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Nats have 3 (maybe 4) All-Stars

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Nats have 3 (maybe 4) All-Stars

ATLANTA -- A Nationals franchise that has featured the minimum six total All-Stars over the last six years will send at least three players -- and possibly four -- to next week's Midsummer Classic in Kansas City.

Pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez along with shortstop Ian Desmond all learned this morning they will be members of the National League's All-Star squad, Strasburg and Gonzalez selected by their fellow players and Desmond selected by manager Tony La Russa.

Rookie Bryce Harper, meanwhile, learned he's one of five NL players in contention for the "Final Vote" spot on the roster, with fans now left to choose between the 19-year-old outfielder and four other contenders: retiring Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, teammate Michael Bourn, Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill and Cardinals third baseman David Freese.

"Obviously when you get more than one guy, get Desi and Gio in there too, it's huge," Strasburg said. "It means that we're winning. Typically the team in last place only gets one guy. So it's nice to ... correct me if I'm wrong, but this might be the first time with three?"

Indeed, this is only the second time the Nationals have boasted more than one All-Star since the franchise arrived in town (Chad Cordero and Livan Hernandez both were selected in 2005) and the first time they've sent more than two players to the game.

Strasburg (9-3, 2.81 ERA, MLB-high 122 strikeouts) and Gonzalez (10-3, 2.78 ERA, 108 strikeouts entering today's start in Atlanta) appeared to be locks to make the club, and each pitcher was selected by their fellow players.

This is Strasburg's first All-Star selection, and the 23-year-old was humbled to learn the news this morning via manager Davey Johnson only 10 months since he made his return to the mound following Tommy John surgery.

"It's going to be a tremendous experience and it's a huge honor for me," the right-hander said. "It's amazing to think where I was a year ago. It's great to see the hard work has all paid off, but it's not done. It's only the halfway point in the year, and we've still got a long ways to go."

Gonzalez will be making his second All-Star appearance, having gotten the nod last year while pitching for the Athletics.

Desmond, meanwhile, earns his first All-Star selection, chosen by La Russa (who while managing the Cardinals last season mentioned the 26-year-old shortstop as one of his favorite players). In his third full big-league seasons, Desmond enters Sunday's game hitting .276 with 13 homers, 43 RBI and a .483 slugging percentage that leads all MLB shortstops.

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Thoughts on the death of Marlins superstar Jose Fernandez

Thoughts on the death of Marlins superstar Jose Fernandez

The baseball world lost one of its best on Sunday morning with the tragic death of Marlins superstar Jose Fernandez, an ace pitcher who at just 24 years old had already established himself as arguably the most feared right-hander in baseball.

He was a dominant force who was unquestionably one of the best players on the planet and a guy so many of us were genuinely excited to watch for years to come.

The details of his life off the field made his ending that much more tragic, how he had escaped from Cuba and been separated from his grandmother for so long.

How just a week ago he revealed on Intagram that he and his girlfriend were expecting a child.

RELATED: ORIOLES MANAGER REACTS TO TRAGIC PASSING OF FERNANDEZ

On the field, he had the talent to be a Hall of Famer, one of the best pitchers of all time. And by all accounts, he was a splendid person as well. On the mound his vibrant personality was easy to see through his emotional pitching style. It seemed like he was never stoic. There was always either a smile or a scowl. He lived in the moment and every pitch was an event.

It's clear how much opposing players admired him, not only with the outpour of condolences since his death, but with how they talked about him while he was still alive. Bryce Harper's famous quotes made to ESPN this spring training about how there should be more emotion and personality in the game honed in on Fernandez. He was the central example of his argument.

Here's what Harper told ESPN in March: "Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn't care. Because you got him. That's part of the game."

That's some serious respect from a guy who who had more plate appearances against Fernandez than any other player. Because he played in the same division as Fernandez, Harper faced him 26 times. He only got four hits - not one of them for extra bases - and posted a lowly .595 OPS. Yet, he admired Fernandez and enjoyed facing him.

A lot of Nationals players saw Fernandez frequently and none of them had success. Yes, none of them.

Jayson Werth went 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts. Wilson Ramos went 3-for-18 with six strikeouts. Danny Espinosa went 2-for-16. Anthony Rendon went 3-for-22 with nine strikeouts. Ryan Zimmerman, who went 4-for-15, was a relative standout in the bunch and he couldn't solve him, either.

Ian Desmond, who left the Nats to sign with the Rangers this offseason, went 0-for-17 with 12 strikeouts against Fernandez when he was in Washington. And Desmond is a three-time Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star.

Fernandez made 10 starts against the Nats in his career and went 7-0 with a 0.99 ERA. He gave up 34 hits in 63 2/3 innings and struck out 84 batters. 

Fernandez struck out 12.9 batters per nine innings this season, the best rate in the majors. In his last outing, which was against the Nationals, he tossed eight shutout innings with 12 strikeouts, no walks and just three hits allowed. He took a first-place team and made them look like they didn't even belong on the same field.

It didn't matter who you were. You were not going to hit his high-90s fastball that moved in all sorts of directions as it crossed the plate. You weren't going to hit his curveball, that dropped in the zone with zip and precision.

He was just that good. And now he's gone.

RELATED: NATIONALS ROAD TO 2016 NL EAST WAS RELATIVELY SMOOTH

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Bryce Harper's injury untimely, but Nationals' offense is heating up

Bryce Harper's injury untimely, but Nationals' offense is heating up

Notes and observations from the Nats' 10-7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon…

Harper's untimely injury: The Nationals have another injury to worry about as they close the regular season and prepare for the playoffs, as Bryce Harper hurt his left thumb on an awkward slide into third base in Sunday's win. Now the reigning MVP heads for X-rays on Monday, hoping he didn't seriously damage the same thumb he tore a ligament in back in 2014.

The Nationals did not seem too worried based on their postgame comments to reporters, but it certainly bears watching with the playoffs set to begin in just about a week-and-a-half. Obviously, they would like to have Harper available for their postseason run, and he just happened to be heating up before he got hurt. Harper injured himself on a triple. He drove in a run earlier in the game on a groundout, had two RBI on Saturday and three hits on Friday. Harper has six hits in his last four games after having just one in his previous nine.

If Harper has to play through thumb pain moving forward, keep in mind how his 2014 problem significantly affected his power. Harper posted a career-low slugging percentage of .423. He's already struggled mightily at times this season and doesn't need anything else making it harder for him to be himself at the plate. It's a tough time for him to get hurt, but they do have over a week to get him right before the NLDS begins.

Nats offense kicking into gear: Harper's recent contributions have been part of an overall offensive surge for the Nats. With 10 runs on Sunday, the Nats have scored 29 total in their last four games. That's after posting just eight in their previous four games before that. Entering their weekend series against the Pirates, the Nats had the fewest runs of any NL team in the month of September. Offense was starting to look like a real issue for the Nationals, right as they neared the finish line of the regular season, but recently that has not been the case.

Cole, Latos, Glover continue to struggle: While the Nationals close out the final week of their regular season schedule, they will be closely evaluating their bench and bullpen in particular as they determine their final group for the playoff roster. Some tough decisions will be made on both accounts, but several Nats relievers may be pitching themselves out of contention for final spots.

A.J. Cole had another so-so outing on Sunday with three earned runs allowed on three walks and a hit in 2 2/3 innings of work. He only lasted 2 2/3 because he was ejected for throwing behind Jung Ho Kang in the third inning. Cole has now allowed 12 earned runs in his last 14 2/3 innings. That's a very discouraging trend for a guy who just a few starts ago looked like a potential playoff bullpen option.

Cole's downturn occurred following an impressive start against the Mets, an eye-opening performance against the Nats' division rival. The same thing happened to Mat Latos, who like Cole was good against the Mets but has since fallen off. Latos was charged with two earned runs on three hits and a walk in Sunday's win. He gave up two runs in his previous appearance against the Marlins on Sept. 19. That's two rough outings in a row with little time left to make an impression.

Rookie Koda Glover gave up the Pirates' final run on a homer by Kang in the bottom of the seventh. It was a two-run bomb, but the other run was charged to Sean Burnett, who was removed after walking Josh Bell with one out. Glover also gave up a run on Friday against the Pirates and has now allowed seven runs in six innings across his last seven outings. It has been a troubling stretch for a guy who had a nice start to this season and until recently looked like a potential playoff option.

Revere's best game in a while: The Nationals had 14 hits on Sunday and three of them came from center fielder Ben Revere. It was his fifth game this season with at least three hits and his first since July 1. Since Trea Turner took over for him in center, playing time has been hard to come by for Revere, but lately he's been making the most of it. Sunday was Revere's fourth start in September and in those games he has six hits and four runs. He also added two steals in Sunday's win, his first multi-steal game since June 27.

[RELATED: Nationals took relatively smooth road to winning 2016 NL East]

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