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Marlins 3, Nats 2: Familiar storyline leads to loss

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Marlins 3, Nats 2: Familiar storyline leads to loss

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It's only April 24, but the Nationals recognize this 3-city, 10-game road trip through the NL East presents a real opportunity to make up some ground in the division. So they took the field at Marlins Park tonight with a sharp effort, getting dominant and efficient work from Jordan Zimmermann, some stellar defense from Denard Span and others and several quality at-bats early on. But then the game was decided late in an all-too-familiar fashion.

Bryce Harper drove in each of the Nationals' first two runs, via a sacrifice fly in the fourth and a 2-out RBI single in the sixth. The latter hit tied the game after the Marlins scored two quick runs off Zimmermann in the fifth, the only blip on the right-hander's evening.

So the Nats found themselves in a tie game late, a familiar position. And the result was familiar as well, with the lineup unable to convert prime scoring opportunities and the bullpen unable to prevent the winning run from crossing the plate. This time, it was Martin Prado's RBI single off Aaron Barrett in the bottom of the eighth that proved the difference and dealt the Nationals a frustrating loss to begin this long road trip.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Harper has impressed plenty of people early this season with some quality at-bats, showing real patience at the plate. Tonight, he put four of them together in succession. He bunted for a hit to lead off the second, drove a ball to center field for a sac fly in the fourth, sent a 2-out single to right for an RBI in the sixth and then drew a 2-out walk in the eighth. If Harper can continue to put together several strong at-bats on a given night, he really is going to do some serious damage this season.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: After getting battered around by the Red Sox and then showing uncharacteristic wildness against the Phillies, Zimmermann looked much more like himself tonight. Which is to say, he worked fast, threw strikes and got quick outs. Zimmermann needed only 79 pitches to complete six innings, failing to issue any walks. His slider was devastating early on, producing three straight strikeouts of Martin Prado, Giancarlo Stanton and Michael Morse. He easily could've come back out for the seventh, but the situation dictated that Matt Williams send up a pinch-hitter.

KEY STAT: With a fourth-inning gap shot tonight, Ryan Zimmerman notched his 300th career double. That ranks third in franchise history, behind only Tim Wallach (360) and Jose Vidro (304).

UP NEXT: Game 2 of this weekend series is a late-afternoon affair, with first pitch at 4:10 p.m. Stephen Strasburg (1-1, 4.50) faces fellow right-hander Tom Koehler (1-2, 6.75).

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Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

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Stephen Strasburg returns to Nats lineup after DL stint

Friday night marks the first second-half game of Major League Baseball's 162-game season. 

The Washington Nationals begin 5.5 games out of the first-place Phillies and host the second-place Braves for a three-game series before traveling to Milwaukee. 

One big piece to Dave Martinez's staff who has been missing since June 8 is Stephen Strasburg. The right-hander was activated from the DL and will start on the mound Friday night. 

Ryan Zimmerman was also activated but is not in Martinez's starting lineup. 

Prior to experiencing inflammation in his right shoulder during a June 8 start that forced him out of the game early, Strasburg saw flashes of dominance throughout his 13 starts owning a 3.46 ERA with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Zimmerman hasn't played since May 9 due to a strained right oblique. With the emergence of Matt Adams, it will be interesting to see how Martinez uses both guys throughout the summer. 

Here is a look at Friday night's official lineup: 

According to Byron Kerr, Zimmerman is still happy to be back, despite not being in the starting lineup. 

Catch the Nationals hosting the Braves Friday at 7:05 p.m. on MASN2. 

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8 bold MLB predictions sure to be proven wrong

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8 bold MLB predictions sure to be proven wrong

It doesn't have quite the same feel as Opening Day, but the first games after the MLB All-Star break certainly have their own unique excitement to them.

Teams are jockeying for playoff position, and the trade deadline is rapidly approaching. The Nats have struggled through the first half, but are still within striking distance of a spot in the 2018 postseason, so every game matters.

To help get you ready for the rest of the 2018 regular season, our baseball writers have provided a couple of bold predictions which are sure to be proven wrong by August.

Bold predictions for the second half of the 2018 MLB season:

Ryan Wormeli: 1) Despite the consensus top three teams in baseball all residing in the American League, this year’s World Series champion will be a National League squad.

2) Max Scherzer does NOT win the National League Cy Young award, even though most fans agree he has the best statistical season.

Cam Ellis: 1) Bryce Harper ends up with 45 home runs this season.

2) Koda Glover eventually gets the 7th inning spot.

Michaela Johnson: 1) Nationals win the NL East (I know this VERY bold but like I said I have high expectations).

2) Tanner Roark will get back on top of his game.

Tyler Byrum: 1) The Milwaukee Brewers will drop out of the playoff hunt. 

Every year the Brewers seem to be close to running away with the NL Central. Then, once we get closer to the All-Star break and move beyond they go silent. It’s getting quite ridiculous at this point. Last year they had 50 wins in the first half, finished with only 86.

2) Philadelphia will make a trade deadline acquisition, but it will not get them over the hump. 

There are just too many issues with the Phillies; starting pitching behind Aaron Nola, consistent batting as a team, and the bullpen. They’ve done a fantastic job to piece together a 53-42 record and sit atop the division, but it will be tough to maintain it. 

Right now, they are almost the exact opposite of the Nationals.