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Instant analysis: Braves 5, Nats 4

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Instant analysis: Braves 5, Nats 4

Game in a nutshell: Less than 24 hours after a nip-and-tuck, tense ballgame to open this series, the two division rivals did it again, only this time with a bit of controversy thrown in for good measure. The Nationals jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to Adam LaRoche's 30th homer and some horribly sloppy Atlanta defense, but then gave all four runs back. Three of them were officially charged to Edwin Jackson; the other might as well have been charged to Marvin Hudson. The first base umpire blew a call on what appeared to be a routine 1-3 groundout, saying LaRoche's foot came off the bag. LaRoche protested, as did Davey Johnson, who earned his first ejection of the season. Moments later, Jason Heyward belted the game-tying home run, leaving this one knotted 4-4 heading into the late innings. That's when the Nationals bullpen imploded, with Ryan Mattheus issuing two walks to load the bases in the eighth and then grazing Andrelton Simmons with a 2-2 fastball to force across the go-ahead run. Craig Kimbrel then finished it off for another save, stranding the tying run on third base, sending the Nats to their second straight 1-run loss and dropping their lead in the NL East to 6 12 games.

Hitting lowlight: Given the way they stormed out of the gates to score four early runs, the Nationals looked to be in business. But their bats went silent after the second inning, unable to push another run across the plate against Tommy Hanson or the Atlanta bullpen. They didn't strike out nearly as many times as they did last night, but they did fail to make contact in some key spots. Danny Espinosa, in particular, struggled, whiffing three times (making him 0-for-7 with seven K's in the series) and stranding a runner on third with two outs in the third.

Pitching lowlight: Making his first career start in his hometown, Jackson was mostly in control. The only real mistakes he made through his first five innings were to Freddie Freeman, who tripled in the second and then homered in the fourth. But then came the blown call by Hudson to lead off the sixth, leading to Johnson's ejection, but perhaps more importantly a rattled Jackson. He immediately served up a two-run homer to Heyward, tying the game and completely changing the momentum of the game. On one hand, there was nothing Jackson could do about the blown call. On the other hand, a veteran of his stature has to be able to shake off adversity like that and refocus on the task at hand. Jackson wasn't able to, and because of it, he missed an opportunity to earn his 10th win of the season.

Key stat: There are now three big-league first basemen with 30 homers this season: Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols and Adam LaRoche.

Up next: The series wraps up tomorrow night with a nationally televised showdown between the two division rivals. Gio Gonzalez seeks his 20th victory, with fellow lefty Mike Minor on the mound for Atlanta. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. on ESPN.

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X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]

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Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]

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