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Harper deserves to be All-Star

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Harper deserves to be All-Star

The notion was first offered about two weeks ago, and it's since picked up considerable steam. There remain 17 days until Major League Baseball announces its 2012 All-Star teams, but let's just say this now for the record.

Bryce Harper deserves to be an All-Star.

And not simply as a token publicity stunt to boost ratings. No, he truly deserves to be named an All-Star.

Start with the raw numbers. Following a monster road trip to Boston and Toronto, Harper now boasts a .303 batting average, seven homers, 19 RBI, a .384 on-base percentage, a .548 slugging percentage and a .933 OPS in 41 games with the Nationals.

The only statistical argument going against Harper is that he hasn't played in enough big-league games yet. And that's true. But he's going to play in a lot more before the Midsummer Classic rosters are announced July 1. In fact, he's on pace to amass enough plate appearances to qualify for league leaderboards in the next 7-to-10 days.

If you've played enough to qualify for the batting title, you've played enough to qualify for the All-Star Game.

And once he does qualify, Harper is going to find his name littered all over the National League offensive leaderboards. His current numbers would rank in the top 10 in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.

Harper's merits, though, extend far beyond the numbers. His defensive play has been superb, especially for a rookie who has been asked to bounce between all three outfield positions since he debuted. His baserunning skills and overall hustle have been lauded from every corner of the sport.

Harper's ability to learn on the fly, meanwhile, are second to none. Is there any hitter in baseball -- no matter the age or experience level -- who is able to make in-game adjustments the way Harper does? In his first at-bat against an opposing starter, he's hitting a solid .273 with a .375 on-base percentage and .809 OPS. In his second at-bat against those same starters, he's hitting an incredible .419 with a .500 on-base percentage and 1.468 OPS.

All of that makes Harper worthy of a trip to Kansas City come the second week of July.

But if you needed any more convincing, here it is, plain and simple: Harper right now is the best everyday player on one of the best teams in baseball. Shouldn't that by definition make him an All-Star?

Harper is far from the only deserving player off the Nationals' roster. For the first time since it arrived in town, this franchise merits at least three (perhaps more) All-Stars, with co-aces Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the top of the list. Cases can also be made for Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche.

But with each passing day, it becomes more and more obvious that Harper has as strong a case as anyone for an All-Star berth.

Not because of his star power. But because he truly deserves to share the field with baseball's very best.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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USA Today Sports Images

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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