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No sweep, but no worries for Nats

No sweep, but no worries for Nats

For a split-second at the end of the eighth inning Wednesday night, as Ian Desmond awkwardly pulled up lame at first base, the fact the Nationals had just squandered another golden scoring opportunity seemed insignificant.

"Being out wasn't real important in that moment," said Desmond, who grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to quash a potential rally.

"I forgot about the game when I saw him," manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought for sure he pulled a hammy."

Once Desmond realized he hadn't actually injured himself -- he thinks he just hyperextended his knee -- he could return to kicking himself over making two outs on one swing of the bat in a crucial moment of what was at that point a one-run game.

"I mean, I'm probably doubly frustrated over my at-bats tonight," he said. "This the knee isn't really much of a concern to me. I think it was more of a scary, in-the-moment type of thing."

Frustrating as their eventual 5-1 loss to the Braves was, the Nationals at night's end were pleased simply to have taken two of three from their lone remaining challenger for the NL East crown and come out of this crucial series with everybody in one piece.

That wasn't a sure thing at a couple of points in this game. In addition to Desmond's brief scare, catcher Kurt Suzuki had team officials worried he broke his right hand after getting struck by a foul ball in the fourth inning. Suzuki's hand remained swollen throughout the game, but X-rays were negative and he insisted he'll be fine moving forward.

Not that the Nationals were overly pleased with their on-field performance. With an opportunity to sweep Atlanta and seize a commanding, eight-game lead in the division, they instead were stifled for seven innings by under-appreciated right-hander Kris Medlen, squandering what few scoring opportunities they had before turning sloppy in the field during the ninth inning.

"Obviously we don't like to make mistakes, but they happen," said Ryan Zimmerman, whose error allowed an unearned run to score. "It's going to happen, and we don't want it to happen, but it is what it is. It happened. We won two out of three and we move on."

As was the case the previous two nights, this was a tightly contested ballgame with an added element of tension thrown in because of the two clubs' current standing. Unlike the previous two nights, the Nationals were unable to make pitches when they needed, were unable to produce clutch hits when they were needed and were unable to make plays in the field when they really were needed.

Their biggest infraction in the latter category came via Bryce Harper in the top of the fifth. Starter Ross Detwiler had just walked Medlen on four pitches to bring up Martin Prado with two outs and two on, then served up a well-struck line drive to deep right-center. Harper took a circuitous route to the ball, moving several steps in before circling back, and ultimately couldn't recover in time. Prado wound up on second base with the two-run double that put the Braves ahead for good.

"I thought I had a good read on it," Harper said. "He hit it off his front foot, got some backspin on it, hit it hard and I had to bust my butt. I came in a little bit, just because he was off his front foot. But he back-spinned it. It was a good hit."

Those two runs proved important because the Nationals were unable to get anything going against Medlen, a Tommy John surgery survivor who is just now re-establishing himself as a front-line starting pitcher for Atlanta. The Nationals had opportunities to make a dent in Medlen, but they simply couldn't produce a big hit in a big moment.

Suzuki grounded into a double play with two on and one out in the second. Adam LaRoche popped out on the first pitch he saw with the bases loaded in the sixth. And Desmond grounded into his killer double play on the first pitch he saw from reliever Eric O'Flaherty in the eighth.

"That's just young hitters," Johnson said. "They get a little too excited. Desi's been pretty good about getting a pitch he really likes. He had a good swing at it. We're going to be a little anxious in those situations. We've gotten a whole lot better from last year, but we're still going to be a little over-aggressive."

A three-run ninth off Tom Gorzelanny -- with assists to Zimmerman and Suzuki for their throwing errors -- put this one out of reach and might have left the Nationals feeling less than totally satisfied with the night's outcome.

Then again, they entered this showdown holding a five-game lead over the Braves and they exited it holding a six-game lead with 38 to play. That's still a comfortable position to be in, right?

"Of course," Michael Morse said. "It's still a six-game lead. It's awesome."

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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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USA Today Sports Images

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.