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A must-win game for Nats tonight?

A must-win game for Nats tonight?

There really are no such thing as "must-win" games in baseball, at least not until a team is one loss from elimination. So a late-August date in Miami probably shouldn't be viewed as do-or-die for the Nationals.

Having said that, the Nationals face as close to a must-win situation tonight as you're likely to find in this sport. Losers of four straight, they head to rainy South Florida for a two-game series with the last-place Marlins desperately needing to get back on track before this slump really turns into something of consequence.

The Nationals' cause was helped somewhat by the Braves, who late last night were shut out 3-0 in the opener of their three-game series in San Diego. Thus, Washington's lead in the NL East is back to five games after it slipped to 4 12 over the weekend.

Still, the Nationals can't just count on maintaining a comfortable lead via losses by their lone remaining challenger for the division crown. They're going to need to win their share of games as well, and what better time to start than tonight against a reeling Miami club that has gone 14-25 since July 17.

And what better time to send a red-hot Stephen Strasburg to the mound for one of his final starts of the season. The right-hander, whose closely monitored innings count stands at 145 13, has pitched brilliantly this month (4-0, 1.50 ERA) after an erratic July (2-2, 4.13). Strasburg also has owned the Marlins this season, going 2-0 without allowing a run in three head-to-head starts.

Strasburg's chances to earn his 16th win of the year also will increase if the Nationals get two of their offensive stalwarts (Michael Morse and Ian Desmond) back from minor injuries. Morse has appeared since getting hit in the right wrist by a pitch during the first inning of Friday night's game in Philadelphia. Desmond hasn't played since hyperextending his knee and suffered a mild hamstring strain on Wednesday.

Both players hope to be back in the lineup tonight, though both will need to participate in pregame workouts without hindrance to convince manager Davey Johnson they're ready to return.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

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.

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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??

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.