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Nats caught napping in Philly

Nats caught napping in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- For nearly five months, they've cruised along with no real hint of adversity, ascending to their sport's best record and putting themselves in position to reach the playoffs and win their division for the first time.

The Nationals, though, haven't actually accomplished any of that yet, lest anyone forget. There are still 35 games to be played, and nothing has been assured other than the fact they're in a better position than any other club to accomplish their goal.

If they needed a reminder of that, perhaps this weekend's series did the trick. Facing a Phillies club that has little left to play for except for pride, the Nationals came out flat and got swept, dropping Sunday's series finale 4-1 to extend their losing streak to four games.

Time to panic? Well, no. This team still boasts baseball's best record at 77-50 and still holds either a 4 12- or 5 12-game lead over the Braves (pending the outcome of Atlanta's late contest in San Francisco).

Perhaps, however, it's time for a bit more sense of urgency from a club that has maintained an even-keel all season and has insisted it's still too early to think about the standings.

"At no time did I think we were out of those games," right fielder Jayson Werth said after seeing his team lose three straight by scores of 4-2, 4-2 and 4-1. "So, no, I don't think there's any panic or anything like that. Although, when you're in a pennant chase and you're getting into September, there definitely should be a sense of urgency."

There didn't appear to be much sense of that this weekend, certainly not during Sunday's finale that featured a fifth-inning meltdown by Jordan Zimmermann and then a seventh-inning brain cramp from Werth and Adam LaRoche that cost the Nationals at least one run, maybe more.

Zimmermann had been mowing down the Phillies lineup for four innings, matching Cliff Lee's mastery, before he made a couple of crucial mistakes. First, he served up an RBI double to Lee, who drilled the ball to deep center to bring the day's first run home. Then moments later, he grooved a 3-1 fastball to Jimmy Rollins and watched the ball fly into the right-field bleachers to give the Phillies a sudden 3-0 lead.

"The first four innings were kind of a breeze," said Zimmermann, now 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in five August starts. "In the fifth inning, I just hit a wall and got in a little bit of trouble. I definitely felt strong, which is a good thing. The stuff was pretty sharp. I got to take some positive out of it."

Laynce Nix's solo homer off Tom Gorzelanny in the sixth -- the slugger's first off a left-hander in eight years -- increased the lead to 4-0, but the Nationals appeared to have a rally going in the seventh, only to have it quashed by Werth and LaRoche's mental gaffe.

The situation: With Werth on second base and nobody out, LaRoche launched a high drive to right field. The ball struck a railing just above the fence and bounced back onto the warning track. First base umpire Gerry Davis immediately signaled the ball was in play -- the correct call according to the Citizens Bank Park ground rules -- but LaRoche and Werth each assumed it was a home run and began to trot around the bases.

The Phillies, on the other hand, realized the actual situation and got the ball back into the infield, ultimately getting LaRoche into a rundown between second and third, with Werth stuck on third base.

"I screwed up," LaRoche said. "I should've stopped at second there. Got a little confused coming around second. Looked up and saw Jayson breaking for home, and then was going to try to get into third and he came back. Just a cluster."

"I guess I saw -- what I thought I saw -- was the ball hitting the walkway above the fence," said Werth, who has plenty of experience with right field in this ballpark. "So I had no indication it wasn't a homer until I was halfway home, and for some reason third base coach Bo Porter was screaming about something, and I look up and the ball's on the way home. I obviously messed up the play, cost Rochie an easy RBI and potentially cost us a win."

Who knows what would have transpired had Werth and LaRoche responded appropriately, but the gaffe did feel worse when Tyler Moore followed with a double down the left-field line that would have scored LaRoche had he still been on base.

"I mean, this is a game you never take anything for granted," manager Davey Johnson said. "My two veteran players took it for granted that the ball was out. ... That's kind of a mental mistake, because you can always review it. You never put yourself in position with the ball still on the field, and two veteran players messed that up."

The Nationals never threatened again and went down quietly against the Phillies bullpen, dropping three in a row to a club that knows its streak of division championships will end at five but is still playing with some fire down the stretch.

In the visiting clubhouse afterward, Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo wound up in heated discussion, but nothing that seemed to linger 15 minutes later. Asked if he felt his players had eased off the gas pedal this weekend or if he felt the need to hold a team meeting, Johnson emphatically said no.

"These guys ain't easing off the gas pedal," the manager said. "They're grinding. You're never as bad as you look when you lose, and you're never as good as you look when you win. Just remember that, you know? These guys don't need a pep talk, they don't need anything. A couple guys need to get healthy, and we'll be fine."

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others