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Talking about Tuesday's Nats win

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Talking about Tuesday's Nats win

Remember how daunting this 33-game stretch against only NL East and AL East teams was supposed to be for the Nationals? Well, with Tuesday night's 4-2 victory in Toronto, they're now two-thirds of the way through this gantlet and they've gone 14-8.

Not bad. Not bad at all. But wait, there's more...

With this latest win, the Nationals are now 37-23, 14 games over .500. That puts them on pace for 100 wins by season's end.

And thanks to the Braves' loss to the Yankees, the Nationals now hold a 4-game lead in the NL East. The last time they held a lead that large? July 6, 2005.

And thanks to the Phillies' loss to the Twins, the Nationals now hold a 9 12-game lead over the five-time division champs. Yes, 9 12 games.

Wednesday afternoon, they'll have a chance to complete a sweep of the Blue Jays, this coming on the heels of a sweep of the Red Sox. In their 7-plus year history, the Nationals have never gone 6-0 on a road trip. Not once. They'll look to pull that off at Rogers Centre, with none other than Stephen Strasburg on the mound.

Some other thoughts from Tuesday night's game...

-- Bryce Harper is starting to heat up at the plate. Wait, you're saying he hasn't been hot this whole time? Actually, no, he wasn't. Through his first 20 big-league games, Harper hit .230 with two homers, five RBI, a .318 on-base percentage and a .737 OPS. He's now played 20 more big-league games, during which time he's hit .361 with five homers, 13 RBI, a .439 on-base percentage and a 1.147 OPS.

-- Chien-Ming Wang really had to battle to complete five innings, preserve his team's lead and earn his first win in three starts. The way the fifth inning was unfolding -- especially after Jose Bautista tattooed a high sinker for a two-run homer -- it seemed obvious Wang had nothing left in the tank. It was telling that Davey Johnson let his starter stay in the game to try to complete the inning and qualify for the victory, but you have to wonder how many more opportunities the manager will give Wang. Yes, it's only three starts. But right now, Wang clearly is the weak link in an otherwise fabulous rotation. And Ross Detwiler, though he struggled in his final starts before getting bumped to the bullpen, appears to give the Nationals a better chance to win right now. Wang's turn next comes up Tuesday against the Rays. Stay tuned.

-- For a guy known more for his defensive abilities than his offensive skills, Jhonatan Solano sure seems to have some pop in his bat. Solano crushed a hanging slider from Henderson Alvarez in the top of the seventh for his first career home run. That blast (along with a fifth-inning single) makes Solano 4-for-10 as a big-league hitter. Can that last? Probably not. But it's got to at least be comforting to Johnson to know his rookie backup catcher can hold his own at the plate, perhaps earning a chance to start behind the plate more than once every five days.

-- With an 0-for-4, two-strikeout night, Ryan Zimmerman is now hitting .239 for the season. Even more alarming, his 6-4-3 groundout in the fifth was his ninth double play this season. The only NL players who have grounded into more double plays: Alfonso Soriano and Hanley Ramirez, who each have 10 but also have each played in more games than Zimmerman (who spent two weeks on the DL).

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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.