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Nats ready for All-Star spotlight

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Nats ready for All-Star spotlight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A handful of Nationals have drawn a cursory amount of attention over the years at the All-Star Game. Alfonso Soriano was a fairly big name at the 2006 All-Star Game. Dmitri Young made for a nice story in 2007. And Ryan Zimmerman fielded plenty of questions in 2009 (though most of those were about that morning's firing of manager Manny Acta).

Really, though, the Nationals' representative -- and it's almost always been one representative -- traditionally has sat on the sidelines and watched as the spotlight shined on plenty of other players from other, more-popular franchises.

That all changes today, because when the doors at Arrowhead Stadium swing open to media members looking to interview members of the National League All-Star team, a crowd will immediately assemble in whichever corner of the conference room officials decide to designate for the Nationals' delegation.

In a roomful of big names and big personalities, there may be no tandem of teammates more sought out than Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, each a first-time All-Star. Throw in the loquacious and effervescent Gio Gonzalez, making his second appearance in the Midsummer Classic, and the Nationals have suddenly gone from afterthought to center of attention on baseball's biggest stage.

Thus will kick off the Nationals' 48-hour national coming-out party, a chance for the rest of the sporting world to see what fans and media in D.C. have seen for three months: a first-place club that not only boasts talent but also boasts legitimate star power.

This marks the first time since their inaugural 2005 season in which the Nationals have sent more than one player to the All-Star Game. And they'll actually be able to claim four roster members as All-Stars, with shortstop Ian Desmond selected to the team but unable to attend due to a lingering oblique injury that requires significant daily treatment.

Who figures to draw a bigger crowd, Strasburg or Harper? The safe bet is on the 19-year-old, the youngest position player ever to be named an All-Star, who also happens to be comfortable in front of cameras and microphones.

Harper didn't expect to be here. He'd already made plans to fly home to Las Vegas following yesterday's first-half finale, only to find out he would be replacing injured Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on the All-Star roster.

Strasburg will draw a sizable crowd himself, though most reporters will be disappointed by the 23-year-old right-hander's lack of charisma and ability to offer up sound bites on cue.

If anything, the most entertaining player wearing Nats gear will probably be Gonzalez, who loves nothing more than to talk up his teammates and has perfected the art of turning a question about his own accomplishments into reason to brag about someone else on the club.

No matter who says what, or who draws however many reporters to his table, the Nationals will be among baseball's most-discussed franchises these next two days. People will talk about Strasburg's innings limit and Harper's contributions at such a young age. They'll talk about the important roles Gonzalez and Desmond have played in leading this team to the best record in the NL. And they'll talk about this club's chances not only of making the postseason but of making a deep run through the postseason.

Better get used to it now, folks, because this is going to become the norm. The Nationals no longer operate out of the spotlight. They are smack dab in the middle of it all, a franchise that has finally arrived and can't wait to show off its prized performers over the next two days.

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Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats hold on to top Giants

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night at AT&T Park.

How it happened: This Trea Turner and Bryce Harper combination at the top of the Nationals' lineup has potential.

Turner has been doing his part for over a week now, continuing to look like a player who can lead the Nats to new heights with his production from the leadoff spot. And on Thursday night in San Francisco, Harper followed the rookie's lead with a strong effort hitting behind him.

Turner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run and a steal. After going hitless in his previous five games, Harper smoked an RBI double to score Turner from first in the top of the sixth. As Turner rounded third and charged home, his helmet flew off behind his head, a subtle ode to the man who drove him in.

Turner had one of three straight two-out RBI singles hit by the Nats in the top of the second inning alone. Danny Espinosa got the first to score Wilson Ramos. Tanner Roark then landed the second to score Ryan Zimmerman before Turner brought home Espinosa.

That sequence was the worst moment for Johnny Cueto, who lasted a season-low five innings. Roark, on the other hand, was surgical through seven innings of one-run ball. 

The Nats pitching staff hummed like a well-oiled machine until the bottom of the ninth inning when Jonathan Papelbon took over. He faced one batter - Brandon Crawford - who flew out - before manager Dusty Baker got Oliver Perez warming in his bullpen. Papelbon would stay in to allow two baserunners before getting the hook. That simply does not happen if he had not given up six earned runs in his previous two outings. Clearly the Nats do not have confidence in their closer at the moment.

Perez replaced Papelbon, but didn't finish the inning. He loaded the bases by walking Trevor Brown, then allowed a run on a Gregor Blanco infield grounder that was charged to Papelbon. Blanco hit a laser to Anthony Rendon, who bobbled it before throwing it to second, where Espinosa also bobbled it to botch the forceout.

After Perez, it was Shawn Kelley who came in and shut it down with a strikeout of Angel Pagan with the bases loaded. Papelbon, by the way, has now been tagged with earned runs in three straight outings.

The Nationals won their second straight game after losing six of their previous eight.

What it means: The Nats beat the Giants in their first head-to-head matchup of the season. They moved to 60-42 overall and sit five games up on the Miami Marlins in the NL East with exactly 60 games left to play.

Roark too much for Giants: Roark entered Thursday as the less-heralded of the two starting pitchers, but the Nats right-hander thoroughly out-dueled Cueto in a performance that was typical of his strong 2016 season. Roark went seven innings with one run surrendered on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts on 111 total pitches. It was the eighth time this season that Roark has gone at least seven innings with one earned run or fewer allowed. Only Cubs lefty Jon Lester, with nine such starts, has done that more. Roark moved to 10-6 on the year and currently holds a 2.96 ERA.

Turner lights the fuse: The Nats' issues in the leadoff spot may soon become a distant memory. Turner continued to set the table brilliantly on Thursday night with two hits, a walk, a run and a steal. He fills up box scores like no one else on the Nationals right now and the impact he's having on their lineup as a whole as profound. This was the fifth time in his last nine games that Turner has reached base at least twice and the second straight outing he's been on three times. Turner's steal pushed him to 6-for-6 on attempts this season in just 14 total games. Including the minor leagues, he's 31-of-33 this year.

Turner also fared well defensively. Despite being new to center field and playing in a new ballpark, Turner made all the outs that were hit to him. He even reeled in a leaping catch at the wall for the first out of the bottom of the fifth. Turner backed up all the way to the wall and jumped to catch a Mac Williams flyball. The jump may not have been necessary, but he displayed solid instincts near the wall for a guy who is learning on the job out there.

Harper shows some life: Before Harper's RBI double to the left field corner in the sixth, the reigning MVP was 0-for-19 in his last 21 at-bats. As off as he's looked at times this season, Harper had reached one of his lowest points. The double, though was absolutely crushed and it gave the Nats a nice insurance run against a team that has proven resilient in the past.

Up next: The Nats and Giants play another late one with a 10:15 p.m. ET start on Friday night. Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.92) will take the mound for the Nats opposite right-hander Jeff Samardzija (9-6, 4.22).

[RELATED: 'Baseball in the District' - Harper's slump, trade deadline]

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GIF: Foul ball results in weird moment between Braves player and fan

GIF: Foul ball results in weird moment between Braves player and fan

Uh, that's not supposed to happen.

A fan at Turner Field on Thursday night reached into the field of play to catch a flyball and got a lot more than just a souvenir. He caught it right before Braves outfeilder Chase d'Arnaud came charging in. d'Arnau coudl not stop his momentum and ended up face-to-face with the fan, appearing to nearly give him a kiss on the replay.

It was weird. See for yourself:

[RELATED: 'Baseball in the District' - Harper's slump, trade deadline]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

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NL East: Mets targeting All-Star catcher for deadline trade

NL East: Mets targeting All-Star catcher for deadline trade

Being aggressive at least year's trade deadline paid big dividends for the New York Mets, who saw Yoenis Cespedes help lead them to a World Series berth. They could be looking for something similar this year, as a new report has them targeting one of baseball's best catchers.

The news comes from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who says the Mets have shown interest in Milwaukee Brewers backstop Jonathan Lucroy.

Rosenthal notes that no deal is close, but time is running out before Monday's deadline. The Mets appear intent on adding a bat to their lineup and Lucroy would certainly provide some help.

An All-Star this season and back in 2014, the 30-year-old is batting .300 with 13 homers and 50 RBI through 93 games. He would be an upgrade at catcher for most teams, the Mets included.

We'll see if anything comes of this. The Mets could use some help and getting a player like Lucroy would definitely change their outlook in the NL East.