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Nats ready for weekend with Phillies

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Nats ready for weekend with Phillies

As much as the Nationals have tried to promote this weekend's "Take Back Our Park" initiative and get local fans to overtake the hordes of Phillies faithful who traditionally make the trek down I-95, there's really only one way to accomplish their mission.

Win.

If the Nationals consistently beat their hated rivals to the north, more of their own fans will watch in person and fewer Philadelphia loyalists will invade South Capitol Street.

And if ever the stars were aligned to do such a thing, this would be the weekend.

When the two teams take the field tonight, the Nationals will reside alone in first place in the NL East, a full 3 12 games ahead of the fourth-place Phillies.

They'll also have their top three pitchers lined up for the weekend: Stephen Strasburg tonight, Gio Gonzalez tomorrow afternoon, Jordan Zimmermann in Sunday night's nationally televised finale.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, won't send ace Roy Halladay (who just pitched Wednesday night) or veteran Cliff Lee (on the disabled list) to the mound. Manager Charlie Manuel also won't have first baseman Ryan Howard or second baseman Chase Utley (each on the DL) in his lineup.

True, the Nationals are dealing with their own spate of injuries and are likely to be without Ryan Zimmerman (shoulder), Michael Morse (lat) or Adam LaRoche (oblique) all weekend. But they enter this series feeling good about themselves and feeling like they're ready for their toughest test of the young season.

"I would say so," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "I think everyone knows what type of team they are. They are definitely banged up, and so are we. I think, all things considered, it's still going to be a good test because it's still pretty equal ground. We've got our horses going for us, and we'll see what happens."

Inside the Nationals clubhouse, players and coaches are trying to downplay the significance of this series.

"You know what, as a manager and as a ballplayer, every game's a big game," manager Davey Johnson said. "You're only as good as your last at-bat, the last pitch you threw, the last game you managed. I don't put any more significance on if it's April or September. They're all important. I try not to get too high or too low."

That said, the Nationals do feel like they stack up better against the five-time NL East champs than they ever have. They also enter the weekend a confident bunch after winning last season's series against Philadelphia, 10-8.

"Did it make a whole lotta difference in our season? Probably not," Werth said. "Did it make a difference in their season? I don't know. We played good ball in September and we showed the type of team that we are coming down the stretch. I think that kind of set the tone for this season. So in that regard, it's good."

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Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

Nationals sign former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters

The Washington Nationals have signed former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters to a one-year deal with a player option for a second year, according to multiple reports. 

Wieters spent the first eight years in the Majors with the Baltimore Orioles, being named to the AL All-Star team four times and winning two gold glove awards. Last season the switch-hitting catcher posted a .243 average with 17 homers and 66 RBI.  

The Nationals have been in the market for catchers all offseason after Wilson Ramos left for Tampa Bay in free agency. The team traded for former Padres catcher Derek Norris, whose role is now in question. The Nationals still have Jose Lobaton on the roster as a strong defensive backup catcher who has a proven rapport with many of the pitchers in the Nationals rotation. Wieters had been linked to the Nationals all offseason because of the team's need a the position and because of the Nationals close relationship with Wieters' agent Scott Boras. 

The only significant time that Wieters has missed due to injury in his career came in 2014-15 when he had Tommy John surgury. Prior to that surgury, however, Wieters had played in at least 130 games for four straight seasons and became a large part of the Orioles' identity. 

The 30-year-old backstop will give the Nationals lineup more depth and power. Wieters had three consecutive 20-homer seasons from 2011-13 and since 2009 when his career began, he ranks fifth among catchers in all of baseball in home runs with 117. 

Related: Nationals 2017 promotional schedule includes snow globes and fedoras

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Nationals 2017 promotional giveaways include snow globes and fedoras

Nationals 2017 promotional giveaways include snow globes and fedoras

The Washington Nationals recently released the dates of their promotional days and giveaways this season, and there are some real gems in this schedule.

Among the standard bobblehead giveaways — Daniel Murphy on April 14, Trea Turner on May 12 and Tanner Roark on June 9 — and the highly recommended Pups in the Park days — April 29, May 13, June 10, June 25, September 7 and September 30 — pick the right game and you could get a snow globe, an American flag shirt or even a fedora. Seriously.

On May 24’s game against the Mariners, the first 25,000 fans will get a Max Scherzer snow globe, which has the potential to be the coolest knickknack in your house. Or on June 14 against the Braves — oddly not closer to the Fourth of July — Budweiser is behind the first 15,000 21-and-up fans getting an American flag tank top.

But truly the most unique item on this list is the Nationals-themed fedora, which will go to the first 25,000 fans at the Brewers’ July 26 matchup. How the Nats landed on this promotional item remains a mystery, but if you like hats beyond a traditional baseball cap, this is the game to attend.

Other cool or oddball promotions include the Nats Magic 8-Ball game April 3, the Chewbacca Koozie day May 27, Bryce Harper action figure day August 29 and Oktoberfest beer stein day Sept. 29.

Here's the complete list of the team's promotional days and giveaways

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