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Nats bounce up off the mat

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Nats bounce up off the mat

There was a point early Saturday evening in which the Nationals' season appeared to be at a potential breaking point. Having already lost the first two games of a showdown series with the Braves -- blowing a nine-run lead in one of them -- they now put themselves in an early 2-0 hole in the nightcap of a doubleheader.

At that moment, the idea of the Nationals finding themselves in second place by Sunday evening was terrifyingly possible.

But then John Lannan pitched the game of his life to lead his team to a come-from-behind victory. And then Ryan Zimmerman led an early offensive onslaught against Atlanta right-hander Jair Jurrjens Sunday afternoon. And then Ross Detwiler slammed the door on any possibility of another meltdown with seven strong innings.

And by the end of the day, the Nationals not only had themselves a 9-2 win but a split of this key series and a 3 12-game lead once again over their chief competition in the NL East.

"To be down two games in a four-game series and come back and win the last two and kind of stay where you're at as far as the division, it's a good feeling for us," Danny Espinosa said. "It's a tough challenge right there. We don't give up, but it's tough not to almost fold."

The Nationals didn't fold, not in the least. If anything, they rose up and played two of their best all-around games of the season, capped by a laugher in Sunday's finale.

The first of Zimmerman's two homers on the day, plus RBI hits from Espinosa and a red-hot Roger Bernadina put the Nationals up 4-0 before many in the crowd of 34,917 found their seats. Zimmerman's second homer of the day, combined with another RBI hit from Espinosa, made it 6-0 in the third inning. And by the time rookie catcher Sandy Leon launched a bases-loaded double in the fifth to make it 8-0, the mood in the Nationals dugout was jovial once again.

"With as much baseball as we've played this week," Zimmerman said, "with the weather and all the things we've had to deal with, and the first two games the way they went, for us to come back and win the next two games I think shows what kind of team this is."

Staked to that early lead, Detwiler did exactly what a pitcher in his situation is supposed to do: He went right after Atlanta's lineup, not wasting any time or any pitches. The left-hander gave up seven hits over seven innings, but he issued only one walk and ultimately allowed only one earned run to cross the plate.

And by pitching with such efficiency, he was able to convince Johnson to let him take the mound for the top of the seventh and provide some more much-needed relief for an overworked bullpen.

"With the doubleheader yesterday and everything, I knew the bullpen needed a little break," Detwiler said. "I was just trying to get early outs and get as deep into the game as possible."

The 26-year-old lefty has quietly become just as valuable a piece of the sport's best rotation as All-Stars Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and the dominant Jordan Zimmermann. He now sports a 3.01 ERA over 14 starts, a 2.35 ERA in five starts since he rejoined the rotation.

"He's just turned into one heck of a pitcher," Johnson said.

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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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