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Can Nats make it back to playoffs?

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Can Nats make it back to playoffs?

The mantra was repeated over and over and over by just about everyone in the Nationals organization: This is a ballclub that expects to be good for a long time and expects to make many trips to the postseason.

And that belief was repeated late Friday night in the aftermath of their soul-crushing National League Division Series loss to the Cardinals.

"We've come a long, long way in a fairly short period of time," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Like I said all along, we like where we're at. We like the core players on this team. And we're going to be excited to ratchet it up in the spring."

The belief this team just entered a long-term window for success was among the guiding principles behind Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, with Rizzo insisting he wanted the right-hander around for future postseason runs. It's among the reasons nearly every roster move he's made has been to acquire players who could not only help this team win now but in the future as well.

And the Nationals should have every reason to believe they'll be back in the postseason again in 2013 and for several years to come. But they also should have every reason to understand there are no guarantees they'll find themselves in this situation again.

There are plenty of recent examples that seem to support the Nationals' chances of a long, sustained run of excellence, maybe none as comparable as the Phillies of the last half-decade.

After winning their first NL East title in 2007, they immediately were swept in the NLDS by a red-hot Rockies team that went on one of the greatest September/October rolls in history. How did the Phillies respond? They won the World Series in 2008, then returned to the Fall Classic in 2009, the NLCS in 2010 and the NLDS in 2011.

Another potential comparison: In 1995, the Yankees reached the postseason for the first time in 14 years, then lost to the Mariners in a Division Series Game 5 finish every bit as dramatic as what the Nationals and Cardinals just experienced. How did New York respond? By winning four World Series titles in the next five years: 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

More examples:

-- The Rangers reached the postseason for the first time in a decade in 2010, reached the World Series two straight years and were poised to win another AL West title this fall before a stunning collapse left them in the Wild Card Game.

-- The Rays came out of nowhere to qualify for the postseason in 2008 and went all the way to the World Series. They didn't get to experience October baseball in 2009 but returned to appear in the ALDS in both 2010 and 2011.

None of those franchises is a perfect comparison for the Nationals, but it does underscore the ability of well-constructed franchises to become regular postseason participants.

There are, on the other hand, examples of teams getting knocked out of the playoffs one year, believing they'd return in future years and failing to do so.

The Detroit Tigers, who went 19 years between playoff appearances, reached the World Series in 2006 and appeared to be built for a long and sustained run. They missed the postseason the next four years, not returning until 2011.

Then there's this sobering stat: Eight of the last 11 World Series winners didn't even qualify for the postseason the previous year. The overwhelming majority of franchises in the Wild Card Era have gone from watching baseball on TV one October to winning it all the next fall.

What does any of that mean for the 2013 Nationals? We won't know for some time.

Yes, they are as well-positioned as any franchise in the majors to make it back to the postseason and become October regulars.

But it's one thing to position yourselves well. It's quite another to actually get the job done.

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Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

National League home run leader Bryce Harper is among four starters out of the lineup for the Washington Nationals in their series finale against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals, who open a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

RELATED: Nationals' Joe Ross to Start Against Team That Drafted Him

Harper is batting .337 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Washington won the first two matchups in the three-game series.

Joe Ross (2-0, 5.32) faces fellow right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) on Sunday.

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Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

Nationals' Joe Ross to start against team that drafted him

WASHINGTON -- On Dec. 19, 2014, the San Diego Padres traded pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later -- it would be Trea Turner -- to the Washington Nationals in a three-team deal that included the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since that trade, the Padres have posted a record of 160-215 while the Nationals are 208-166 after they won 3-0 Saturday as Stephen Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 batters in seven innings and the Washington staff fanned 17.

As a reminder of what could have been, Ross (2-0, 5.32) makes the start Sunday against San Diego right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) in the finale of the three-game series at Nationals Park.

First-place Washington is 30-18 while last-place San Diego is 18-33.

Ross was drafted by the Padres in the first round out of his California high school in 2011. Ross is 2-0 in his career against San Diego with a 2.25 ERA in two starts. Last year, he went six innings and allowed six hits and three earned runs in a win against the Padres.

"I was not around Joe at all," said Andy Green, in his second year as the San Diego manager. "We saw him last year; he is a sinkerballer."

The Padres did acquire All-Star first baseman Wil Myers in the trade.

The Nationals have scored a record 62 runs in the four starts made this year by Ross, more than any other pitcher has received in his first four starts of a season. That included a 23-5 victory at home April 30 against the New York Mets and a 10-1 win Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners.

Ross, who broke into the majors with the Nationals in 2015, was in the rotation last season and made 19 starts before going on the disabled list. He was in line to be the No. 5 starter, but began the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

Chacin is 3-2 in six starts against Washington and has a 3.09 ERA. He has made three career starts at Nationals Park and is 1-1 with a 0.45 ERA while allowing only one run in 20 innings.

The Nationals played their second game in a row Saturday without second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was ill.

Nationals bench coach Chris Speier, filling in for manager Dusty Baker, said before the game that Murphy was ill. Murphy entered the day hitting .316 with nine homers and 33 RBIs.

"He's available. This is Dusty's theory: Usually when somebody comes in and says, 'I'm ready,' then he usually gives him one more day. But he's available," Speier told reporters before the game.

Murphy entered Saturday seventh in the National League in hits with 56, just ahead of teammate Bryce Harper (55). Murphy was also among the league leaders in multi-hit games and road batting average.

Washington shortstop Turner, drafted by the Padres in the first round out of North Carolina State, had two hits, including a homer, Friday and was 1-for-4 Saturday.

Another hot hitter for Washington is center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who hit a homer for the second day in a row Saturday and has four homers in his last 14 games.

"I'm looking for my pitch and staying in my zone," Taylor said. "I'm not trying to do too much."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg has career-high 15 strikeouts in Nationals win over Padres