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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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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”

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Nationals Playoff Schedule 2016: MLB Postseason Dates and TV channel

Nationals Playoff Schedule 2016: MLB Postseason Dates and TV channel

The 2016 MLB Postseason begins the first week in October.

The N.L. East Division champion Washington Nationals face the N.L. West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series. While the specific times and game locations have yet to be decided, here is what we know thus far.

2016 MLB N.L. postseason schedule:

When is the American League Wild Card Game?

Tuesday, Oct. 4.: Time TBD. TV Channel: TBS

When is the National League Wild Card Game?

Wednesday, Oct. 5: Time: TBD. TV Channel: TBS

 

When is the American League and National Lague Divisional Series? (Best of five series)

*  If necessary

Thursday, Oct. 6:

- ALDS A, Game 1. TV Channel: TBS
- ALDS B, Game 2. TV Channel: TBS

Friday, Oct. 7

- ALDS A, Game 2. TV Channel: TBS
- ALDS B, Game 2. TV Channel: TBS

- NLDS A, Game 1. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network
- NLDS B, Game 1. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network

Saturday, Oct. 8

- NLDS A, Game 2. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network
- NLDS B, Game 2. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network

Sunday, Oct. 9

- ALDS A, Game 3. TV Channel: TBS
- ALDS B, Game 3. TV Channel: TBS

Monday, Oct. 10

- ALDS A, Game 4*. TV Channel: TBS
- ALDS B, Game 4*. TV Channel: TBS

- NLDS A, Game 3. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network
- NLDS B, Game 3. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1 or MLB Network

Tuesday, Oct. 11

- NLDS A, Game 4*. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
- NLDS B, Game 4*. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1

Wednesday, Oct. 12

- ALDS A, Game 5*. TV Channel: TBS
- ALDS B, Game 5*. TV Channel: TBS

Thursday, Oct. 13

- NLDS A, Game 5*. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
- NLDS B, Game 5*. TV Channel: Fox Sports 1

 

When is the ALCS? When is the NLCS? (Best of 7. Times TBD)

Friday, Oct. 14

- ALCS Game 1. TV Channel: TBS

Saturday, Oct. 15

- ALCS Game 2. TV Channel: TBS

- NLCS Game 1. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

Sunday, Oct. 16

- NLCS Game 2. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

Monday, Oct. 17

- ALCS Game 3. TV Channel: TBS

Tuesday, Oct. 18

- NLCS Game 3. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

- ALCS Game 4. TV Channel: TBS

Wednesday, Oct. 19

- NLCS Game 4. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

- ALCS Game 5*. TV Channel: TBS

Thursday, Oct. 20

NLCS Game 5*. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

Friday, Oct. 21

- ALCS Game 6*. TV Channel: TBS

Saturday, Oct. 22

- NLCS Game 6*. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

- ALCS Game 7*. TV Channel: TBS

Sunday, Oct. 23

- NLCS Game 7*. TV Channel: Fox or Fox Sports 1

 

When is the 2016 World Series? (Best of 7. Times TBD)

Tuesday, Oct. 25

- Game 1: NL at AL. TV Channel: Fox

Wednesday, Oct. 26

- Game 2: NL at AL. TV Channel: Fox

Friday, Oct. 28

- Game 3: AL at NL. TV Channel: Fox

Saturday, Oct. 29

- Game 4: AL at NL. TV Channel: Fox

Sunday, Oct. 30

- Game 5*: AL at NL. TV Channel: Fox

Tuesday, Nov. 1

- Game 6*: NL at AL. TV Channel: Fox

Wednesday, Nov. 2

- Game 7*: NL at AL. TV Channel: Fox