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Nats ready for All-Star spotlight

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Nats ready for All-Star spotlight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A handful of Nationals have drawn a cursory amount of attention over the years at the All-Star Game. Alfonso Soriano was a fairly big name at the 2006 All-Star Game. Dmitri Young made for a nice story in 2007. And Ryan Zimmerman fielded plenty of questions in 2009 (though most of those were about that morning's firing of manager Manny Acta).

Really, though, the Nationals' representative -- and it's almost always been one representative -- traditionally has sat on the sidelines and watched as the spotlight shined on plenty of other players from other, more-popular franchises.

That all changes today, because when the doors at Arrowhead Stadium swing open to media members looking to interview members of the National League All-Star team, a crowd will immediately assemble in whichever corner of the conference room officials decide to designate for the Nationals' delegation.

In a roomful of big names and big personalities, there may be no tandem of teammates more sought out than Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, each a first-time All-Star. Throw in the loquacious and effervescent Gio Gonzalez, making his second appearance in the Midsummer Classic, and the Nationals have suddenly gone from afterthought to center of attention on baseball's biggest stage.

Thus will kick off the Nationals' 48-hour national coming-out party, a chance for the rest of the sporting world to see what fans and media in D.C. have seen for three months: a first-place club that not only boasts talent but also boasts legitimate star power.

This marks the first time since their inaugural 2005 season in which the Nationals have sent more than one player to the All-Star Game. And they'll actually be able to claim four roster members as All-Stars, with shortstop Ian Desmond selected to the team but unable to attend due to a lingering oblique injury that requires significant daily treatment.

Who figures to draw a bigger crowd, Strasburg or Harper? The safe bet is on the 19-year-old, the youngest position player ever to be named an All-Star, who also happens to be comfortable in front of cameras and microphones.

Harper didn't expect to be here. He'd already made plans to fly home to Las Vegas following yesterday's first-half finale, only to find out he would be replacing injured Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on the All-Star roster.

Strasburg will draw a sizable crowd himself, though most reporters will be disappointed by the 23-year-old right-hander's lack of charisma and ability to offer up sound bites on cue.

If anything, the most entertaining player wearing Nats gear will probably be Gonzalez, who loves nothing more than to talk up his teammates and has perfected the art of turning a question about his own accomplishments into reason to brag about someone else on the club.

No matter who says what, or who draws however many reporters to his table, the Nationals will be among baseball's most-discussed franchises these next two days. People will talk about Strasburg's innings limit and Harper's contributions at such a young age. They'll talk about the important roles Gonzalez and Desmond have played in leading this team to the best record in the NL. And they'll talk about this club's chances not only of making the postseason but of making a deep run through the postseason.

Better get used to it now, folks, because this is going to become the norm. The Nationals no longer operate out of the spotlight. They are smack dab in the middle of it all, a franchise that has finally arrived and can't wait to show off its prized performers over the next two days.

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Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

ATLANTA (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 and kept up his recent domination of the Atlanta Braves, leading Washington to a 3-2 win Sunday that stopped the Nationals' four-game losing streak.

Strasburg (5-1) allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings, beating Atlanta for the second time this season and improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts against the Braves. He is 10-8 overall against Atlanta.

He reached double digits in strikeouts for the second time this season after fanning 10 Braves on April 20.

Strasburg faded in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run double. Koda Glover struck out Nick Markakis to end the inning and finished the six-hitter for his third save.

Daniel Murphy hit a second-inning homer off Jaime Garcia (1-3) and the Nationals added two unearned runs in the third.

Matt Adams was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit into a ninth-inning double play in his debut for Atlanta, a day after he was acquired from St. Louis. Matt Kemp led off the ninth, and Adams hit a line drive that was caught by Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on first base.

Garcia allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the third following fielding errors by Markakis in right and Garcia. Bryce Harper had a run-scoring single.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon and C Matt Wieters were given days off from the starting lineup. Rendon entered at third base in the eighth.

Braves: RHP Kris Medlen allowed one hits in six scoreless innings Saturday in his first start for Class A Florida. He missed most of 2016 with shoulder problems after his second Tommy John surgery. "That would be a real nice piece to have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Medlen pitched for Kansas City in 2015-16 and his last season with Atlanta was in 2013, when he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Following an off day, RHP Jacob Turner (2-2) is expected to start when the Nationals will open a series against Seattle on Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4) will take a 0-3 career record in three starts against Pittsburgh into Monday night's series opener against the Pirates.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

A week ago, the Nationals were looking unstoppable. Bryce Harper was hitting walkoff dingers left and right, there were multiple winning streaks, and the bullpen was only sorta bad. 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

A week's worth of games later - against the Braves, Pirates and Phillies, no less - and the Nats don't look nearly as stainless. Harper's hitting under .200 since his Mother's Day walkoff, the team lost 5 of 6, and the bullpen turned back into a pumpkin. Because of that, there's a new team at the top of the Power Rankings this week. Who is it? To the rankings! 

30. MIAMI MARLINS

2017 Record: 15-28
Previous Ranking: 24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Dee Gordon (.318/.400/.364 last week)

Stanton hasn't homered in over two weeks, a stretch of 12 games. After going 2-8 over the last 10, including that weird Dodgers game, the Marlins have seen better weeks.  

29. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 16-30
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance: Brad Hand (.300/.500/.600 last week)

Wil Myers' underwhelming season continues. The outfielder is hitting .150 over the last week, and only .219 over the last month. The Padres best position player is only worth .6 bWAR, and that's 5th-best on the team.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 15-26
Previous Ranking: 23
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Daniel Nava (.429/.429/.571 last week)

They ran into Texas at exactly the wrong time. Getting starts that are consistently like Aaron Nola's last one will be huge for his development this season. 

27. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2017 Record: 18-25
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Lorenzo Cain (.087/.125/.087 last week)

They're starting to play better, but upcomming series with the Yankees and Indians aren't making life any easier for KC. Jason Vargas (?!) has been their most valuable player this year (2.0 bWAR). 

26. ATLANTA BRAVES

2017 Record: 18-23
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Notable Performance: Matt Kemp (.375/.423/.708 last week)

Losing Freeman for three months because of some dumb unspoken beef is just a testament to how stupid unwritten baseball rules are. The silver lining to this year, though, is that the Braves are going to fleece some team for Matt Kemp in July. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE