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Instant Analysis: Gio bounces back

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Instant Analysis: Gio bounces back

Game in a nutshell: In a rematch of last week's All-Star pitching showdown, Gio Gonzalez got the best of R.A. Dickey this time around. The Nationals lefty was brilliant, allowing just one unearned run and two hits over seven standout innings. Dickey matched his counterpart pitch for pitch through five innings, but then the floodgates opened. Adam LaRoche launched a two-run homer, one of five consecutive hits by the Nationals off Dickey during a four-run sixth. Manager Davey Johnson pulled Gonzalez after only 87 pitches, and Ryan Mattheus gave everyone a scare when he served up a pinch-hit homer to (who else?) Jordany Valdespin. But Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard slammed the door shut and gave the Nats their fourth straight win. At 57-39, they're 18 games over .500 for the first time this season.

Hitting highlight: How hard is it to hit Dickey's knuckleball? Very hard. Just look at the way most of the Nationals flailed away at the veteran's trademark pitch for five innings. But then LaRoche got a hold of one in the top of the sixth and sent it flying deep into the Flushing night. It finally landed in the second deck above the right-field fence, a bomb from the veteran first baseman for his 17th homer of the season, tied with Ian Desmond for the team lead.

Pitching highlight: Coming off his worst start of the season, Gonzalez might well have authored his best start of the season. The only run he surrendered was unearned, a byproduct of Danny Espinosa's throwing error. He allowed only two hits, both singles. He walked two, struck out four and was incredibly efficient, needing only 87 pitches to complete seven innings. That was exactly what the Nats needed, and it was exactly what Gonzalez needed to get himself back on track after a sub-par month. Not that the club was significantly worried, but everyone understands how important Gio will be to this team's chances down the stretch.

Key stat: The Nats scored more runs off Dickey in the top of the sixth (four) than he had given up in all but four starts this season.

Up next: The series concludes with a Wednesday matinee featuring Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hefner. First pitch at Citi Field is bright and early at 12:10 p.m.

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Dusty Baker drops hints about playoff roles for Nationals rookies

Dusty Baker drops hints about playoff roles for Nationals rookies

The Nationals beat the Diamondbacks in their series finale on Thursday and by doing so inched closer to securing home field advantage in the NL Division Series. They earned the win despite playing without Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, who remained out with injuries.

In order to make it happen, they needed contributions from unexpected places. Catcher Pedro Severino homered and walked. Second baseman Wilmer Difo also hit a home run, the first of his young MLB career. Michael Taylor had three hits and drove in two runs. Those three led the way on offense on a day their regulars - Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon - went a combined 2-for-16. 

Rookie Reynaldo Lopez also chipped in with 3 2/3 innings of relief work. The coincidence that he, Severino and Difo all made their mark was not lost on them or manager Dusty Baker. The trio are all young players from the Dominican Republic.

"It was Dominican Republic Day," Baker said. Our Dominicans hit two home runs and pitched well... Maybe they had it mixed up, they thought today was Latin Day instead of yesterday."

Baker was referring to a special pregame ceremony at Nationals Park on Wednesday that featured Latin American flags on the field and a representative from the D.R. to throw out the first pitch. 

The players picked up on it, as well.

“It was very fun and exciting," Lopez said through an interpreter. "He said as I came into the dugout to Dusty having known that Difo had hit a home run as well as Severino already and they’ve been doing a good job and I was pitching very well, he said ‘I guess today is really Latin day.’ It was just very humorous, but it was fun. And he kept repeating that because we were all performing so well for him, so it was great.”

"Very excited that all three of us were able to do a great job for the team today," Difo said through an interpreter. "Just keep working hard to show everybody that we deserve to be here and that we can contribute and help the team win. I’m just very excited about today."

Severino knows he will be on the playoff roster at this point. With the loss of Wilson Ramos to a season-ending injury, Severino is the next man up.

Difo and Taylor would need an injury or two to clear room for them. They are unlikely to make the final 25.

[RELATED: What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs?]

Lopez, though, is in a battle for the bullpen. Depending on how many pitchers they keep, Lopez could definitely find himself in that mix. And Baker is already talking like Lopez will be pitching in October.

"He's been working on some things," Baker said. "He picked up his tempo. He throws strikes. He appears unfazed by the situation or having to come into the game. And I'm just hoping that he continues that same mindset when we get to the playoffs because it's the same game. More at stake and the world's watching, but it's the same game."

Baker also dropped a hint about Severino that should be kept in mind over the next week. 

"All of our young guys dont appear to be intimidated at all by being young. They're about to venture into territories that they haven't been before. And I told him, 'Hey, man, I want you to do the same thing as [Clayton] Kershaw if you're starting in L.A.' And he said OK and left it at that."

It sounds like Severino has at least a decent chance of starting Game 1 on Friday.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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MLB Power Rankings: Last week of the regular season

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MLB Power Rankings: Last week of the regular season

We've finally made it. After six grueling months, the MLB playoffs are here. There are still some playoff spots to be determined in this final weekend, however. How did your team do? To the rankings! 

30. Minnesota Twins (LW: 30)

1-9 in their last 10 to end the year is truly just the most 2016 Twins thing to do. 

29. Atlanta Braves (LW: 29)

If you can believe it, the Braves have played .500 baseball since the All-Star break. 

28.  Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 28)

I wonder who they'll trade their top-3 pick to this year! 

27. Oakland Athletics (LW: 23)

They're bad, but these final games are showcasing some of their future talent. 

26. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 26)

At least the Rays really leaned into the spoiler role. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE