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Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman thriving with fresh start in playoffs

Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman thriving with fresh start in playoffs

Nationals teammates Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez each spoke at the end of the 2016 regular season how they viewed the playoffs as a new beginning, how their frustrating years were behind them and how the postseason offered a clean slate. All numbers start at zero again in October and they were determined to use that fresh start to their advantage.

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who also had a tough year involving injuries and struggles at the plate, including a career-worst .642 OPS, thought the same for himself.

"This year was frustrating for me. I'm not going to lie. I've always been a streaky guy and I just never really got going this year. Whether it was missing a little bit of time here or there, or just not being able to get going," he said.

"I was joking the other day. When you have a great regular season, you say 'I want to carry this into the postseason.' Then, when you don't have a good season, you say 'now I get to start a new one.' It's kind of whatever you want to make of it."

[RELATED: Lobaton unlikely hero as Nats win Game 2, draw even in NLDS]

Through two games in the Nats' NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Zimmerman has looked like a new version of himself, a revitalized offensive force delivering exactly what his team hoped he could provide. He has become more important in the Nats' lineup as a right-handed bat with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos done for the season, and so far the results have been very good.

Zimmerman is 3-for-7 with a walk, having reached in exactly half of his NLDS plate appearances. He hasn't scored or brought in a run, but he is playing better than he was just recently when he closed the regular season going 4-for-19 in his final six games.

Zimmerman, 32, says he also just feels different.

"Something in this last week or 10 days, whether it was in [batting practice] or just having time to get healthy, I feel great at the plate," he explained. "I feel like I'm right where I need to be. I'm having great at-bats. I'm just excited it came. I guess it's better late than never."

[RELATED: Lobaton's series-changing homer defied odds, elements]

Zimmerman has been among several Nats players who weren't offensive standouts int he regular season, but have produced so far through two NLDS games. Catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, in particular, have been huge. Lobaton's three-run homer on Sunday essentially turned the series around.

Manager Dusty Baker, naturally, is encouraged by all of that.

"You need some untimely heroes during these playoffs. We're a team and we stress that all the time. Hey man, if one guy is not performing up to his level, then somebody else has got to pick him up," Baker said.

"This is how teams win. I mean, these guys, I'm proud of them to this point, how they have responded, especially with the injuries to front-line guys. I'm just hoping that some more guys step up."

[RELATED: Dodgers well-aware of Nats' Trea Turner and his threat to steal]

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Janson went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great. It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE

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Ten very good Pups in the Park who don't care that the Nats lost

Ten very good Pups in the Park who don't care that the Nats lost

Nationals Park opened its gates to dogs on Sunday for "Pups in the Park." Humans and their doggos got to sit in outfield section 140-143 with tickets being $30 per person and $10 per canine.

The Nationals ended up losing to the Reds, but that didn't put a damper on the afternoon for the guests of honor. 

Sometimes, its a blessing not to know what's going on. Just check out these ten happy puppers. 

1. Teddy, who's cuter than any racing president

2. Steve, who looks great in hats

Steve the dog 🐶 showing his natitude #pupsinthepark #nats

A post shared by Jen (@see_jho_run) on

3. Penny, who probably wasn't easy to carry around

Today was a good day to be Penny. #ballgame⚾️ #natsbestbuds #pupsinthepark

A post shared by Sheri (@pennysmom87) on

We took her out to the ball game! #pupsinthepark #natsbestbuds

A post shared by Sheri (@pennysmom87) on

4. Apollo, a Nats fan from a young age

5. Ellie, who plans to use this photo for #TongueOutTuesday

6. Auryn, who isn't even watching the game

Happiest little corgi in the park #aurynthedog @viano_perez #pupsinthepark #nats

A post shared by Taylor Pittman (@taylorp712) on

7. Moussie, who trimmed his beard just for the occasion

MOUSSIE IN THE PARK ⚾️🐶

A post shared by emma (@emmajekowsky) on

8. Dasher, obviously the favorite granddog

9. Bentley and Abby, whose moms can be overbearing 

Enjoying #pupsinthepark at @nationals game! #Bentley #Abby #ForcedPhotos 🐶🐶⚾️

A post shared by Mary Kennedy (@mkay0310) on

10. PJ, who squeezed into this selfie at the last minute

It's #pupsinthepark day at #nationals park. PJ is ready for a big Nats win!

A post shared by Luke Reeves (@lreevesm) on

Washington is now 13-19 in days games this season, significantly worse than their 31-11 night record. But these furry friends don't know that!

MORE NATIONALS: Roark's shaky start dooms Nats in loss to Reds