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With or without Harper, Nats aren't scoring

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With or without Harper, Nats aren't scoring

Bryce Harper found himself at Dodger Stadium over the weekend, and at Nationals Park Tuesday night, because his team desperately needed an offensive spark.

No matter how well the 19-year-old plays -- and he's playing pretty darn well three games into his big-league career -- the Nationals' offensive woes extend far beyond that. As was all too evident during a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Diamondbacks, it's mighty difficult to win games when almost nobody in your lineup is producing at a level of competence.

"I think the last five or six games, we've been averaging two runs or something," Davey Johnson said. "That's just not going to cut it."

Actually, it's even worse than the manager realizes. During what has now become a five-game losing streak, the Nationals have scored a total of seven runs (1.4 per game). They've compiled 25 total hits (five per game). And they've struck out 45 times while drawing only 11 walks.

Even if Harper was taking the majors by storm, it wouldn't be enough to make up for the lack of offense elsewhere in the Nationals' lineup.

What should have been a coronation for the most-touted hitting prospect in a generation instead turned into a 2-hour, 38-minute snore-fest. Harper drew multiple standing ovations from the disappointingly small crowd of 22,675 in his home debut, but those fans barely had reason to clap at any other juncture of the evening.

"It's good to go out there and everybody's cheering, yelling and screaming," he said. "They're excited. They want us to win, and that's what we want to do."

Harper didn't provide any theatrics at the plate; he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, though his fifth-inning hard grounder up the middle looked like a sure base hit until he realized shortstop John McDonald was perfectly positioned to make the play.

The former No. 1 draft pick did, however, dazzle the crowd with another jaw-dropping throw from left field. With one out and the bases loaded in the seventh, he retreated to catch Justin Upton's flyball and then fired a 300-foot strike to nearly gun down McDonald at the plate. Actually, replays appeared to show catcher Wilson Ramos making the tag just before McDonald slid across, though plate umpire Jeff Nelson disagreed.

"I just thought I had a shot," Harper said. "Reared back and gave it my all. That's what I try to do, make plays like that."

The crowd serenaded Harper with a standing ovation, even though his play resulted in a run scoring for the opposition.

"He's got an unbelievable arm," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He showed it a couple times. Another throw at the plate tonight that I don't think anybody thought was going to be close, and he made it a bang-bang play."

In the end, that was the highlight of Harper's night. Not exactly the home debut he envisioned. Then again, neither he nor the Nationals envisioned a club that stood 10 games over .500 last Wednesday would suddenly lose five in a row.

The common theme throughout the losing streak has been the lack of production at the plate, and Tuesday night's game was no different. Johnson's No. 1 and No. 2 hitters (Ian Desmond and Steve Lombardozzi) went a combined 4-for-8; everyone else went 2-for-24.

Afterward, the manager praised those two top-of-the-order batters for their aggressive approach and then praised the Diamondbacks for taking the same tact against right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (leading to four runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings).

"A perfect example: We had a very good pitcher on the mound, and they were very aggressive," Johnson said. "Guys were swinging the bat early trying to drive the ball. I'd like to see us get a little more aggressive like that. I think we will."

With an entire lineup struggling at once, it's easy for players to start pressing and trying to get out of their comfort zones. That's a mental battle they have to fight.

"This is the big leagues. We all know what we're capable of. Stick to that," Desmond said. "I don't think Lombo's going to try and go up there and go 4-for-4 with four homers. I'm not going to go up there and try to walk six times. You've just got to go out and play your game. The end result is the end result. You win some, you lose some. We all understand that."

At the moment, though, the Nationals are only losing. Three days into his career, Harper has yet to experience a postgame clubhouse with music and upbeat chatter.

"We want to win every day," he said. "That's our goal, to come in here and have good ABs. It's going to happen for us. We're going to turn it around."

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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