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Nats have come a long way

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Nats have come a long way

It's been six years since the New York Yankees last appeared in Washington, D.C. It feels like 600.

The three starters then-Nationals manager Frank Robinson sent to the mound during that Father's Day weekend in 2006: Shawn Hill, Ramon Ortiz and Mike O'Connor. Alfonso Soriano hit the 24th of his team-record 46 homers during the series opener at RFK Stadium. Daryle Ward scored the go-ahead run on Jose Guillen's eighth-inning triple during the Saturday matinee. Rookie Ryan Zimmerman clubbed his first career walk-off homer (a two-run shot off Chien-Ming Wang) to complete the Sunday finale and leave a sellout crowd in a state of pandemonium.

And at the end of all that, the Nationals remained seven games under .500, en route to another last-place finish in the NL East.

That won't be the case this weekend when the Bronx Bombers return to the nation's capital, this time to face a far different Nationals franchise.

How far have the Nats come? Well, even if they're swept this weekend, they'll still remain in sole possession of first place in the division, having built themselves a 4 12-game cushion thanks to a perfect 6-0 trip to Boston and Toronto over the last week.

How far have the Nats come? Well, even though their ace won't appear in this series, they'll still send three starters to the mound with ERAs below 3.03.

How far have the Nats come? Well, all three games will be televised nationally (Friday and Saturday on MLB Network, Sunday on TBS).

How far have the Nats come? Well, despite the presence of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in the opposing dugout, the spotlight will shine brightest this weekend on a National: 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper.

The times have indeed changed, and changed so quickly and so dramatically it's hard to keep up.

In a season that has already seen the Nationals make major statements against several traditional powerhouses (the Phillies, Braves and Red Sox), this represents the latest opportunity for this rising power to make a statement on the big stage.

The early-May "Take Back the Park" showdown against Philadelphia was perhaps the biggest series in Nationals history. Until the late-May battle for first place in Atlanta. Until last weekend's star-riddled interleague duel at Fenway Park.

Now comes this, a meeting between the team with baseball's second-best record (38-23) and its third-best record (37-25). A marquee matchup between the most accomplished franchise in baseball history and a franchise and a city that has accomplished very little on the diamond over the decades.

Overflow crowds will pack Nationals Park for all three games. Excess media will cover the series. Locals won't know how to react to all this attention.

Better get used to it, folks. Because while this weekend's series represents another significant moment in the Nationals' brief history, this is only the start of a summer and autumn filled with significant moments and games.

By the time October rolls around, this Yankees series may barely even register on the importance scale. We might instead be recalling the Nationals' 13-game stretch against the Marlins, Mets and Braves to open the season's second half in mid-July. Or we might note the significance of a mid-September clash with the Dodgers, perhaps a playoff preview. Or we might be consumed with an Oct. 1-3, regular-season-ending showdown with the Phillies, with the Nationals attempting to clinch their first postseason berth before a packed house on South Capitol St.

Yes, the Nationals have arrived on the national stage at last. And unlike six years ago at the end of a dramatic (but ultimately insignificant) weekend against the Yankees, there's no reason to believe they're going to exit that stage anytime soon.

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Nationals avoid arbitration, reach deal with Bryce Harper and three others

Nationals avoid arbitration, reach deal with Bryce Harper and three others

The Washington Nationals avoided arbitration and agreed to one-year deals today with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and newly acquired catcher Derek Norris.

If team's and players didn't agree to contracts by today's 1 p.m. ET deadline, an independent arbitrator will rule on the contract at a later date and decide how much the player will play for in 2017. 

Harper and the Nationals agreed to a $13.625 million deal, which was significantly more than the $9.3 million contract that was projected by MLB Trade Rumors. Last season, coming off his 2015 MVP campaign, Harper made $5 million. The 24-year-old will be a free agent after the 2018 season. 

Harper is coming off a disappointing season by his standards, in which he hit just .243 with 24 homers, which was way down from his total of 42 dingers in 2015. 

According to multiple reports, Rendon signed for $5.8 million, Roark signed for $4.315 million and Norris' deal was for $4.2 million.

Roark made just $543,400 last season, which he vastly out-performed. Roark was one of the most consistent pitchers in the National League last year as he won 16 games and posted a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings of work. 

With today's signings, all of the Nationals' arbitration-eligible players are under contract for 2017. 

Related: Tanner Roark to replace Max Scherzer on World Baseball Classic roster

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LOOK: Bryce Harper got married in suit jacket lined with pictures of wife

LOOK: Bryce Harper got married in suit jacket lined with pictures of wife

Nationals star Bryce Harper has a bold fashion sense, that's for sure. Just take a look at that hair. But he a more romantic fashion risk for his own wedding with a custom suit jacket. 

He opted for a navy blue tuxedo with black piping. It was the lining that really stood out as special. 

If you look closely, you'll see photos of Harper and his wife, Kayla, decorating the lining of the jacket. 

There's also the date of wedding and script reading "Mr. and Mrs. Harper." 

He credited the makers of his tuxedo, Stitched, in the tweet. 

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals’ Bryce Harper ecstatic to see bride on wedding day