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Bryce Harper points to health as key to historic MVP season

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Bryce Harper points to health as key to historic MVP season

For a player to have a season worthy of an MVP award, many things have to go right, and for Bryce Harper in 2015, just about everything did. He set career-highs in almost every statistical category and led the league in runs, homers, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS. This was all at the age of 22.

Harper flashed greatness in his first three years in the league, but injuries beset him particularly in 2013 and 2014. In 2015 he was finally healthy for a full season and Harper believes that was the biggest key to him realizing his potential at such a young age.

"You want to play every single day for your team. All I wanted to do this year was stay healthy and be on the field every single day that I could," he said. "I knew that if I could do that, then I'd be winning this award at the end of the year. Just having the opportunity to play every single day was a lot of fun this year."

Ever since Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old, he was predicted to do great things. He was a phenom among phenoms, the LeBron James of baseball. And just like LeBron, Harper has lived up to expectations.

That includes expectations set on his own. Winning an MVP was a dream Harper had long before he was anointed as the next all-time great.

"You go back to playing ball when you're a kid, playing ball when you're younger in the backyard, dreaming of World Series, MVPs and doing everything you can to help your team get to that point. I was able to do that this year, win MVP. I'm just very blessed and very thankful to win this award," he said.

Harper had one of the greatest individual seasons of all time, but his Nationals fell far short of expectations by missing the playoffs and going 83-79. Given all that he and his teammates went through, Harper said it will be easy to turn the page and look forward to the 2016 season where he and the Nats will hope for much better results.

"I'm going to enjoy this with my family tonight and enjoy this with my team tonight. But tomorrow is a new day, new obstacles are coming. A new year is coming. Next year is right here. All I want to do is win ballgames. All I want to do is win a World Series," he said.

On a conference call with members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Thursday night, Harper even shared part of what is already motivating him for 2016, the fact people are doubting the Nationals after their disappointing showing this past season.

"I hope everybody in the book dismisses us," he said. "Because that just means we're going to go out there to do everything we can to prove people wrong."

Having just turned 23, Harper may be an MVP already, but it's clear he has plenty more he hopes to accomplish.

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Nationals walked off again, this time by Cardinals' Paul DeJong

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Nationals walked off again, this time by Cardinals' Paul DeJong

ST. LOUIS -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez was awake most of the night after Washington lost on a walk-off grand slam Sunday.

He likely won't be catching up on that missed sleep Monday.

Paul DeJong handed the Nationals their second straight walk-off loss, capping a back-and-forth finish with a game-ending solo homer in the ninth inning of the St. Cardinals' 7-6 victory Monday night.

DeJong took Koda Glover (0-1) deep leading off the ninth on a 3-1 pitch. A night earlier, Ryan Madson allowed a game-ending ninth-inning grand slam to the Chicago Cubs' David Bote in a 4-3 defeat.

"I don't sleep most nights, I like to watch replays of the game," Martinez said. "And last night was no different."

Washington's bullpen has blown saves in three of its past four games. All-Star closer Sean Doolittle has been on the disabled list since early July, and top setup man Kelvin Herrera went to the DL with right rotator cuff impingement last week.

"I don't know what else to do," Martinez said of the bullpen.

The usually stoic DeJong wasn't quite sure how to celebrate his first career walk-off homer. He started calm, keeping his head down as he rounded the bases. After coming around third, though, he whipped his helmet into the grass, threw his arms down and bellowed out a roar.

"My first walkoff, it felt so good I had to do something a little different," DeJong said.

The Cardinals recorded their 10th walkoff of the season and DeJong became the sixth different player to end a game in grand fashion.

"They're all special, all emotional," St. Louis interim manager Mike Shildt said. "These guys have the mentality, `Do your job, keep the line moving.' They have a lot of trust with each other."

The Cardinals have won six in a row and moved to nine games over .500 for the first time this season.

DeJong's 380-foot drive ended a wild final two innings.

Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko homered in the eighth inning to put St. Louis up 6-4. Gyorko started the rally with a leadoff drive, and Carpenter followed with a three-run homer off Sammy Solis.

The Nationals tied it at 6 in the top of the ninth on RBI singles by Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters off closer Bud Norris. Dakota Hudson (3-0) relieved Norris and stranded two baserunners by retiring Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton.

Juan Soto and Bryce Harper homered for the Nationals, who have lost five of seven.

Gyorko sparked St. Louis' big eighth inning with his homer off Justin Miller. Kolten Wong and Patrick Wisdom then singled to set up Carpenter's 33rd homer. Carpenter has homered in seven of his past 10 games. He extended his major-league leading on-base streak to 31 games with a first-inning bunt single. He has 17 homers during that string.

Harper won a 10-pitch battle with starter Miles Mikolas by drilling his 29th homer leading off the fourth to lead 2-1.

Ryan Zimmerman added a run-scoring double in the second for the Nationals.

Jose Martinez had four hits for the Cardinals.

Mikolas gave up four runs on four hits over seven innings. He struck out four and walked one.

Tommy Milone started for Washington and gave up two runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings.

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After standout performances, Nationals' 1B Ryan Zimmerman named NL Player of the Week

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USA TODAY Sports

After standout performances, Nationals' 1B Ryan Zimmerman named NL Player of the Week

Ryan Zimmerman is on a hot streak for the Washington Nationals, and he was named NL Player of the Week, the league announced Monday.

Quite frankly, this isn't exactly a surprise. 

The Nats' 33-year-old slugger completed a wild week going 10-for-21, finishing with a .476 batting average along with a .538 on-base percentage and slugging at 1.048. 

He particularly stunned in Washington's 9-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, blasting two homers and driving in six runs. The first baseman finished the week with 12 RBI in seven games, along with three total dingers and three doubles.

Zimmerman returned to the Nats' lineup on July 20 off the 60-day disabled list after being out since the beginning of May with an oblique injury. Since his return, in 15 games, he's batted .354 with four home runs and 18 RBI after going onto the list hitting just .217.

Other Nats who have previously won the NL Player of the Week Award this season are Max Scherzer, Mark Reynolds and Adam Eaton.

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