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Many key Nationals will be making playoff debuts

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Many key Nationals will be making playoff debuts

WASHINGTON (AP) On the night the Washington Nationals clinched the NL East title, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman donned the one essential accessory for any jubilant baseball player these days: ski goggles.

His gray commemorative T-shirt soaked by champagne and beer, Zimmerman was asked whether he brought the eye-protecting equipment to the ballpark himself, knowing it would come in handy during all of the alcohol-spraying.

No, came the reply: Right fielder Jayson Werth provided the goggles because, as Zimmerman explained, ``He's been through a few.''

Werth is nearly alone in that regard on Zimmerman's club. When your franchise hasn't been to the playoffs in 31 years, and your city hasn't participated in Major League Baseball's postseason in 79, chances are there won't be a whole lot of guys who know how to celebrate in a clubhouse.

That's how things are for the Nationals, who were a majors-best 98-64 in 2012, but whose young core - Zimmerman, 19-year-old center fielder Bryce Harper, left fielder Michael Morse, middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, starters Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, and relievers Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen - is new to all of this.

None of those players ever has appeared in a single playoff game, yet each will be counted on in a key role when the Nationals open their NL division series on Sunday at either the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves, frequent postseason participants.

``Baseball is baseball. Whatever you're going to play, wherever you're going to play, people are going to do good things, people are going to do bad things, just like they've done all season. Obviously, the coverage and the attention is magnified, but the game's the game,'' said Zimmerman, a member of 100-loss Nationals clubs in 2008 and 2009, ``and I think once we get into it, all of us will be fine.''

It's likely that no more than five of the players who will be on Washington's 25-man NLDS roster have spent any time under the bright lights of the playoffs at all, led by Werth's 44 games with the Philadelphia Phillies, the club he left as a free agent before last season to sign a $126 million contract with the Nationals.

According to STATS LLC, the only other member of the club with more than eight playoff games is utility reserve Mark DeRosa - a valuable member of the current clubhouse, to be sure, but someone who conceivably might not even get on the field for more than an inning here or there the rest of the way.

Werth (2008 Phillies) and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (2011 Cardinals) are the only Nationals players who have won a World Series.

And of the 10 clubs that qualified for this postseason, only the AL West champion Oakland Athletics had a younger season-ending roster than the Nationals, STATS LLC said.

So how important is it to have postseason veterans?

``It definitely helps. You have a lot people, once they go back multiple times, they know how to handle different situations,'' said right-hander Jackson (10-11), expected to start Game 3 or 4 of the NLDS, behind playoff rookies Gonzalez (21-8) in Game 1 and Zimmermann (12-8) in Game 2. ``But at the end of the day, it can be your first time and you can still go out and perform. It just depends on how you treat it.''

The man in a Nationals uniform with by far the most accumulated playoff knowledge is manager Davey Johnson.

He won World Series championships as a second baseman with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966 and 1970, and another as the manager of the New York Mets in 1986.

Johnson insists his current group will be just fine this month.

``You gain your experience by playing 162 games and winning those games and winning most series. ... We treat every game as a big game,'' he said. ``The beauty of it is, you've played alongside each other all year long and you know what everybody's capable of doing. You feed on the energy of knowing the guy behind you is pretty good. So you don't need to have a whole lot of guys with postseason experience. I've got a ton of it.''

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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

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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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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.