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Nationals beat Phillies for MLB's best record

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Nationals beat Phillies for MLB's best record

The Washington Nationals -- who never posted a winning record, never reached the playoffs and never won a division title in their first seven seasons in the District -- didn't just knock down all those barriers in year eight. They managed to knock down an even bigger one: Posting the best record in the major leagues.

With a 5-1 victory over the Phillies during Wednesday's regular-season finale, the Nationals capped off a 98-64 season that wasn't surpassed by any other franchise in the big leagues and was good enough to secure home-field advantage as long as their playoff run extends.

No matter how much optimism surrounded the organization when it gathered in Viera, Fla., in late February for spring training, few could have dreamed this big.

"It's quite an accomplishment," Ryan Zimmerman, the only player to appear in a game in all eight of the Nationals seasons, said. "Obviously winning the division was a goal, and now we've done that, and we have a chance to go do some stuff in the playoffs. This is a great season, a great team, a good group of guys, and we accomplished a lot that we should be proud of. But we have a lot more to accomplish, hopefully."

They'll wipe the slate clean and begin that journey Sunday, on the road for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the winner of Friday's winner-take-all Wild Card game between the Braves and Cardinals.

They'll enter the postseason as the No. 1 seed, a distinction that usually includes a target on their backs. But the Nationals are the only new faces among the five NL playoff participants, a group that includes the last two World Series champions (St. Louis and San Francisco) and two franchises with rich traditions that reached the postseason as recently as 2010 (Atlanta and Cincinnati).

And, as recent postseason history has shown, seeding rarely means much in October.

"I mean, once you get in, you're in, no matter how yet get there," said Jayson Werth, one of the few Nationals with significant playoff experience. "From there you need to be good, you need to be lucky, you've got to show up. It's not easy. Winning's not easy. Winning the whole thing is tough. It takes a lot. We're in good position. We've come this far and we're here. We've got a chance."

The Nationals gave themselves the best chance possible by winning Wednesday's finale and ensuring they would earn the top seed over the Reds. They did so by getting 6 23 strong innings from Edwin Jackson, who became the fifth member of the rotation to get 10 wins this year, and home runs from Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Michael Morse, who earned a curtain call after his eighth-inning blast to right field sealed this victory.

Win No. 98 came against the club that had ruled the NL East the last five seasons but faded to an 81-81 finish this year, and it came with a helping of sour grapes from one of the Phillies' long-time leaders.

"They had a good year," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said of a Washington club that finished 17 games ahead of his Phillies. "They're a talented team. Just playing against them for a while, you know they're talented. You always knew if they put it together and found some pitching ... and they've had the opportunity to have some big draft picks, and those guys have made it up to the big leagues and it's all come together for them. So that's great for them. But with us being healthy, you know, they're still second place. But we weren't."

Six members of the Phillies' projected Opening Day lineup and rotation (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Placido Polanco) missed a combined 309 games this season, a tough obstacle to overcome. Rollins, though, apparently forgot that five members of the Nationals' projected Opening Day lineup (Werth, Zimmerman, Morse, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos) and their projected closer (Drew Storen) missed a combined 380 games.

"We've played well all year long, dealt with a lot of adversity," Desmond said.

Perhaps the Nationals-Phillies rivalry that perked up in May when Cole Hamels admitted he intentionally threw at rookie Bryce Harper will carry over into 2013. Before that, though, the Nationals have more pressing matters.

They'll take Thursday off, return to Nationals Park for a closed workout on Friday, then watch the Wild Card game (scheduled to begin at 5:07 p.m.) to learn the identity of their first-ever playoff opponent.

They all insisted they have no preference between the Braves and Cardinals. Above all else, they understand every team they play from this point forward presents a real challenge.

There are no gimmes in October. That's the reward for winning 98 of 162 games.

"This is what it's all about," Werth said. "This is what you play your whole life for, to get to this point, and we've got a chance to do something special here. We've got a good team and a good group of guys, and I think the city can be proud of that."

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Nationals acquire LHP from Oakland

Nationals acquire LHP from Oakland

The Washington Nationals acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski and cash considerations from the Oakland Athletics on Thursday in exchange for Single-A infielder Max Schrock. The move is a boost to the bullpen for the Nationals who were in need of a left-hander.

More on this story to come.

RELATED: WHAT CAN'T TREA TURNER DO?

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Turner's eight consecutive hits adds another feat to impressive rookie season

Turner's eight consecutive hits adds another feat to impressive rookie season

Trea Turner has known he’s been white-hot at the plate the in recent days. Notching eight straight hits will do that.

“I mean, if you don't, you're lying,” Turner said. “Everyone thinks about it.”

But the 23-year-old speedster didn’t realize he was franchise-record hot until it was too late in Wednesday's 10-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

After tying Dmitri Young and Andre Dawson’s Nationals/Expos mark with eight hits in consecutive plate appearances earlier in the night, Turner struck out in the ninth inning to end his shot at history. It was only then, upon seeing his whiff on a computer replay, that he saw a note on the screen saying he was one hit shy of standing alone.

“If I would have known that, I wouldn't have struck out, probably,” he joked. “I'm just kidding. I didn't know that until then."

If your only struggle of late is having to settle for tying a franchise record, chances are things are going well.

Turner’s time in the majors this season has lasted all of 37 games, and yet rookie has made a huge impression on his team by making the game look easy on a nightly basis. Whether that’s being the needed sparkplug at the plate or a terror on the base paths, the much-ballyhooed prospect might be even better than some in the organization initially believed.

“Trea’s been playing great,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He had a great night at the plate. He’s also a very determined young man. That determination and youthful exuberance I think has rubbed off on the team.”

Perhaps even more impressive than Turner’s ability is his aptitude. In addition to having to adjust to big-league pitching, he’s had to learn center field, a position he hadn’t played in college or in the minors prior to this season.

And on Wednesday night’s first play, Turner showed why the Nats believe he’ll be just fine at his new home. He sprinted and dove at full speed rob Orioles’ leadoff man Adam Jones’ of extra bases.

“We’re both about the same speed,” veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman deadpanned. “For him to do that [is impressive]. He’s been playing center field for a month, maybe.”

Of course, he still has his hiccups, as he had later in the game when he leaped and couldn’t haul in ball near the wall in deep center field. But given everything else he brings to the team, the Nats will surely endure whatever growing pains he goes through.

“I feel good [in center field],” he said. “I feel like I'm kinda picking it up as I go and continue to do that in [batting practice] and also the games."

Since the day he became an everyday player, Turner has looked like he belongs. With a slash line of .335/.359/.544 to go along with nine doubles, six triples and four home runs, he may already be establishing himself as one of the most dynamic leadoff men in the game.

"I think it's an empty mind,” Turner said of his approach. “You're not really thinking too much. You just react. I think the more you can do that, the better you'll be, the more success you'll have.”

And if this is only the beginning, the Nats have to be awfully excited about what's in store for the Lake Worth, Florida native.  

“He’s still so young,” Zimmerman said. “He’s still learning how to play and learning himself. His baseball IQ is through the roof. I think he makes adjustments really quick. He’s really observant of what goes on around him. He’s going to be a really good one.”

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Even Tanner Roark can't stop Nats' struggles against Orioles

Even Tanner Roark can't stop Nats' struggles against Orioles

The Nationals may need to lobby for a new partner in Major League Baseball's annual regional rivalry matchup.

Because the Baltimore Orioles just keep having their way with their neighbors from the south. With the Nats' 10-8 loss on Wednesday night, they are now 6-17 against the Orioles since the start 2012 and have lost six straight going back to last year. 

Baltimore has been good over the last five years, but so have the Nationals. For some reason they match up poorly against the O's, no matter what direction each team is trending when they take the field.

The Orioles, for instance, had lost five of six and and nine of 14 before hosting the Nats in the opener on Monday night. The Nats weren't exactly on fire heading into Monday, but they had won six of nine and just took three of four at the Atlanta Braves. 

Even on Wednesday, with the Nats heading home and sending Tanner Roark to the mound, their luck did not improve. Roark has been their most consistent pitcher all year, their stopper at times. The Orioles, though, chased him after five innings with five runs - four earned - on seven hits, three walks and three hit batters, tying a career-high for Roark.

The walks and hit batters were a good indication that Roark was simply not his usual self. He was trying to pitch around the Orioles' big bats and ended up costing himself.

“Just lack of focus," Roark said. "I know I needed to get inside on these guys and make them feel uncomfortable at the plate. They have the most home runs in all of baseball so you got to make it known that your going to come inside. That’s the name of the game for pitching and as a starter you have to establish inside."

That he did not and the Orioles pounded him early. The first big strike was a two-run homer by Manny Machado, his 29th of the season. Another run came home when Matt Wieters was hit with the bases loaded. One more scored on a J.J. Hardy sacrifice fly.

Machado blasted a 92 mile per hour two-seamer - Roark's signature pitch - deep into the stands in left field. Afterwards, Roark explained the challenge of facing Machado, who is now 27-for-69 (.391) with four homers and 12 RBI in 17 career games vs. the Nationals.

“He can hit the ball all over the field. He’s a good hitter. Like any good hitter you got to make him feel uncomfortable. I didn’t do that the first two at-bats," Roark said.

The second at-bat for Machado also brought in a run, one of his four RBI on the night. That was a single to center field in the second inning to score Adam Jones, who reached on an error. That run went down as unearned for Roark one of two errors for the Nats on the night.

Machado was the main culprit in what amounted to a rare off-night for Roark. It was just the fifth time in 26 starts this year he hasn't gone at least six innings. He's gone at least seven in 15 of those outings.

The Orioles win a lot of games behind their offense, but their bullpen is also a big part of their equation. Though Parker Bridwell and Zach Britton ended up making matters interesting by allowing five runs in the ninth, Orioles relievers got numerous key outs on Wednesday to hold the Nats at bay.

Mychal Givens got three straight outs in the sixth after the Nats got two men in scoring position to lead off the frame. He struck out Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman and also got Wilson Ramos to pop out. Givens got into some trouble in the seventh, but Donnie Hart struck out Bryce Harper with runners on the corners to end the frame.

Zimmerman explained what made Givens - one of Baltimore's best relievers - so tough.

“He throws sidearm 97. It seems like all the guys they have throw like that. I don’t know where they get them from. But he made good pitches," Zimmerman said.

The Nationals will now hope to avoid a four-game sweep in the season series on Thursday night with Max Scherzer on the mound. Scherzer is an ace and would seemingly give the Nats a good chance to end their skid against the Orioles. Then again, the same could have been said about Roark before Wednesday night.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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