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Zimmerman brings his season all the way back

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Zimmerman brings his season all the way back

NEW YORK -- Mark DeRosa was talking to Ryan Zimmerman after last night's game at Citi Field, one in which Zimmerman had homered (yet again) and driven in a run (yet again), and noted how far the 27-year-old third baseman had come since his stunningly poor start to the season.

"You made it back," DeRosa told his teammate.

"Well," Zimmerman responded, "I made it back to where I guess it's respectable now."

OK, so Zimmerman's overall season numbers -- a .287 average, 22 homers, 84 RBI, an .835 OPS -- aren't off-the-charts good. Especially for a guy who has in his career cracked the 30-homer barrier, the 100-RBI plateau and has hit over .300.

But considering the hole he dug himself into through the season's first half, it's bordering on remarkable how good Zimmerman's season-ending stats will look.

On the morning of June 24, Zimmerman was hitting .218 with three homers, 22 RBI and a .590 OPS that ranked among the worst utility infielders in baseball. His right shoulder was barking, he couldn't drive the ball to the gaps and that 100 million contract extension he had signed during spring training sure didn't look too smart on the Nationals' part.

Zimmerman, as steady and level-headed a player as you'll find in the big leagues, admits now he was concerned.

"I'm OK with the slow starts, but not being able to swing the bat and do the things health-wise, I was worried about that," he said. "Because I know my body pretty well. Everyone in this room plays hurt. Everyone in every locker room. Nobody's healthy. And I've played hurt a lot just like everyone else. But it was a different kind of feeling. It made me nervous."

That morning of June 24, with the Nationals preparing for their series finale in Baltimore, Zimmerman received a cortisone shot in the shoulder. Doctors couldn't promise him it would work. And they couldn't tell him how long the effects of the shot would last.

But it did work. And it has lasted. Zimmerman hasn't needed another shot since, and he barely worries about his shoulder right now.

And the numbers he's posted in 72 games since that day in Baltimore are nothing short of dominant: a .339 average, .405 on-base percentage, 19 homers, 62 RBI and a 1.021 OPS.

He currently owns an NL-best 16-game hitting streak. He's also driven in a run in nine consecutive games, an ExposNationals franchise record.

"We're riding him," manager Davey Johnson said. "Zim's swinging the bat good and playing good."

It only constitutes one-half of a season, but had he compiled those numbers over six months, Zimmerman would be the runaway favorite to win National League MVP honors.

He won't, of course, win MVP. He might receive a handful of top-10 votes.

But he doesn't care about that. What preyed on Zimmerman's mind most of all during his early season struggles was the fact the Nationals were enjoying the best year of their brief history, and he (as the senior member of the club) was doing little to contribute to it all.

"That was a trying time, I guess you could say," he said of those June days when he faced an uncertain future. "That was about as tough a six-week stretch as I've ever had in my career. To be able to look up there now and know I've been able to battle back from that -- and more importantly, can actually help the team win now -- I'm pretty proud of it."

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

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How to entice Bryce Harper in to re-signing with the Nationals? With food, of course!

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… and if that leads us to Bryce Harper’s potential landing spot, then I present to you the yummiest reasons he should stay with the Washington Nationals.

In a video from TMZ, a paparazzi follows Harper to baggage claim and implores him for any hints toward where he is signing this offseason. The only true answer he got was that Harper likes a place called Steak 48 in Chicago. This surf-and-turf hot spot in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago has the audacity to serve “Maryland STYLE lump crab cakes.” Really, Bryce? Will the real thing convince you?!

On that note, let’s start off with the seafood we have to offer. This is the Mid-Atlantic, after all.

How can you work here April-September without eating local crabs in some form? I think that’s impossible. You can choose from hard shell or soft shell, but no shame in either game.

Live Chesapeake blue crabs can be bought at Captain White’s Seafood and other vendors on The Wharf off Maine Avenue. Otherwise, you can sit down and have them steamed for you at Quarterdeck, Ivy City Smokehouse, Bethesda Crab House or Captain Pell’s.

If Harper is more of a soft shell guy, all of those places also serve out-of-the-park crab cakes, but you can’t go wrong with Hank’s Oyster Bar, Old Ebbitt Grill, Chris’ Marketplace, or Clyde’s.

If the star really wants to dive in to local taste, he should eat Chesapeake Bay oysters from the largest estuary in America. My personal favorite selection is at Whaley’s (seafood tower on me, Bryce), but Rapphanock Oyster Bar, The Dabney, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen can’t be beat.

I find it hard to believe the team hasn't had an outing at The Salt Line, the lively seafood spot just a short throw from Nats Park where teammate Ryan Zimmerman is an investor and co-owner.

Now that we’ve satisfied Harper’s iron intake, let’s break down his protein. In order to keep the superstar here, I want to make sure he knows that D.C. cares about providing a well-rounded diet.

Barbecued meats in general around here are delectable. Sitting in juxtaposition between the north and south, D.C. restaurants bring a mash-up of styles of smoked and sauced meats. Favorites are Federalist Pig, Hill Country, Fat Pete’s and Hardy’s BBQ truck.

However, if Bryce Harper show he’s as invested in authentic Nationals fans as our season tickets are in him, he should really pick up a half-smoke, the district’s original recipe for a spicy, thicker pork and beef dog that’s aggressively seasoned and sometimes served with chili sauce.

Could you imagine Harper making his announcement to stay over a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl? I think even the panda statue would cry tears of joy.

Another hyper-local taste is mumbo sauce. While proven not originally from here, D.C. natives are enthusiastic about the special sauce. Yum’s is pretty well-known for carrying it.

Time for dessert! I think we can all agree that in the past 10 years, cupcakes have become iconic in the district with Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked & Wired and Sprinkles all having a home in Georgetown. To settle the debate, Baked & Wired is best. They are ranked #1 on Yelp if you don’t believe my own palette.

But what if it’s game night, you ask? D.C. has it’s hearty share of restaurants that are open even after extra innings. The Diner, Kramerbooks, Mandu, New Big Wong, Old Ebbitt Grill, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Amsterdam Falafelshop and Jumbo Slice are all here to keep you warm at night no matter what you’re craving post-victory. Need I go on?

Bryce reassured Nats fans and TMZ that he is “still a National right now.” Better eat these while you can, Bryce, or you’ll be sorry you didn't sign in one of the best food cities in the MLB.

Do you have any local food or restaurants you think will convince Bryce Harper to stay with the Washington Nationals this offseason? Send them to @NBCNationals or @rmhopmayer. Maybe we can throw together a friends-giving or holiday dinner for those that want him to stay our beloved Guest of Honor.

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Here's why one writer voted for Max Scherzer over Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young

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USA Today

Here's why one writer voted for Max Scherzer over Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young

Jacob deGrom could've been a unanimous Cy Young award winner Wednesday. Instead, he won with 29 of 30 first-place votes.

The only voter who chose not to give deGrom a first-place vote was John Maffei of the San Deigo Union-Tribune

"What is stunning to me is the blowback from the fans, especially in New York," wrote Maffei. "Dozens of emails — some venomous — ranging from 'hey dumbass,' 'incompetent,' 'idiot,' 'moron' and 'clown.' Several called for my head, my job."

Shocking. Keyboard warriors furiously typing out their frustration and overreacting to something they didn't like.  

Maffei joined Steve Somers of WFAN in New York as well, which ended up being the shortest interview in the history of interviews.

Maffei points out that he chose to vote for Scherzer over deGrom for many reasons. One being, despite a 1.70 ERA over 217 innings, he had 10 wins and nine losses.

After he talked with other baseball experts, looked at Scherzer's 2.53 ERA and his historic 300-strikeout season — making him one of only 17 pitchers to do that since 1900 — Maffei says his vote was swayed in the direction of the Nats' ace.

One thing's for sure, Maffei may not have made any friends in New York, but he's made plenty of new ones in Washington.