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Wrapping up an eventful weekend for the Nats

Wrapping up an eventful weekend for the Nats

If you were out of town over the holiday weekend, you sure missed some eventful stuff at the ballpark. The Nationals took three of four from the Cardinals, informed Stephen Strasburg he'll make only two more starts this season, called up John Lannan, Eury Perez, Sandy Leon, Zach Duke and Christian Garcia from Class AAA Syracuse and lost Sean Burnett, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse for a brief period of time due to injuries.

Oh yeah, and they won their 82nd game of the season, most for any D.C. ballclub since 1969.

Since there's a decent chance you missed some or all of that, let's recap the biggest stories of the weekend, with some links back to the original articles...

-- Yesterday's 2-1 victory over the Cubs was the Nationals' 82nd of the year, ensuring the club's first-ever winning season. While the consensus opinion around most of the clubhouse involved shrugs and talk of accomplishing even greater things, there were a few folks (particularly those who have been in the organization a while) who noted the significance of this win. "I think that's huge for the city and everything," Ross Detwiler said. "Obviously we're not done yet, but somebody like Ryan Zimmerman, who's been here the whole time and he's been on losing teams year in and year out ... I'm just happy for him to be on a winning team."

-- After Stephen Strasburg tossed six scoreless innings during Sunday's win over the Cardinals, manager Davey Johnson revealed the right-hander will make two more starts before he is shut down: Friday night against the Marlins at Nationals Park, then Sept. 12 at the Mets. Then on Monday, Strasburg sat down for a long conversation with Johnson, Mike Rizzo and Steve McCatty, during which he made it clear he wants to pitch through the remainder of the season. That, of course, wasn't going to happen no matter what Strasburg said, but let the record show he is opposed to the shutdown.

-- Yesterday's win also featured Tyler Clippard escaping a self-created jam in the top of the ninth to record his 30th save. That's no small accomplishment, considering the only other Nationals relievers to save that many games are Chad Cordero (2005, 2007) and Drew Storen (2011). It's also no small feat considering Clippard didn't get his first save opportunity this season until May 22. That means he's saved 30 games in less than 3 12 months. "It's a nice feather on the cap," he said. "I think more importantly, it's been fun to contribute to a lot of the wins we've had this year. That's the most fun part for me."

-- The Nationals may need Clippard, Drew Storen and others to continue to make big contributions late in games, because Sean Burnett is dealing with elbow discomfort again. The lefty had this earlier in the season and pitched through it with only minimal issues, but his numbers of late (16 hits allowed in his last six innings) suggest the elbow has become a real factor in his performance. Johnson said he'll probably hold Burnett out for a couple of days; we'll see if it turns into anything more significant than that.

-- Perhaps in part because of Burnett's situation, the Nationals added two more pitchers from Class AAA Syracuse yesterday: Zach Duke and Christian Garcia. Each will pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the month, and each made it to D.C. through perseverance. If you haven't read the full story on both guys from yesterday, I encourage you to click on the link and appreciate just how much this means for each of them.

-- Meanwhile, Michael Morse was mysteriously pulled from yesterday's game during the fourth inning. Is he having a problem with his thumb? His hand? Or was something else going on? I'll let you all try to interpret what both Morse and Johnson said after the game.

-- The minor-league season ended yesterday for most of the Nationals' affiliates, and the club announced its organizational player and pitcher of the year: Matt Skole and Nathan Karns. Skole, 23, led all players in the organization with 27 homers and finished second with 102 RBI, splitting his season between low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. The third baseman, a fifth-round pick in last summer's draft out of Georgia Tech, hit .292 overall with a .427 on-base percentage. Karns, 24, went 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 24 games (18 starts) between Hagerstown and Potomac. A 12th-round pick in 2009 out of Texas Tech, the right-hander was shut down after pitching 116 innings, during which he allowed only 70 hits. Both Skole and Karns will be honored at Nationals Park before Friday night's game against the Marlins.

-- Finally, while yesterday's win marked a milestone for the Nationals and D.C. baseball, it also marked the end of a long streak for yours truly. You see, I hadn't covered a team (in any sport) with a winning record since 1996, when as a student at Northwestern I covered the 9-3 football team. Since then, it had been nothing but .500 or worse seasons for me: the 1997 Cubs and 1998 Diamondbacks as interns, the 1999-2000 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi basketball teams, the 2001-02 Orioles, the 2003-04 Redskins and then 2005-11 Nationals. As a reporter, I've obviously got no rooting interest in any team I cover, but I think it's fair to say it's a tad more enjoyable covering a winning team than a losing team. Which has made this season particularly enjoyable to chronicle.

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Papelbon's job now a real question, Nats glad to have Zim & Solis back

Papelbon's job now a real question, Nats glad to have Zim & Solis back

Leftover notes and observations from the Nats' 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday night...

Papelbon pulled: Jonathan Papelbon has been causing trouble for the Nationals in the ninth inning lately, having gone back to his shaky ways of pitching to hard contact with a fastball that tops out at 89-90 miles per hour. Many fans have not felt confident this year in Papelbon's ability to do his job as closer. Now we know the Nationals feel the same.

Manager Dusty Baker pulled Papelbon after the 35-year-old veteran faced just three batters on Thursday night. He got Brandon Crawford to fly out, then gave up a single to Brandon Belt and a walk to Mac Williamson. By the end of his first at-bat, Baker had Oliver Perez warming.

Papelbon was ultimately charged with one earned run as Perez allowed Belt to score on an infield grounder. That gave Papelbon his third straight appearance with at least one earned run allowed, with seven of them total during that stretch.

His troubles go beyond the numbers, though. First place teams who have their closer's back simply do not take him out that early in such a big spot in such an important game. If any more indication was needed the Nationals could use an upgrade at that position by Monday's non-waiver trade deadline, there it was. Now, the question is how the Nats can bring in a new closer. Will they give up the farm for an Andrew Miller, or hope for the same results with a Alex Colome or Jeremy Jeffress, who would conceivably be cheaper? Either way, they should do something, or else it could cost them a lot down the road. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it.

Zimmerman gets two hits: In his third game back from the disabled list, Ryan Zimmerman had a solid outing with a single, a double and a run. That followed Wednesday's game in Cleveland where he had a single, two runs and a steal. Zimmerman is now 6-for-20 (.300) with five runs, a double and a homer in his last five games, though those are split by his stint on the DL.

Espinosa drives in a run: Hits have been few and far between for Espinosa, who has fallen off a bit in July after his exceptional month of June. But the Nats shortstop did get a big one on Thursday night with his RBI single with two outs in the top of the second inning. Espinosa now has just three hits in his last 10 games across 38 at-bats with 17 strikeouts. He has a .318 OPS during that stretch. Maybe Thursday was a sign he is about to get going again.

Solis shines again: Sammy Solis continued to look strong in his second appearance since returning from the disabled list on Tuesday. he tossed a scoreless eighth inning after working around a leadoff walk. Solis has now pitched 1 2/3 innings with no runs and three strikeouts since coming back. Beyond going after closers, the Nats have also been linked to left-handed relievers, guys like Zach Duke and Boone Logan. With Solis back pitching well, though, it's not a major need.

[RELATED: Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats top Giants]

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Nats pull Papelbon in 9th vs. Giants: 'The object is to win the game'

Nats pull Papelbon in 9th vs. Giants: 'The object is to win the game'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- With his team chasing the Chicago Cubs for the best record in baseball, Washington manager Dusty Baker is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the Nationals close -- even if it means pulling closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning.

While it might not be the move he cherishes, it's one Baker may make even more down the stretch as Papelbon struggles through one of his roughest stretches of the season.

Ryan Zimmerman had two hits and scored a run, Trea Turner added two hits and an RBI and the Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants 4-2 on Thursday night in the opener of a key four-game series between division leaders.

Papelbon went into the game with 19 saves and retired one batter in the ninth before getting pulled in favor of Shawn Kelley after giving up a single and walk.

"I'm sure he felt badly but I had to do what I had to do to win the ballgame," Baker said of his closer. "I'm sure that Pap didn't like it but I'm sure that he understands."

Papelbon has struggled over the past week. He took the loss Sunday against San Diego and again on Tuesday in Cleveland before being unable to close out the win in San Francisco.

"The object is to win the game," Papelbon said. "Do what you can do to win the game."

[RELATED: Roark and Turner lead the way as Nats top Giants]

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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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