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Harper homers, as Nats take 1st of doubleheader at Mets

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Harper homers, as Nats take 1st of doubleheader at Mets

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On a raw, wet, windy Saturday afternoon at Citi Field, the Nationals gathered for the opener of a day-night doubleheader in advance of Sunday's season finale, with very little still on the line. They still managed to show up and give a strong performance, riding Gio Gonzalez's six innings of scoreless ball and homers from Clint Robinson and Bryce Harper to beat the Mets in Game 1 of the day.

Gonzalez was effective, if inefficient, in matching Noah Syndergaard pitch for pitch for six innings before turning things over to his bullpen. That bullpen couldn't hold the 1-0 lead Robinson provided with his solo homer, with Blake Treinen and Matt Grace combining to surrender the tying run in the seventh.

But Harper's 2-run bomb off Addison Reed (his 42nd of the year) gave the Nationals the lead back in the eighth, and Casey Janssen and Felipe Rivero closed out their team's 82nd victory of the year. If nothing else, the Nats are assured of their fourth consecutive winning season.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Harper had been mired in a 4-for-32 slump when he stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth. He also had taken a 97-mph fastball off his left knee in his previous at-bat. No matter, because Harper launched a slider from Addison Reed into the second deck in right field. Harper now has 42 homers, 99 RBI and a .331 batting average as he attempts to hold off Dee Gordon for the NL batting title.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: You never really know which version of Gonzalez you're going to get anytime he takes the mound, but the good version most definitely showed up today. Gonzalez tossed six scoreless innings of 3-hit ball, keeping the Mets lineup at bay throughout. Gio being Gio, he of course endured through a 3-walk bottom of the third that tested everyone's patience, but the lefty battled through it to post another zero and keep his shutout intact. This was an inconsistent season for Gonzalez, but he finished with more-than-respectable numbers: 11-8, 3.79 ERA, 169 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings. the biggest bugaboos: 69 walks and an average of only 5.6 innings per start.

KEY STAT: Over his last 12 games, Matt den Dekker is hitting .440 (11-for-25) with four doubles, two homers and five RBI.

UP NEXT: Both clubs will be back at it at 7:10 p.m. for the regularly scheduled portion of today's doubleheader. Max Scherzer (13-12, 2.91) faces Matt Harvey (13-7, 1.80) in a star-studded pitching matchup.

[RELATED: Where does Escobar fit in 2016 Nats' infield?]

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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USA TODAY Sports

Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

Taking a look at the numbers behind the Nationals' three All-Stars

With a win on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals come into the All-Star break at 48-48. 

That's not great! It's certainly an underperformance given all the expectations, but the season hasn't been without some stellar individual performances . 

Take, for starters, Max Scherzer. Scherzer's on pace to have an even better year than his 2017 Cy Young-winning effort, which is mind-boggling. 

An even-more-refined command is what's made him better this season, as his walk rate is down below seven percent again after creeping up to 7.1 last year. It hasn't affected his strikeout rate, either, which has stayed steady at 34 percent. If the season ended today, it'd be the 4th straight year where he set a career-best in that department. 

Of all starting pitchers, he ranks second in WHIP, and K/BB percent. He has the third-lowest average against (.178) and third-best strikeout percentage (34.5). He's got a top-10 ERA and FIP as well. He's been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and will probably be in the conversation for N.L. MVP as well. 

If only the Nats could just go from Scherzer to Doolittle. The closer stopped walking people, too, and already has 22 saves after ending last year with 24. Had he not been put on the D.L. with a toe injury about a week before the All-Star game, he more than likely would have set his career high in saves before the break. 

He's currently on pace to post the second-best year of his career when it comes to strikeouts, too. He's getting Ks 37.1 percent of the time, which would be the highest since he posted a 37.7 in 2014. Same goes for his K/9. He also has a top-10 ERA and FIP. He's been one of the few relief pitchers that have been consistently reliable through the first half, and the Nats will need his toe to get real healthy real quick. 

And lastly there's Bryce Harper, who you've surely heard is not having an All-Star caliber season. His batting average is hovering around .200, he's striking out more than he has in four years, and he's getting eaten alive by the shift. He's also on pace to have one of his best power-hitting seasons ever and finish with close to 40 home runs, so even his bad years still find a way to be impressive. 

Harper also benefits from being one of the faces of baseball playing in front of his home fans. He's one of the most popular players in the league, and All-Star games find a way to get those people in. An All-Star game in D.C. without him would be objectively less enjoyable, so it was in everyone's interest to have him there. Stars just get the calls sometimes. 

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