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Nationals arrive in St. Louis for NLDS

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Nationals arrive in St. Louis for NLDS

ST. LOUIS -- Hello from Busch Stadium, which has something of a familiar feel right now. Weren't we just here? As a matter of fact, yes. The Nationals played here last weekend. The stakes this time are just a bit higher, though, and for proof of that all you need to do is look at the MLB Postseason logos being painted along the first and third base lines as we speak.

The NLDS gets underway tomorrow afternoon, with Gio Gonzalez facing Adam Wainwright. Today, we've got workouts by both the Nationals and Cardinals, press conferences with both managers and starting pitchers and open clubhouses for interviews.

Because they had no way of knowing who they'd be playing in this first round of the postseason, the Nationals waited until today to fly into St. Louis. They took off from Dulles International Airport at noon EDT and landed at Lambert-St. Louis about two hours later.

And they'll appear here at Busch Stadium around 4 p.m. EDT, with their on-field workout scheduled for 5 p.m. after the Cardinals wrap up their session.

We'll have to see what news emerges over the course of the afternoon, but here are a few items to watch for...

-- The revelation of the Nationals' 25-man roster for this series. They aren't actually required to finalize it until tomorrow morning, but Davey Johnson might just go ahead and announce it today. As speculated yesterday, the biggest question likely involves who gets the last spot in the bullpen (with Christian Garcia the odds-on favorite over John Lannan or Zach Duke) and who gets the last spot on the bench (with Tyler Moore a likelier choice than Mark DeRosa or Eury Perez).

-- The revelation of the order of the Nationals' rotation for this series. Because they're facing the right-handed-heavy Cardinals and not the left-handed-heavy Braves, forget about any move to get Lannan in the mix. Gonzalez will start Game 1 tomorrow, with Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2 on Monday. Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler will start Games 3 and 4; it's just a question of in what order. My hunch: Jackson gets Game 3, with Detwiler in Game 4.

-- What, if anything, does Stephen Strasburg have to say? He's not going to be on the active roster, but he did make the trip and will be in the dugout throughout the postseason. While those of us who are around the Nationals on a daily basis have long since moved on from the shutdown story, I can assure you the national media has not. They will absolutely be looking for Strasburg in the clubhouse today, and they're going to want to interview him. How will the right-hander deal with all the attention?

So, be sure to check back for all that and more...

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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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