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Nats named best rotation in MLB by ESPN's Olney

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Nats named best rotation in MLB by ESPN's Olney

While the future of the Nationals' rotation remains up in the air - whether they will trade Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister before Opening Day - recognition of the group as a whole is starting to build as we inch closer to the 2015 season.

ESPN's Buster Olney released his list of the best rotations in Major League Baseball on Monday and at the top of the list is the Nationals' five. Olney cites their depth as a big factor in the ranking:

"Some evaluators believe the Dodgers should be No. 1, given the presence of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the front of the rotation and some interesting investments at the back. 

But the Nationals' depth is staggering. Four of the top 16 qualified NL pitchers in terms of ERA in 2014 were in the Washington rotation, and the one guy who wasn't, Gio Gonzalez, had a respectable 3.57 ERA. Washington's rotation ERA of 3.04 was the best in the majors last year, and the group held opposing hitters to a .657 OPS, also the best mark in the bigs."

Olney also calls Stephen Strasburg "underrated" now given the expectations that preceded him. He argues people have overlooked how good he has actually been while focusing on his short-comings.

Is Olney right in his assessment? The numbers sure seem to back it up. The Nats were also in a unique situation last September when it came time to decide their playoff rotation. Matt Williams had a tougher decision as to the 'odd-man out' than his coaching peers.

Between Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister and Roark, even picking their starter for Game 1 of the NLDS was a hot debate around baseball. With all the injuries their lineup has suffered in recent years - and especially in 2014 - pitching has been the backbone of their success.

Olney makes a good case here, but the real question is how long the Nats keep their rotation together.

[RELATED: Desmond, Fister & Zimmermann on recent trade rumors]

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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