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Nats have chance to bury Braves

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Nats have chance to bury Braves

There was a point, for a couple of hours in between games of their July 21 day-night doubleheader, when it appeared the Nationals were on the verge of surrendering their lead in the NL East to the Braves. After taking the first two games of that four-game series, Atlanta had crept to within 1 12 games and appeared to have momentum on its side.

All the Nationals have done since is go 22-7. During that same span, the Braves have gone 18-10.

Which makes the dynamic for this week's showdown between the two clubs a bit different than perhaps everyone expected. Instead of coming back to D.C. with a chance to reach or even overtake the Nats, the Braves instead arrive here a full five games back and desperately needing to take at least two of three simply to avoid falling into an even deeper hole.

That's an advantageous position for Davey Johnson's squad to find itself in.

"It goes back into July, August: We've played them pretty good," the manager said. "So they need to prove something to themselves when they come in here. And we're still trying to prove it to everybody. It's going to be fun."

The Nationals have gone 8-4 against the Braves this season, winning the last two games of that previous series to help create some separation between the two clubs. In the month that has elapsed since, Washington has become the frontrunner, with Atlanta now trying to play catch-up.

Through it all, players have tried to insist they're not constantly keeping an eye on the team directly behind them in the standings, even though they're well aware of the state of things at this moment.

"Sure, we're paying attention to Atlanta," Johnson said. "But we're concentrating at what we've got at hand."

What they've got at hand this week is an opportunity to deal their lone remaining challenger for the division title a serious blow. With Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler lined up to start these three games at home, the Nationals have positioned themselves well.

Not that they're taking anything for granted.

"We have a great team. But the Braves have been playing unbelievable baseball as well, so it's not going to be an easy three games," Danny Espinosa said. "It's definitely going to be a dog fight with them."

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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