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For some Nats, the road has been much longer

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For some Nats, the road has been much longer

When the Washington Nationals begin their five game playoff series this weekend, it will mark the first postseason game for almost every player on the teams young roster. Most have never played meaningful games in October, but for a choice few who have seen the franchise at its lowest points the dream perhaps seemed even further away.

Ryan Zimmerman was the franchises first draft pick when they moved to Washington, D.C. and through years of losing twice signed contract extensions to stay with the club. He opted to stay loyal at times he could have jumped ship and instead trusted the vision and future of the team around him.

The odds were in my favor that I was going to win here at some point. I love this town. They gave me a chance, took a chance on me at a young age, and put me right in the middle of it, he said.

For the team to take a chance on me like that, I felt obligated. I thought I should stay here and give them what they gave me, which is my career.

Zimmerman debuted in 2005 and in just eight seasons has been on five different teams that lost 89 games or more. Along the way he has seen a lot of the guys around him come and go. He is still the face of the franchise, but now that franchise boasts the best pitching staff in baseball and a lineup as young and as talented as any.

Ryan Zimmerman is the leader. He is the captain of this organization, Gio Gonzalez said. He is the face of this organization, he is a franchise guy. He has seen the down and now he is definitely seeing the upside of it.

Jordan Zimmermann joined the organization as a second round draft pick in 2007 and made the major league team in 2009. In his first year the team lost 103 games, but since has improved by at least ten wins in three consecutive seasons. In a short period of time he has seen the team bottom out as the worst team in baseball and then rise to potentially its best.

We came a long way. When I first got drafted and came up here, we were losing ballgames it seemed like every night, he said.

You gotta give a lot of credit to Rizzo for putting some guys together and then having some good drafts.

For part of the turnaround, Zimmermann had to watch from the dugout while he underwent a year-long recovery from Tommy John surgery. He has been pivotal in the teams transformation and is excited to see where it can be taken from here.

Now were here and were that much closer, he said.

John Lannan was away from the team for much of this season after once being its de facto ace and making two Opening Day starts in 2008 and 2009. He joined them late this year after spending much of the season in Triple-A Syracuse and is now just appreciative he is here to stay.

Right now, its all worth it. Being down in Syracuse and then being here right now, its all worth it, he said.

There was a time earlier on in the season where I didnt know what was going to happen, but now it all makes sense. This is why everything happened.

Lannan was on two Nats teams that lost more than 100 games - 102 in 2008 and 103 in 2009 - and has seen the fanbase grow with the teams success.

Just to be part of this team now and to be a part of the teams that really struggled, we all wanted it. But now to celebrate it and really enjoy it is really awesome, he said.

These fans deserve it, these guys deserve it, its been a long road but we knew this time was going to come. It is special.

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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.

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Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Trea Turner goes 4 for 4 to help Nationals beat Orioles

WASHINGTON -- Presented with identical opportunities to ring up a big inning, the Washington Nationals took full advantage and Baltimore Orioles squandered the chance.

That goes a long way toward explaining why the Nationals are a contender and the Orioles own the worst record in the big leagues.

Trea Turner went 4 for 4 with a homer , Anthony Rendon drove in three runs and Washington extended its recent domination of the Orioles with a 9-7 victory Tuesday night.

The game was essentially decided in the fifth inning, which began with Baltimore leading 4-1.

In the top half, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs and scored only one run -- when Manny Machado hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

Washington loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half and batted around, scoring four runs on four hits and a pair of walks. Adam Eaton contributed a two-run single, Rendon hit a sacrifice fly and Bryce Harper chased starter David Hess with an RBI double.

"They did a lot better job cashing in their bases loaded, nobody out situation than we did," Orioles manager Buck Showalter conceded.

For the game, Baltimore was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. The Nationals were 5 for 10.

"This team is starting to become relentless," manager Dave Martinez said. "They kept pounding and pounding and pounding, had a couple of big innings there and scored some runs."

The Nationals trailed 6-5 before getting six hits in a four-run seventh. Rendon delivered a two-run double off Tanner Scott (0-1) that made it 7-6, and Turner capped his four-hit night with a double.

Both teams noted that more than a couple of Washington's hits were bloopers and seeing-eye grounders, but the Nationals certainly weren't about to apologize.

"I feel like all year we've been hitting balls right at people," Turner said, "so it's nice to get a bunch of those in one game and come out with a win."

Washington has won six straight over its neighboring interleague rival, including four games this season by a combined 20-8.

Pitching in his second big league game, Nationals starter Jefry Rodriguez gave up five runs, four hits and four walks in five innings.

Justin Miller (5-0) pitched two innings of relief, newcomer Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth and Sean Doolittle gave up a solo home run to Joey Rickard while earning his 19th save.

Jace Peterson and Trey Mancini each hit two-run homers for the Orioles, who have lost 16 of 19.

This one can be blamed on an all-too-telling fifth inning.

"It's just one of those things where if they got hits they seemed to have found holes," Showalter said. "They hit some balls hard, too."

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