend series against the Braves on Friday, with lefties Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 3.86) and Eric Stults (1-2, 4.91) squaring off.

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Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

The Nationals wrapping up the NL Championship Series in a sweep has given them an unusually long break of six days before Game 1 of the World Series takes place Tuesday night. That has allowed the team and their fans to stop and soak in the glory of making it this far. It also gives plenty of time to watch the ALCS and consider Washington's next opponent.

When it comes to that, Nationals should have one clear, if undesirable, option. That is to root for the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team everyone loves to hate, the Evil Empire, the team with more bandwagon fans maybe than anyone else in sports. In a sense, the Yankees don't deserve going to the World Series as much as the Houston Astros, as they have won more championships than anyone else. But they also probably represent the Nats' best path towards getting their first.

The Astros, though more likeable than the Yankees, are also better. They are a superteam devoid of weaknesses. They would meet the Nationals in the World Series with an advantage in just about every single category. Their lineup is better, their defense is better, their pitching staff as a whole is better and their manager is more experienced. They won a World Series just two years ago and are arguably better now than they were then.

Even their starting rotation, one could argue, is at least as good if not better than that of the Nationals. They may be the only team in baseball that can match the triumvirate of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin with an equally-imposing trio of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Not to mention their vastly superior bullpen.

The Yankees, meanwhile, also have a better lineup and bullpen than the Nationals. But they don't have the rotation the Nationals do. They only had one starter this season post a sub-4.00 ERA and that was James Paxton, who has already allowed four runs in seven innings so far this postseason.

The Nationals' rotation would be a clear strength against the Yankees' and would be the ideal counter to New York's best asset, a power-hitting lineup led by Aaron Judge, D.J. LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton. And while Stanton has given the Nationals nightmares for many years, he is not 100 percent healthy due to a quadriceps strain.

There are also some good narratives in a potential Nationals-Yankees series, for those who are interested in those sorts of things. For one, the last time a D.C. baseball team made the World Series, back in 1933, they played a New York team, the Giants. In fact, the Senators beat the Giants in 1924 to capture Washington's only World Series title.

There is also an angle many Nationals fans may dismiss, but will be a factor for some. Before the Nats arrived in Washington, generations of baseball fans in Washington grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. And not only were those fans trained to view the Yankees as rivals, many were scarred by the 1996 ALCS when a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out to catch a fly ball in Game 1 that should not have been a home run. To many baseball fans in this area, it cost their favorite team a chance to play in the World Series.

Playing New York would also give fans an easier way to travel to road games. The drive to New York is only about four hours via car or bus, and the train is even faster. Yankee Stadium would likely have a good amount of red in the crowd.

Travel considerations and media storylines aside, the most important goal for the Nationals is to win four more games and capture the team's first World Series title. Playing the Yankees increases the likelihood of that happening at least a little bit.

It's like a prescription with adverse side effects that is essential for a patient. Nationals fans should know what to do as they watch the ALCS. Just maybe hold your nose as you wash it down.


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Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

The Nationals are going to the World Series. Everybody knows that by now. But how and when you can watch the Nationals play is becoming clearer by the day.

The first two games will be played in either Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park, depending on whether the Yankees or Astros win the American League Championship Series. Game 1 will be on Tuesday, Oct. 22, while Game 2 will be Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Games 3 and 4 will be at Nationals Park on Friday, Oct. 25 and Sunday, Oct. 26, respectively. If necessary, Game 5 will also be played at Nationals Park on Sunday, Oct. 27. A Game 5 would be the last game the Nationals host this season.

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be at the American League representative's ballpark on Tuesday, Oct. 29 and Wednesday, Oct. 30, respectively.

All games will be broadcast on FOX.

World Series Schedule:

Tuesday, Oct. 22:
- World Series Game 1: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Wednesday, Oct. 23:
- World Series Game 2: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Friday, Oct. 25:
- World Series Game 3. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Saturday, Oct. 26: 
- World Series Game 4. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Sunday, Oct. 27: 
- World Series Game 5*. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Monday, Oct. 29: 
- World Series Game 6*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Tuesday, Oct. 30:
- World Series Game 7*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.