Why didn't the Nats draw better last night?

Why didn't the Nats draw better last night?

It was impossible not to notice as the best-in-baseball Nationals took the field at 7:05 p.m. last night to face the Cubs. As the ballpark PA announcer implored the crowd to greet "your Washington Nationals," the ensuing roar might not have been loud enough to wake a sleeping infant.

Huge swaths of the lower deck were empty. You could count the number of fans in many upper deck sections on two hands. A few were completely vacant.

Official paid attendance: 17,648, the fourth-smallest crowd of the season on South Capitol Street and the smallest since May 2.

Where'd everybody go?

Theories immediately were proposed. It had been the first day of school in Northern Virginia, where the majority of Nationals fans live. The muggy weather was a turn-off. Tons of locals had been out of town during the holiday weekend. Tons more had migrated to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

All of those likely played a role in the disappointingly small gathering, but it turns out this problem wasn't restricted to Washington.

Did you know there were seven games around Major League Baseball last night that drew smaller crowds? Yep, the Braves (16,686), White Sox (15,698), Blue Jays (13,556), Pirates (12,785), Mariners (12,754), Royals (12,462) and Athletics (11,688) all played in front of fewer fans.

And two other playoff contenders -- the Reds (17,806) and Rays (17,652) -- drew nearly identical crowds as the Nationals.

Average attendance across baseball last night: 21,042. That's down 33 percent from the overall season average.

Apparently the day after Labor Day is a tough sell just about everywhere.

Only five clubs drew significantly more fans than the Nationals did: the Giants (41,038), Dodgers (40,619), Cardinals (34,108), Tigers (27,729) and Marlins (23,403). In all cases, those crowds were below average, with Detroit down 10,000 fans from its season norm.

None of that prevented fans, media and other interested parties around the country from hurling insults the Nationals' way and questioning whether D.C. really will support a winning baseball team. Clearly many of those people haven't been paying attention.

Attendance at Nationals Park remains up 27 percent from this point last season. Only the Marlins (who moved out of an awful football stadium into a new baseball-only park) have enjoyed a larger increase from 2011 to 2012.

With an average attendance just a tick under 30,000, the Nationals rank 14th out of 30 major-league clubs, ahead of the playoff-contending Reds, Braves, Pirates, Orioles, White Sox, Athletics and Rays.

So why was last night's crowd (and several other during this homestand) so small? The answer is simple: The Nationals still have a small season-ticket base.

Team officials don't give out exact numbers, but it's believed the Nationals have sold the equivalent of about 12,000 full-season ticket packages. We know for certain that number is no greater than 14,520 (the smallest crowd of the season to date).

When your base is that small, you've got to sell roughly 30,000 single-game seats every single night to fill the place up. That may happen a handful of times over the course of a season -- on summer weekends and against high-drawing opponents -- but on the day after Labor Day? Not likely.

Baseball is a slow-moving sport in so many ways, and attendance leads the list. Teams usually see a huge spike in crowds the year after they reach the playoffs. Why? Because they sell a whole lot more season-ticket packages over the winter.

There's every reason to believe the Nationals will experience such a spike in 2013 and will surpass their 2012 total attendance (even if they don't win as many games).

Until then, they'll just have to hope the crowds start to pick up again as the regular-season draws to a close. When the time comes for them to clinch the city's first postseason berth in 79 years, the place should be full.

When they actually do host October baseball for the first time in three generations, the place will be full. (If nothing else, Washington has proven itself to be a big "event" town, and there will be no bigger event in town come October than playoff baseball.)

That doesn't make last night's paltry crowd any less disappointing. But perhaps it will help convince the doubters out there about D.C.'s ability to support a winning ballclub.

Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

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Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

Here is the update from the Associated Press on Bryce Harper's injury after the right fielder left Monday's Nationals win over the Phillies:

Bryce Harper left the game shortly after taking a fastball off the outside part of his right knee in the seventh. The reigning NL MVP went to first base, got doubled off on Murphy's fly out to left and was replaced by Chris Heisey in right field in the bottom half.

"It hurts," Harper said. "Whenever you get squared up like that, it doesn't feel good. We'll evaluate tomorrow and see how it feels. If I don't feel good, I'm not going to play. If I feel fine, then I'll be in there."

Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

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Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

How it happened: Right now, two months into the 2016 MLB season, is there any other player you'd rather have up in a key spot than Daniel Murphy?

The Nats second baseman continued his months-long Ted Williams impression on Monday night with three hits, one of them his eighth homer of the season and another the go-ahead swing in the bottom of the eighth in a 4-3 Nats victory over the Phillies. 

On a night Bryce Harper left with an injury, Murphy helped save the day with three runs driven in. The other was pushed across by Jayson Werth, who tied the game at 2-2 in the eighth to help set up Murphy's heroics. 

The Nationals hung on in the ninth, but closer Jonathan Papelbon made it interesting by allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. Papelbon has surrendered six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings with two blown saves against the Phillies since he was traded from them to the Nats last summer.

Tanner Roark pitched seven solid innings with two earned runs allowed. He earned his fourth win of the season.

What it means: The Nationals moved to 10 games over .500 and 3-4 against the Phillies this season, all three of those wins having come at Citizens Bank Park. The Nats remain in first place with a 31-21 record after 52 games. That puts them two wins ahead of their 2015 pace (29-23 after 52). In 2014 when they won 96 games and the NL East, they were 25-27. And in 2012 when they won 98 games and the division, they were 30-22. The Nats are playing at a 97-win pace right now.

Murphy's big day: Who is this guy? As impressive as Murphy's 2016 had already been, he put in one of his best games as a National on Tuesday. Murphy smacked his eighth homer of the season in the top of the fourth which put him more than halfway to his career-high of 14, which he set just last year. This is in just 50 games, which puts Murphy on pace for about 25 by the end of this season. That would not only far exceed his best season ever, it would significantly change his value as an offensive player. Murphy has six homers in the month of May, a personal career-best for the regular season. The only other month he's hit more was last October when he clubbed seven for the Mets in the playoffs. Murphy also landed a double in the second inning on Monday to notch his 25th mutli-hit game of the season, exactly half of the game he's played. This was all on top of his go-ahead, two-RBI single in the top of the eighth. Murphy is now batting a cool .395 and we're one day away from June. That's just amazing.

Harper leaves with apparent injury: In a sight that will scare the living hell out of any Nationals fan, Harper left in the top of the seventh with what appeared to be a right leg injury. He exited after taking an 88 mile per hour fastball either off his knee or off his thigh muscle right above it. Harper stayed in the game for one play by taking first, but left after getting out on a double play. Murphy flew out and Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel beat Harper with a throw to first before he got back. Chris Heisey replaced Harper in right field in the bottom of the seventh. It could be just a bruise, but Nats fans will certainly worry until they hear otherwise.

Werth's game-tying double: Aside from Murphy's three knocks, Werth was one of only two other Nationals to land a hit on Monday night. For Werth, it was a single to left field that scored Danny Espinosa from second in the top of the eighth. The RBI hit came off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, who also gave up the deciding blow against Murphy. Werth's big swing came just one day after he launched a pinch-hit grand slam in the Nats' win over the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Up next: The Nationals send Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) to the mound for Tuesday's game with right-hander Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) set to pitch for Philly. It's another 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

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Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

Bryce Harper exited Monday night's game between the Nationals and Phillies with an apparent right leg injury after getting hit by an 88 mile per hour fastball in the area of his knee in the top of the seventh inning.

Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson hit Harper either on the knee or just above it, based on the television replay. Harper took first base and stayed in through the next at-bat. But after he got out on a double play, Harper left for the clubhouse. He was then replaced by Chris Heisey in right field when the Nationals went back out on defense.

Harper walked with a visible limp on his way to first base after getting hit. Hellickson immediately challenged him with several pickoff attempts before he got Daniel Murphy to fly out. Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel threw to first base before Harper could tag the bag for the double play.

Harper has dealt with a left knee injury in the past, but it was his right knee that appeared to be injured on Monday night.

Harper, 23, is batting .242 with 13 homers and 34 RBI on the season. He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Monday night before he left the game.