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Instant analysis: Marlins 2, Nats 1

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Instant analysis: Marlins 2, Nats 1

Game in a nutshell: This figured to be tightly contested pitchers' duel, with lefties Gio Gonzalez and Mark Buehrle each known for working fast and throwing strikes. Each starter lived up to the billing, but Buehrle was just a little bit better than his counterpart. The veteran southpaw allowed one run over seven innings, throwing a scant 86 pitches in the process. Gonzalez certainly pitched well enough to win -- two runs over six innings -- but he was done in by some effective small ball by the Marlins in the bottom of the fifth, producing the winning run.

The Nats couldn't get a rally going against Miami's suspect bullpen and thus suffered a frustrating loss. Combined with the Braves' win over the Mets, their lead in the NL East is now down to 3 games.

Hitting lowlight: Just when you thought Michael Morse had rediscovered his peak form from last year, he stumbles out of the gates to open the second half. For the second straight night, the cleanup hitter went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, two of them called. Morse is at his best when he's able to drive outside pitches to right field. In these last two games, he hasn't been able to pull the trigger on those offerings, and he's paid the price for it.

Pitching highlight: It didn't take long to realize Gonzalez was going to be in top form for this game. His command was pinpoint (he didn't walk a batter) and his curveball had ridiculous break. It helped that umpire Eric Cooper consistently gave him the outside corner of the strike zone, but kuods to Gonzalez for taking advantage of it. He wound up striking out nine and at 93 pitches probably could have returned for the seventh inning. Manager Davey Johnson, though, said he wanted to take things easy on the lefty after he pitched an inning in the All-Star Game four days ago.

Key stat: Buehrle needed only 26 total pitches to face 11 Nationals batters through the first three innings.

Up next: Fresh off his All-Star debut, Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound for his first start of the second half. He'll face Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco at 1:10 p.m.

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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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