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Moore might just make it after all

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Moore might just make it after all

Yes, the entire Nationals lineup has turned things up a notch or five the last two nights in Denver. Twenty-three runs scored in 18 innings? Not even the most cockeyed optimist out there could have predicted that.

But let's turn our attention away for a moment from the sudden resurgence of the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche and focus on really the only player who has consistently produced at the plate this month: Tyler Moore.

Yes, the 25-year-old rookie has been tearing the cover off the ball since the Nationals called him back up from Class AAA Syracuse on June 7. In 12 prior games -- his first 12 in the big leagues -- Moore looked a bit overwhelmed. He hit .158 (3-for-19), didn't drive in a run and didn't draw a walk.

Fast-forward to last night's game at Coors Field, when Moore demolished another home run into the thin mountain air and added two more hits for good measure to continue his remarkable turnaround. In 11 games during this second big-league stint, he's now hitting .455 with four homers, 10 RBI, six walks and even three stolen bases.

Moore has recorded at least one hit in nine of his 10 starts, at least two hits in four of those games. And now he's left Davey Johnson with no choice but to make him a regular in the starting lineup.

Having previously worked his way into something of a platoon role, getting starts against left-handers, Moore has established his bat is just as potent against right-handers. He's hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two of his homers and seven of his RBI off righties.

So don't be surprised if you start seeing the young slugger at either first base or in left field just about every day of the week right now.

Too small of a sample size, you say, to draw any significant conclusions about Moore's ability to hit major-league pitching? Perhaps. But compare his numbers in this small sampling at baseball's highest level to his numbers in the minors, and you start to think this isn't a fluke.

Moore has homered once in every 13 at-bats with the Nationals. How does that compare? Well, he homered once in every 11 at-bats at Syracuse to start this season. But he homered "only" once every 17 at-bats at Class AA Harrisburg last year and once every 16 at-bats at Class A Potomac in 2010.

Point is, Moore has hit for power at every level, and his rate of success hasn't diminished by any significant amount since he arrived in D.C.

Moore's increased playing time will probably come at the expense of Steve Lombardozzi, who had become the de facto starting left fielder against right-handed opponents. But Lombardozzi has fallen into a prolonged funk at the plate, has just nine hits in 59 at-bats this month and has seen his batting average plummet to .259 from .320 in only 27 days.

At this point, Johnson just can't say no to Moore, a bit of a late bloomer who finally is reaping the benefits of his first opportunity to play on a regular basis in the big leagues.

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Dusty Baker on Nats clinching 2016 NL East title: 'I love this team'

Dusty Baker on Nats clinching 2016 NL East title: 'I love this team'

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jayson Werth's wide grin belied the fact that the Washington Nationals right fielder is an old hand at clubhouse celebrations, having played on eight division-winning teams during his 14-year big league career.

Werth's latest crown came Saturday night when the Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

"It's never gets old," Werth said. "Never."

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

"It's such a hard thing to accomplish," Werth said. "You spent six months trying to do it. It's why you go to spring training early, so you can do everything possible to put yourself in positon to win the division."

The Nationals won the division in Dusty Baker's first season as manager. He replaced Matt Williams, who fired following a 2015 season that began with high hopes of Washington reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Baker had been out of the game for two years after being fired by the Cincinnati Reds following the 2013 season, four days after they lost to the Pirates in the NL wild card.

"That's what I came here for," Baker said, standing in a corner of the clubhouse and watching his players celebrate. "I'm telling you -- let these young men have a great time tonight, back to work tomorrow. First step in a four-step process. This step is the hardest to get. I'm just so happy for these guys. I love them. I love this team."

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

"He was really impressive," Werth said. "We still have some questions about our roster going into the postseason. He's a great talent and if he pitches like he did tonight he can really help us."

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered.

Joe Ross allowed one run and five hits over 2 2/3 innings in his second start since missing 2 months with right shoulder inflammation.

Drew's single came after Bryce Harper's sacrifice fly. Harper also drove in a run with a grounder during a three-run fourth that included three errors and increased the Nationals' lead to 6-1. Jayson Werth hit into a run-scoring forceout and Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly.

Wilson Ramos had three hits for the Nationals, and Drew and Werth added two each.

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Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez killed in boating accident

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Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez killed in boating accident

MIAMI (AP) -- The Miami Marlins have announced the death of ace right-hander Jose Fernandez.

The U.S. Coast Guard says Fernandez was one of three people killed in a boat crash off Miami Beach early Sunday.

The Marlins did not immediately release details, other than releasing a statement confirming the death of one of the top pitchers in baseball.

In the statement, the Marlins say they are "devastated by the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time."

The Marlins' game Sunday at home against the Atlanta Braves has been cancelled.