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Talking about Tuesday's Nats win

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Talking about Tuesday's Nats win

Remember how daunting this 33-game stretch against only NL East and AL East teams was supposed to be for the Nationals? Well, with Tuesday night's 4-2 victory in Toronto, they're now two-thirds of the way through this gantlet and they've gone 14-8.

Not bad. Not bad at all. But wait, there's more...

With this latest win, the Nationals are now 37-23, 14 games over .500. That puts them on pace for 100 wins by season's end.

And thanks to the Braves' loss to the Yankees, the Nationals now hold a 4-game lead in the NL East. The last time they held a lead that large? July 6, 2005.

And thanks to the Phillies' loss to the Twins, the Nationals now hold a 9 12-game lead over the five-time division champs. Yes, 9 12 games.

Wednesday afternoon, they'll have a chance to complete a sweep of the Blue Jays, this coming on the heels of a sweep of the Red Sox. In their 7-plus year history, the Nationals have never gone 6-0 on a road trip. Not once. They'll look to pull that off at Rogers Centre, with none other than Stephen Strasburg on the mound.

Some other thoughts from Tuesday night's game...

-- Bryce Harper is starting to heat up at the plate. Wait, you're saying he hasn't been hot this whole time? Actually, no, he wasn't. Through his first 20 big-league games, Harper hit .230 with two homers, five RBI, a .318 on-base percentage and a .737 OPS. He's now played 20 more big-league games, during which time he's hit .361 with five homers, 13 RBI, a .439 on-base percentage and a 1.147 OPS.

-- Chien-Ming Wang really had to battle to complete five innings, preserve his team's lead and earn his first win in three starts. The way the fifth inning was unfolding -- especially after Jose Bautista tattooed a high sinker for a two-run homer -- it seemed obvious Wang had nothing left in the tank. It was telling that Davey Johnson let his starter stay in the game to try to complete the inning and qualify for the victory, but you have to wonder how many more opportunities the manager will give Wang. Yes, it's only three starts. But right now, Wang clearly is the weak link in an otherwise fabulous rotation. And Ross Detwiler, though he struggled in his final starts before getting bumped to the bullpen, appears to give the Nationals a better chance to win right now. Wang's turn next comes up Tuesday against the Rays. Stay tuned.

-- For a guy known more for his defensive abilities than his offensive skills, Jhonatan Solano sure seems to have some pop in his bat. Solano crushed a hanging slider from Henderson Alvarez in the top of the seventh for his first career home run. That blast (along with a fifth-inning single) makes Solano 4-for-10 as a big-league hitter. Can that last? Probably not. But it's got to at least be comforting to Johnson to know his rookie backup catcher can hold his own at the plate, perhaps earning a chance to start behind the plate more than once every five days.

-- With an 0-for-4, two-strikeout night, Ryan Zimmerman is now hitting .239 for the season. Even more alarming, his 6-4-3 groundout in the fifth was his ninth double play this season. The only NL players who have grounded into more double plays: Alfonso Soriano and Hanley Ramirez, who each have 10 but also have each played in more games than Zimmerman (who spent two weeks on the DL).

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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.

RELATED: NATIONALS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people. Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis. Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one of his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to give in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in Majors at the age of 19, and has had a fluctuating career through six teams. All the while, he has kept a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? Ankiel is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written by sports writer Tim Brown. The book will be released on April 18.  

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