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Instant analysis: Nats 3, Dodgers 1

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Instant analysis: Nats 3, Dodgers 1

Game in a nutshell: The Nationals' 2012 season will extend to at least a 163rd game. And if you don't think that's significant, you don't fully appreciate the mostly sad history of Washington baseball. With a victory in the first half of today's doubleheader against the Dodgers, the Nats secured their 90th win of the season and lowered their magic number for clinching a playoff berth to 1. Another win tonight would officially secure at least the Wild Card, but even in the absolute, worst-case scenario, the Nationals know they could do no worse than tie for the final Wild Card berth and thus guarantee at least a tiebreaker game the day after the regular season ends. How did they pull off this victory? They got a quality start out of Jordan Zimmermann, even though the right-hander labored through much of his six innings. They scored three runs, even though none was plated via a base hit. And they got some shutdown work out of their bullpen, with Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard recording some big outs down the stretch to secure the win that put the Nationals within one step of the postseason.

Hitting highlight: Who says you need to come through with clutch hits to produce runs? The Nationals disproved that theory in this game, scoring all three of their runs on outs. Kurt Suzuki lofted a sacrifice fly to bring home Michael Morse in the bottom of the second. Ryan Zimmerman scored Bryce Harper with a fifth-inning groundout to second base. And Tyler Moore tapped a slow roller to the right side in the sixth, bringing Ian Desmond home. The Nationals don't usually play "small ball," but in this case they showed some nice ability to produce productive outs, a skill that absolutely helped them earn their 90th win of the season.

Pitching highlight: He was by no means in peak form, but Zimmermann did manage to get the job done. The right-hander put eight of the first 16 batters he faced on base yet allowed only one run. He got better as his start progressed, and made some big pitches when he needed them, ultimately throwing 106 of them over his six innings. Zimmermann has struggled sometimes when working on extra rest, actually feeling too strong and thus losing the sink on his sinker. That might well have been the case today, because he was actually pitching on seven days' rest instead of the usual four, thanks to two off-days and last night's rainout. In the end, the Nationals happily took the quality start they got out of Zimmermann, who certainly needed one.

Key stat: Harper's fifth-inning triple represented his 49th extra-base hit of the season. That's now the most ever hit in a major-league season by a teenager.

Up next: Don't go anywhere, folks. Game 2 begins in 30 minutes. John Lannan takes the mound trying to improve to 4-0, with Josh Beckett hurling for the Dodgers.

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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