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Men among boys

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Men among boys

It took nearly 79 seasons of baseball in the District of Columbia for the home team to hit six home runs in one game for the first time.

Then it took only 24 hours for the Nationals to do it again.

And at the end of Wednesday night's 9-1 thrashing of the Cubs, all anyone could do was sit back and marvel at what this suddenly juggernaut of a lineup was able to accomplish.

Twelve homers in two days? It defies logic.

"I don't know what's going on," said Adam LaRoche, who contributed two of them during Tuesday night's win and another on Wednesday. "Whatever we're doing, we need to continue to do it every day. Whether it's the meals we're eating, the cage work, you name it. Just one of those stretches that you can't really explain."

How rare was this accomplishment? So rare it had only happened twice before in the modern era: the 1996 Dodgers and the 2003 Angels.

"It's not going to happen all the time," Danny Espinosa said. "But we definitely have the power potential to do that."

Indeed, the Nationals lineup -- healthy at last after a slew of early-season injuries -- is as potent as any in baseball right now. They could wind up with five 20-homer regulars. Seven different everyday players boast a slugging percentage of at least .423.

And they've put it all together over the last two nights to leave the Cubs dazed, confused and curled up in the fetal position, begging to be spared.

"That's just men playing against boys right now," manager Dale Sveum said.

Sveum may have forgotten one of those "men" is only 19 years old. He's not alone, because members of the Nationals tend to forget Bryce Harper is so young when they watch him tear up big-league pitching like he has over the last three weeks (he's hit .333 with seven homers and 12 extra-base hits since August 17).

"We don't treat him like he's 19," LaRoche said. "He plays so far above a 19-year-old that we're going to treat him like one of the guys."

Harper was in peak form Wednesday night, reaching base in four of his five plate appearances. He drew a pair of walks, lined out hard to right field but most impressively clubbed two home runs: one an opposite-field shot into the visitors' bullpen, the other a second-deck bomb down the right-field line.

With that surge, Harper's rookie season home run tally now stands at 17. In the history of baseball, the only teenagers ever to hit more are Tony Conigliaro (24) and Mel Ott (19).

"I feel good up there," Harper said. "I'm just trying to go up there and have good at-bats and look for one pitch that I can drive and really try to get it. It's nice to have everybody around me hitting. I think one person hits, everybody hits."

Harper's power barrage Wednesday came in front of two familiar faces: His parents, Ron and Sheri, who flew in from Las Vegas the previous night.

Was it cool to hit two homers with his folks in attendance?

"They've seen it a couple times," Harper said with a wry smile as he left the clubhouse.

Why wouldn't everyone on the Nationals roster smile after this one? The offensive explosion was the major storyline by night's end, but lest anyone forget another dominant start by Gio Gonzalez.

Coming off the first shutout of his career, Gonzalez carried a no-hitter into the top of the sixth. He finally departed after seven scoreless innings, extending his current streak to 16.

He also earned his 18th victory of the season, matching Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for the major-league lead. He's the first Washington pitcher to win 18 games since the Senators' Bob Porterfield won 22 in 1953.

"It means a lot," said Gonzalez, who had a ball with the words "18th win" inscribed on the sweet spot in his locker. "These guys perform every night for me. Not only that, they put up runs for me. ... I think it's all thanks to them, the reason why I'm moving up to where I'm at now."

It's tough to lose when your teammates homer six times for you. Such is life right now for the best team in baseball, one that keeps finding new ways to impress and keeps finding new victims to pound into submission.

"This is by far the best team we've played all year," Sveum said. "It's like an American League lineup, too. Guys that hit the ball a long way and grind at-bats out and take advantage of any mistake that is thrown. Pitching, bullpen, starting pitching, defense, speed, power ... that's as good a team as there is in the National League."

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Given the circumstances of his start and the lineup he was facing, the Nationals couldn't have asked for much more than they got from 22-year-old rookie Lucas Giolito on Sunday against the Rockies. It wasn't his fault their offense couldn't manage much of anything against Chad Bettis, who took the mound with a 5.29 ERA.

Giolito stared down the best lineup in the National League and made it a career-high five innings with four runs allowed. He gave up six hits and two walks, including a pair of home runs. One was by Charlie Blackmon, the other by Nolan Arenado, who also tripled.

It wasn't the greatest outing, of course, but the Nats have certainly seen worse both lately and against the Rockies. They didn't give him nearly enough support and only scored three runs on the day, all on solo homers.

Trea Turner led off the game with his fifth home run of the season. Wilson Ramos smacked his 20th to lead off the seventh. That gave Ramos a career-high 69 RBI on the year. And Bryce Harper hit his 23rd in the bottom of the ninth. For Harper, he has now reached base in all 15 games since coming back from his neck injury.

The Rockies got another run off reliever Koda Glover. He allowed a one-out double to Daniel Descalso in the top of the eighth. Descalso then scored from second on a wild pitch that drilled home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski in the left shoulder. The ball bounced off the backstop and Ramos turned to check on the ump. That, in part, allowed Descalso to score on what was an all-around bizarre sequence.

The Nats' offense got six hits and a walk off Rockies pitchers. Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman went a combined 0-for-14.

Washington lost their second straight game and have now dropped six of their last eight overall.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 75-55 on the season and lost their first home series since July 22-24 against the Padres. The Marlins lost on Sunday, so the Nats' division lead remains at eight games. The Mets are just behind them at 8 1/2 back after pummeling the Phillies.

Giolito okay, but questions remain: Giolito again saw his fastball top out at around 93-94, which is fine but nowhere near the high-90s and triple-digit heat that helped make him the top prospect in all of baseball. Manager Dusty Baker has been asked about this several times this season and has yet to give a full explanation as to why the team thinks he has lost so much velocity. Baker doesn't seem concerned about it one bit, but it does seem like at least somewhat of a big deal if he's lost, say, five or six ticks off his most oft-used pitch.

Turner sets franchise record: In the same week Turner tied the franchise mark for hits in consecutive plate appearances, he became the sole owner of first in Nats/Expos history with 27 runs in one month as a rookie. His 27th came on his solo homer, which was one of two hits for him on the day. He now has 20 multi-hit games this season in 41 total outings. 

Turner, in fact, has six multi-hit games in a row, which ties the longest streak in MLB this season. Six other players have done that this year. Turner's homer, though, gave him just his first RBI during that stretch, which goes to show how much the bottom of their lineup has struggled in recent games. 

Zimmerman keeps struggling: After looking good initially when he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 20, Zimmerman has fallen back into a major slump. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on Sunday and is now just 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his last five games. That one hit was a single and he has no walks during that span. Zimmerman's season OBP has dropped to .276, the lowest it's been since Opening Day.

Up next: The Nats hit the road to play at the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. with Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99) and rookie Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) set to square off.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nationals pitcher Joe Ross made his first minor league rehab assignment appearance on Sunday afternoon with Triple-A Syracuse and it was a brief one.

Ross tossed just 21 pitches in one inning of work against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He allowed one run on three hits and also recorded a strikeout. The three hits Ross allowed were all singles and the run was scored on a fielder's choice groundout.

Ross, 23, threw more pitches in a bullpen session this week. He threw two bullpens total, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, before going to Syracuse. Ross said he threw 25 to 30 pitches in the first session.

Ross is likely to return to the Nationals in their bullpen, with the minor league season nearing its end. He has said his goal is to be starting for the Nationals in mid-September.

Him pitching just one inning could be a part of that plan, and the Nats do have incentive to take it slow with Ross, who is returning from right shoulder inflammation. He previously pitched two minor league games - on July 24 and July 30 - before a setback made the Nats shut him down altogether.

Ross has a 3.49 ERA in 16 MLB starts this season. He last pitched on July 3 against the Reds.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Nats send down Wilmer Difo to call up Lucas Giolito to face Rockies

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Nats send down Wilmer Difo to call up Lucas Giolito to face Rockies

In need of a starter to fill the void left by injuries in their rotation, the Nationals called up top prospect Lucas Giolito on Sunday morning to face the Colorado Rockies.

Infielder Wilmer Difo was optioned to Double-A Harrisburg as the corresponding move, though he will likely be back soon with the minor league season ending in just over a week and MLB rosters expanding on Sept. 1.

Difo, 24, hit .257 with two doubles, five RBI and six runs in 18 games for the Nats before getting sent back down. He joined the team on July 27 when Stephen Drew landed on the disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.

Difo stuck around as Drew made little progress in his recovery. Now over a month later, Drew still does not have a clear timeline to return. If he doesn't show improvement over the next few weeks, Difo could again become a valuable piece for the Nationals as a backup infielder who can play multiple positions. Difo also bats switch, which is always a plus.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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