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Early offense leads to dominant NL All-Star victory

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Early offense leads to dominant NL All-Star victory

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Game in a nutshell: Who says the National League's lineup can't stack up to the American League's thunder? The Senior Circuit sure looked dominant in the top of the first inning tonight against perhaps the best pitcher on the planet, piling up five runs off Justin Verlander. Ryan Braun sent an RBI double off the right-field wall, then Pablo Sandoval(?!) legged out a three-run triple off the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner. A Dan Uggla RBI single capped off the five-run inning, and the NL still wasn't done. A three-run fourth off the Rangers' Matt Harrison (highlighted by Melky Cabrera's homer to left) made it 8-0 and gave the NL pitching staff plenty of cushion. Not that those guys needed any help. They mowed through the AL's fearsome lineup, with 11 pitches combining to toss a six-hit shutout. Nationals Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg each churned out one inning of relief to help the cause. Teammate Bryce Harper certainly made his presence known, though for more negative reasons than positive ones (see below). In the end, the NL happily took an lopsided victory. Which means Game 1 of this year's World Series cannot take place at Yankee Stadium, but it could take place at Nationals Park.

Harper highlight: He noted yesterday how awful he's been in previous All-Star games as an amateur or minor leaguer, and Harper continued that trend in his big-league All-Star debut. The 19-year-old did draw a walk in his first at-bat and showed off his hustle by tagging up from first base on a deep fly ball to left. But he was immediately caught in a rundown off second base, and he later suffered one of the more embarrassing moments in All-Star history when he lost a routine fly ball in the lights. Harper threw his arms out, clueless where the ball was, only to have it land 10 feet behind him. He also struck out on three pitches against A's rookie Ryan Cook. All in all, not a shining moment for the youngest position player in All-Star history.

Strasburg highlight: Handed the ball for the bottom of the fourth inning with his team up eight runs, Strasburg went to work against four of the most fearsome hitters he'll ever face in succession: Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder. The flamethrower's stuff was good -- he fired in several 98 mph fastballs and a 90 mph changeup -- but his command was less than perfect. Strasburg gave up a leadoff single to Cano, got Hamilton to ground into a double play, then thought he had Bautista looking at a 3-2 curveball on the inside corner. Plate umpire Gerry Davis thought otherwise, so Strasburg had to face Fielder with two outs and a man on. Prince roped a drive to deep left field, but Ryan Braun made a nifty catch to end the inning and end Strasburg's All-Star debut with a scoreless inning in the books.

Gonzalez highlight: There was no drama to Gonzalez's one inning of work. The lefty entered for the bottom of the third and cruised through a 1-2-3 frame, showing off a 95 mph fastball and his trademark curve. That Uncle Charlie got Mike Napoli swinging for a strikeout. Gonzalez then got Curtis Granderson to fly out to left and Derek Jeter to ground out to second, completing a very efficient and very effective inning in the lefty's second All-Star appearance.

Up next: The Nationals' three All-Star participants get to spend a couple of days at home with family and friends. Then they'll rejoin their teammates Friday night in Miami for the season's second-half opener against the Marlins. Look for Drew Storen to make his season debut as well, assuming all goes well in his final rehab appearance Wednesday night.

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Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

It is no secret that Bryce Harper's next contract could very well be the largest contract in baseball history.

The 2015 N.L. MVP has reprotedly been looking for something in the realm of 10 years, $400 million.

The Nationals would love to keep the cornerstone of their franchise, but with Harper garnering such a monumental price tag, the team may have no other choice but to move on when his contract expires in 2018.

With the MLB winter meetings taking place at the National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Md. this week, talks of Harper's contract situation have arisen again, and according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the news might not be good for Nationals fans. 

The Washington Nationals, balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension, now are preparing themselves to be without their All-Star outfielder after 2018, a high-ranking Nationals executive told USA TODAY Sports.

The executive spoke to USA TODAY Sports on Monday only on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

Agent Scott Boras says the only active negotiations of late have involved a one-year deal in 2017. Harper, who made $5 million last season, is eligible for salary arbitration.

RELATED: NATIONALS DECLINE TO TENDER CONTRACT ON SPEEDY OUTFIELDER

Harper is one of Major League Baseball's top stars but with the Nationals already investing $84.7 million in 2019 salaries to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, the money just might not be there for the Nationals to spend. 

The Nationals, who had begun preliminary negotiations this year to retain Harper beyond 2018, believe the chasm in their talks now have become too great to overcome. While no specific dollar amount has been broached by high-powered agent Scott Boras, the executive says Harper is seeking a deal more than 10 years in length, believing it would exceed $400 million.

The Nationals' reported mood toward moving on from Harper after 2018 could explain why the Nationals are aggressively pursuing former N.L. MVP Andrew McCutchen and former A.L. Cy Young award winner Chris Sale. 

In the grand scheme, not much has changed. Harper was always expected to command the largest cotnract on the market. But the latest news shines a light on the possible direction of the Nationals' front office. 

2018 is still a long ways away, but this could be an early sign of things to come, one Nationals fans have been hoping they would never have to see. 

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New York Daily News puts Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in Yankees uniforms

New York Daily News puts Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in Yankees uniforms

You can always count on the New York Daily News to run an audacious cover. The tabloid delivered again Friday with an image edited to show two of the league's best young hitters in Yankees pinstripes: Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and Orioles short stop Manny Machado. 

"Bats to the Future" is exactly the headline you'd expect, too.  

It's hard to tell what's more odious to Washington and Baltimore fans: the image itself or the suggestion that baseball's new collective bargaining agreement makes it easier for the Yankees to poach their stars. 

The premise of that argument comes from sources who say the new CBA contains two changes beneficial to New York: reduced revenue sharing burden (due to tweaks in how sharing is calculated, plus a deduction for the cost of building and running Yankee Stadium) and an increased luxury tax threshold. 

Without going into number crunching detail, the Daily News explains how the club could afford Harper and/or Machado when they become free agents after the 2018 season. 

The article's tone of inevitability, despite its many assumptions, will rankle fans of all 29 other teams. After all, the Yankees aren't the only franchise interested in Harper and Machado. 

The Nationals and Orioles will presumably try to keep their stars. But to do that, they may have to fend off potentially historic money from the Bronx. 

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