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Nats forced to play afternoon games in NLDS

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Nats forced to play afternoon games in NLDS

The first two postseason games by a Washington baseball team in 79 years will have late-afternoon starting times, and don't be surprised if that trend continues next week once the National League Division Series returns to the District.

Major League Baseball today announced starting times for all postseason games through Tuesday, revealing that Game 1 of the NLDS between the Nationals and the winner of today's NL Wild Card Game between the Braves and Cardinals will begin at 3:07 p.m. EDT Sunday. Game 2 will be played at 4:37 p.m. EDT Monday.

Start times for Games 3-5 -- scheduled to be played Wednesday through Friday at Nationals Park -- have not been announced yet. But it's likely that Game 3 will feature another afternoon start, and it's possible the same could be true for potential Games 4 and 5.

Why all the day baseball? Because the Nationals, as the No. 1 seed in the NL, have the same Division Series schedule as the Yankees, the AL's top seed. And MLB and TBS (which is broadcasting all but two Division Series games over the next week) prefer to showcase the star-studded, 27-time World Series champs from New York in primetime whenever possible.

Thus, the Yankees will open their ALDS on the road Sunday night against the winner of tonight's Wild Card Game between the Orioles and Rangers at 6:15 p.m. EDT and will play Game 2 on Monday at 8:07 p.m., with the Nationals serving as the lead-in both days.

Sunday's Game 1 also will partially run up against the Redskins' 1 p.m. home game against the Falcons.

Start times for the final three games of the NLDS, all scheduled to be played in Washington, likely won't be announced until the last possible minute because they could be affected by the status of other Division Series that could be wrapped up by then. The NLDS between the Giants and Reds and the ALDS between the Tigers and Athletics could be over as early as Tuesday if one team sweeps the three-game series.

But if either of those series extends to four games, it would affect the starting time for Wednesday's Game 3 between the Nationals and Braves or Cardinals.

If the games at Nationals Park end up being played in the afternoon, outfielders from both teams will have to contend with the potentially difficult sun that resulted in three dropped flyballs over the course of two days Sept. 23-24.

Meanwhile, a familiar (and not-so-popular) face will be umpiring the Nationals' Division Series: Marvin Hudson. Hudson, who blew a call at first base during a Sept. 15 loss to the Braves that led to manager Davey Johnson's lone ejection of the season, was named by MLB as one of the six umpires on the crew for this series.

The full list of umpires: Joe West (crew chief), Paul Emmel, Ed Hickox, Hudson, Jim Joyce and Alfonso Marquez.

Per MLB rules, umpires are not allowed to work consecutive postseason rounds. Thus, anyone umpiring in the Division Series cannot work in the League Championship Series, though they are eligible to return for the World Series.

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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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