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Nationals' nicknames for Players' Weekend

MLB.com

For the second consecutive year, Major Leaguers will put their personalities and passions on the field when Players' Weekend takes center stage during all games from Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26.

Here are the nicknames the Nationals will wear on their backs while sporting colorful, non-traditional uniforms featuring alternate designs inspired by youth-league uniforms:

For the second consecutive year, Major Leaguers will put their personalities and passions on the field when Players' Weekend takes center stage during all games from Friday, Aug. 24, through Sunday, Aug. 26.

Here are the nicknames the Nationals will wear on their backs while sporting colorful, non-traditional uniforms featuring alternate designs inspired by youth-league uniforms:

Video: Get ready, 2018 Players' Weekend is August 24-26

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2018 Players Weekend nicknames
Best nickname for every team
All you need to know about Players Weekend

:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::

Matt Adams: "BIG CITY"

Adams has embraced this nickname, which dates back to his days with the Cardinals, even if there is not much "city" about him. Earlier this season during one of his hot streaks, Nats players made a shirt for him that said "Big City Doing Big City Things"

Joaquin Benoit: "JACK"
Wilmer Difo: "EL DE"
Sean Doolittle: "DOC"
Adam Eaton: "SPANKY"
Erick Fedde: "FEDDECCINI"
Koda Glover: "BEAR

Glover's first name means "Bear" in Cherokee, and the Oklahoma native is proud of his heritage after growing up in a town of fewer than 200 people. 

Gio Gonzalez: "DOUBLE G"
Matt Grace: "GRACEY"
Bryce Harper: "MONDO"
Jeremy Hellickson: "HELLY"
Kelvin Herrera: "K 40"
Greg Holland: "HOLLY"
Howie Kendrick: "TRUCK"
Spencer Kieboom: "BOOMER"
Ryan Madson: "BLEST"

It's an acronym for the names of his five children: Ben, Luke, Ella, Sean and Tyler. 

Justin Miller: "J. MILLZ"
Tommy Milone: "TOMASO"
Daniel Murphy: "MURPH"
Anthony Rendon: "ANT"
Mark Reynolds: "SHERIFF"
Tanner Roark: "T-RO"
Joe Ross: "JR"
Max Scherzer: "BLUE EYE"

A lot about Scherzer stands out, but one of his defining physical traits are his different colored eyes. Although he has said his pitching eye is his brown eye, he decided to use the name "Blue Eye" on the back of his jersey. 

Jhonatan Solano: "TATAN"
Sammy Solis: "BIG ANGUS"

Two years ago, former Nats reliever Matt Belisle gave the nickname to Solis shortly after their introduction because Solis was a big, meaty guy, according to Belisle, Solis recalled. Solis texted him a picture of the jersey when he got it. 

Juan Soto: "JUANJO"
Wander Suero: "THE ANIMAL"
Stephen Strasburg: "STRAS"
Michael A. Taylor: "MIGGY"
Trea Turner: "TRIPLE TREA"
Matt Wieters: "MAUI"
Ryan Zimmerman: "ZIM"

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals

Eaton draws 'stache on young fan to match look

For most of Adam Eaton's career, he has featured an impressive beard. Prior to the Nationals' game on Tuesday night against the Cardinals, though, he decided to mix it up and go pure 'stache.

Spotting Eaton's new look on the field before the game, a Nationals fan who traveled to St. Louis to see him asked if he could get a little help from the outfielder on matching him.

Bullpen squanders HRs by Harper, Soto

MLB.com @JamalCollier

ST. LOUIS -- The way the Nationals lost on Sunday night in Chicago -- on a walk-off grand slam in a game they'd never trailed -- could have been a crushing setback in their attempts to get back into playoff contention. So this four-game series at Busch Stadium against, perhaps, the hottest team in the National League was going to test their resolve.

And Washington responded on Monday. The Nats overcame a first-inning deficit. They rallied back from a bullpen meltdown in the eighth inning to tie the score in the top of the ninth. And yet they still lost, 7-6, when Koda Glover surrendered a walk-off home run to Paul DeJong in the bottom of the ninth, handing them their second straight walk-off loss in crushing fashion.

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ST. LOUIS -- The way the Nationals lost on Sunday night in Chicago -- on a walk-off grand slam in a game they'd never trailed -- could have been a crushing setback in their attempts to get back into playoff contention. So this four-game series at Busch Stadium against, perhaps, the hottest team in the National League was going to test their resolve.

And Washington responded on Monday. The Nats overcame a first-inning deficit. They rallied back from a bullpen meltdown in the eighth inning to tie the score in the top of the ninth. And yet they still lost, 7-6, when Koda Glover surrendered a walk-off home run to Paul DeJong in the bottom of the ninth, handing them their second straight walk-off loss in crushing fashion.

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Video: WSH@STL: DeJong launches walk-off homer in the 9th

Had the Nats hung on to win on Monday night, they could have pulled closer to first place in the NL East. Instead they are seven games behind the first-place Braves and eight back in the loss column, placing their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy.

"It's tough when you have your closer, your setup guy, your seventh-inning guy all beat up," manager Dave Martinez said. "We just have to keep battling. Those other guys, they have to step up."

With his team ahead by two to start the eighth, Martinez was forced to mix and match to protect the lead. Injuries have put Sean Doolittle and Kelvin Herrera on the disabled list, and Ryan Madson was unavailable after his back injury flared up on Sunday. The Nats are also short on bullpen depth after trading Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley. Once one of the team's biggest strengths -- armed with four pitchers with closing experience less than a month ago -- this bullpen has suddenly become its biggest weakness.

The Nats turned to Sammy Solis to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning, but he surrendered a three-run homer to Matt Carpenter. Solis has struggled this season, with a 5.24 ERA, but he's had an especially tough time against lefties.

"I don't know what else to do," Martinez said. "He's got to get lefties out. I put him up against lefties. I know it's not easy, but that's his job, and he hasn't been able to do that."

"Obviously, it's tough right now," Solis added. "Every miss is being punished."

Even after blowing the lead late, Washington rallied to score twice in the ninth inning against Cardinals closer Bud Norris, with a pair of RBI singles from Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters tying the score. But Glover, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time since returning from a shoulder injury, fell behind, 3-1, to DeJong and challenged him with a fastball that was deposited over the right-field fence.

Video: WH@STL: Murphy plates Rendon with a single to center

The Nationals felt like they played well enough to win three games this weekend, but instead dropped two of three. They played well enough to win on Monday and have nothing to show for it.

"After yesterday, they could have come in here and played flat. They didn't. They came in, they battled," Martinez said. "We fell behind, guess what? We battled again to tie the game. I'm proud. These guys all know big moments are coming. They've got to prepare for them. Some guys just got to step up and do the job. These other guys just keep playing the way they're playing."

SOUND SMART
Bryce Harper matched his home run total from the entire 2017 season with his 29th home run in the fourth inning. Juan Soto continued his stretch of never going more than two games without recording a hit when he connected with his 15th home run of the year.

Video: WSH@STL: Soto cracks a go-ahead 2-run homer in 7th

HE SAID IT
"Just two games where we didn't play 27 outs. We didn't finish the game off, and that's what we have to do." -- Wieters, on the back-to-back losses

Video: WSH@STL: Wieters ties game with a single in the 9th

"There's no panic. There's none of that. I think that's created from the outside, from the fans. We all believe in each other. We're working hard. Obviously, it's not going our way right now, but I know I'm capable. I know Madson's capable. I know Koda's capable. And they do, too. We all know that. We're all just trying to pull in the same direction and get some results." -- Solis, on the state of the bullpen

UP NEXT
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will start the second game of a four-game set on Tuesday at Busch Stadium. Gonzalez put together a strong outing in his most recent start, limiting the Braves to one run in seven innings, and the Nats are hopeful that can be a starting point for a turnaround after he struggled mightily the past two months. Right-hander John Gant will start for the Cardinals; first pitch is at 8:15 p.m. ET.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper

Zim slugs way to Player of the Week honors

MLB.com

Major League Baseball recognized last week's top performers Monday, naming the Red Sox's J.D. Martinez and the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman as the American League and National League Players of the Week presented by W.B. Mason.

Martinez has been a catalyst for the red-hot Red Sox all season, and last week was no exception. The Boston slugger batted .464/.531/1.071 (13-for-28) with five doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs. Two of Martinez's homers came in Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader, including the game-winner in the 6-4 victory.

Major League Baseball recognized last week's top performers Monday, naming the Red Sox's J.D. Martinez and the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman as the American League and National League Players of the Week presented by W.B. Mason.

Martinez has been a catalyst for the red-hot Red Sox all season, and last week was no exception. The Boston slugger batted .464/.531/1.071 (13-for-28) with five doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs. Two of Martinez's homers came in Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader, including the game-winner in the 6-4 victory.

Video: AL Player of the Week - J.D. Martinez

Martinez entered Monday leading the Majors in home runs (37) and RBIs (104), and he ranks second behind teammate Mookie Betts (.350) in the third Triple Crown category with a .333 batting average.

"I would love him to win the Triple Crown, but if he wins the batting title, that means the other guy got into a slump," Red Sox manager Alex Cora joked Friday. "I like the way it is now, honestly."

This is Martinez's second such award this season after winning for the week of May 20. Teammate Xander Bogaerts also won in July.

Past winners: AL | NL

Zimmerman, meanwhile, finished the week with a .476/.538/1.048 (10-for-21) slash line, three doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs in seven games. The first baseman earned his award with a big game Saturday against the Cubs, homering twice and driving in six runs as the Nationals won, 9-4, at Wrigley Field.

Zimmernan's been Washington's hottest hitter since coming off the disabled list on July 20, batting .354 with four homers and 18 RBIs in that 15-game span.

Video: Ryan Zimmerman named NL POTW with impressive stretch

"I think since the All-Star break, we've been swinging the bats well and putting some good at-bats together, grinding out at-bats a little better than we were before," Zimmerman said. "Our lineup's getting longer and deeper than it's been all year."

Zimmerman is the fourth Washington player to win the NL Player of the Week award in 2018, joining Mark Reynolds (July 8), Max Scherzer (April 15) and Adam Eaton (April 2).

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox, J.D. Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman

Rendon helps kids through Hooton Foundation

MLB.com @JamalCollier

ST. LOUIS -- Anthony Rendon doesn't remember hearing much about anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in his high school health classes. That is one of the reasons he has happily served as the Nationals' player representative on the advisory board for the Taylor Hooton Foundation for the past few seasons, and why it was a no-brainer for him to do so again this year.

Rendon is one of 38 active players on the board for the foundation, which is widely recognized as the leader in the advocacy against PED use by the youth of America.

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ST. LOUIS -- Anthony Rendon doesn't remember hearing much about anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in his high school health classes. That is one of the reasons he has happily served as the Nationals' player representative on the advisory board for the Taylor Hooton Foundation for the past few seasons, and why it was a no-brainer for him to do so again this year.

Rendon is one of 38 active players on the board for the foundation, which is widely recognized as the leader in the advocacy against PED use by the youth of America.

View Full Game Coverage

"You can go after something, you can chase a dream, but you don't have to boost yourself up or stick yourself with a needle to try and get an edge," Rendon said. "You can do it on your own. You can do it the right way."

This year players on the advisory board are also participating in a public-service campaign titled "It's All Me." A print PSA featuring each member has been created and will be available to each team for its program/magazine, and will also appear in MLB's League Championship Series and World Series programs after already making an appearance in the All-Star Game program.

Rendon is a perfect fit, considering he is one of the Nats' most active players when it comes to youth engagement. His work with the Taylor Hooton Foundation has included participating in a youth camp at Nationals Park each year, run by the team's athletic training staff, and he has assumed a large role at the Nationals' Youth Baseball Academy.

"You can do it with eating better and exercising right," Rendon said about his message to kids. "You don't have to stick yourself with a needle or take these pills or whatever it is to get bigger, faster, stronger. There are other ways to do it without harming your body in the long run. I think it's important that way."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals

Madson gives up walk-off slam after Max's gem

MLB.com @JamalCollier

CHICAGO -- Dave Martinez sat his office in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, his mind still processing how the Nationals managed to lose Sunday night to the Cubs in a game where they played so well for nearly the entire game.

He shook his head, paused often and measured his words during his postgame news conference. He pointed out that his team had played so well Sunday, and has been playing so well for weeks and that the Nats will be fine, and then he repeated himself a few times almost as if he was trying to still convince himself after a 4-3 loss in heartbreaking fashion.

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CHICAGO -- Dave Martinez sat his office in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, his mind still processing how the Nationals managed to lose Sunday night to the Cubs in a game where they played so well for nearly the entire game.

He shook his head, paused often and measured his words during his postgame news conference. He pointed out that his team had played so well Sunday, and has been playing so well for weeks and that the Nats will be fine, and then he repeated himself a few times almost as if he was trying to still convince himself after a 4-3 loss in heartbreaking fashion.

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David Bote hit a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam against Ryan Madson with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning to hand the Nationals one of their most crushing regular-season defeats in club history. The setback spoiled a dominant start from Max Scherzer, cost them a chance to pull closer to first-place than they have been in more than month and saddled the Nats with a series loss when they could very easily have earned a sweep.

Video: Must C Comeback: Bote's grand slam completes comeback

"It's a gut punch," Scherzer said.

"For 8 2/3 innings we played really good baseball," Martinez said. "Really good baseball. We left here with one win, we should have had three."

The Nats led, 3-0, entering the ninth inning and appeared to be headed toward one of their best wins of the season, making what transpired that much more deflating.

After coming in as a defensive replacement, Wilmer Difo could not make a play to retire Jason Heyward on a grounder to second base for an infield single. Then Madson hit both Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras with errant pitches. That set the stage for Bote, who hammered a two-strike fastball that caught too much of the plate. After the game, Madson would reveal he has been battling a back issue that sends pain down his right leg, and it flared up while he was warming up in the bullpen.

"I had a good fastball. I tried to cut a couple tonight again, but with the back issue, especially the last one, it almost feels like the ball comes out muted out of my hand," Madson said. "It probably looks a lot better to the hitter. That was the last one. It didn't come out of my hand very well."

Video: WSH@CHC: Zimmerman leaps, tags Almora to end the 4th

Scherzer was at his best, grunting and screaming on the mound as he traded zeros with Cole Hamels. The Nats gave him a 1-0 lead in the second inning, and Scherzer was ready to make it hold, striking out 11 in seven shutout innings and flummoxing the Cubs' lineup. Scherzer is perhaps the favorite to capture his third straight NL Cy Young Award, and his effort Sunday was one of his best this year.

Max let's out epic grunt while fanning Baez

Hamels was also locked in on the mound, as he gave up one run on one hit in seven innings while striking out nine and retiring the final 18 batters he faced.

"That's just when you need to dig down deep and find a way to keep throwing up zeros, because of how important this game is," Scherzer said. "That's where it's fun to compete, those type of games."

Video: WSH@CHC: Zimmerman grounds a 2-run single to center

The Nats were clinging to a 1-0 lead until the ninth, when Ryan Zimmerman collected a two-run single after the Cubs intentionally walked Bryce Harper to load the bases, a scene that called flashbacks to a series at Wrigley Field in 2016, when Chicago walked Harper 13 times in four games.

"I was on the other side when we walked him upteen times," Martinez said. "It was good to see. I loved it, good for him and I'm proud of him."

Given that extra breathing room, it made the ninth inning even more crushing. The loss keeps the Nationals 5 1/2 games behind the Braves and Phillies, who are tied for first place in the NL East.

"Sometimes this happens. It's about how you respond to this," Scherzer said. "We've got an important series beginning in St. Louis tomorrow. We've got to come ready to play. We really need a win tomorrow to get momentum back on our side, cause tonight sucks. There's no other way to say it. We just didn't get the job done. And we've got to find a way to play really good baseball again tomorrow."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Nats won a crucial challenge in the eighth inning after Javier Baez was ruled safe on a grounder to Mark Reynolds at third base after hustling down the line in an even 4.00 seconds with an elite max sprint speed of 30.3 feet per second, as measured by Statcast™. But the call was overturned after a review of 1:52 seconds, to end the inning and protect Washington's 1-0 lead.

Video: WSH@CHC: Reynolds nabs Baez on overturned call in 8th

HE SAID IT
"I want it to linger right now for 30 minutes and think about it. And let's come back tomorrow and not make the same mistakes. Let's keep playing the way we're playing, because we're playing with a lot of intensity. They're fired up. The boys are playing really well." -- Martinez, on rebounding after a tough loss

"I've gotten a lot of pats on the back like, 'Get 'em tomorrow.' That's the sign of a good team, a quality team that's together. I was expecting that, but it's more than usual." -- Madson, on support from his teammates

UP NEXT
The Nationals travel to St. Louis for a four-game series with the Cardinals starting Monday at 8:10 p.m. ET. The Nats are hopeful third baseman Anthony Rendon will be back in the lineup after missing the past two starts with a left wrist contusion. Tommy Milone will be on the mound for Washington against St. Louis' Miles Mikolas.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Ryan Madson, Max Scherzer

Rodriguez fans career-high 11 for Syracuse

MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Sunday.

Mets No. 2 prospect Peter Alonso, the No. 63 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, added to his prodigious power numbers on Sunday with another home run -- his 29th of the season between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas -- and a pair of RBIs to bring his total to 105, the most of any player in the Minor or Major Leagues, in a 3-1 win over Reno.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Sunday.

Mets No. 2 prospect Peter Alonso, the No. 63 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, added to his prodigious power numbers on Sunday with another home run -- his 29th of the season between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas -- and a pair of RBIs to bring his total to 105, the most of any player in the Minor or Major Leagues, in a 3-1 win over Reno.

Watch: Alonso goes yard

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

The 23-year-old first baseman has homered in five of his last seven games for Las Vegas, and is hitting .260 with a .931 OPS in 47 Triple-A games. He slashed .314/.440/.573 with 15 homers in 65 Double-A games before being promoted.

Other top prospect performances on Sunday:

• A trio of D-backs prospects had big games Sunday. Jasrado Chisholm (No. 2) and Pavin Smith (No. 4) each shined in Class A Advanced Visalia's 7-3 victory over Modesto, while No. 6 prospect Alek Thomas continued his hot streak at the plate for Rookie level Missoula in its 9-6 win over Orem.

Chisholm went 3-for-4 with a double and a three-run homer, his sixth of the season. The 20-year-old shortstop is 9-for-18 with a pair of homers over his last four games, and is slashing .349/.393/.639 in 20 games since his promotion from Class A Kane County. In the same game, Smith also went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. The first baseman is hitting .245/.340/.379 with 10 homers in 103 games this season.

Thomas went 2-for-3 with a solo home run and two walks out of the leadoff spot for Missoula. The second-round selection in this year's MLB Draft is hitting .421 (16-for-38) with three doubles and two homers in nine Pioneer League games.

Dodgers No. 1 prospect Alex Verdugo, the No. 28 prospect overall, went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer and two RBIs in Triple-A Oklahoma City's 9-0 victory over Memphis. He's hitting .346/.395/.500 with nine home runs in 76 Triple-A games this year.

Watch: Verdugo launches homer

Yordan Alvarez, the Astros' No. 3 prospect and the No. 41 prospect overall, belted a solo home run as part of a 2-for-3 performance in Triple-A Fresno's 9-4 win over Albuquerque. Since being promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi, the 21-year-old outfielder is slashing .240/.342/.462 with seven homers in 30 games.

Watch: MiLB Video

Meanwhile, another Houston prospect, Alex McKenna (No. 30), went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and an RBI in Class A (Short Season) Tri-City's 7-3 win over Vermont, improving his line to .328/.423/.534 with five homers in 32 games after being selected in the fourth round of this year's Draft.

• Right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, the Nationals' No. 11 prospect, was dominant over six innings in Triple-A Syracuse's 8-1 victory over Gwinnett. He yielded a run on six hits, walking two and striking out 11. The performance lowered his season ERA to 3.40 in 19 starts between Double-A Harrisburg (13) and Syracuse (six).

Watch: MiLB Video

• A pair of Red Sox prospects turned in strong performances in Double-A Portland's 6-2 victory over Akron. Boston's No. 1 prospect (and No. 99 overall), Michael Chavis, doubled and drove in three as part of a 2-for-3 afternoon, while No. 6 prospect Bobby Dalbec doubled, homered and drove in three runs of his own while going 2-for-4.

Watch: MiLB Video

Chavis, a first baseman, is hitting .309/.404/.556 with five homers in 22 Double-A games. Dalbec, a third baseman, has been red hot in nine games for Portland since being promoted from Class A Advanced Salem (.256/.372/.573, 26 homers), batting .364 with five homers.

Padres No. 10 prospect Cal Quantrill tossed six strong innings in Triple-A El Paso's 4-1 win at Sacramento, giving up a run on six hits, walking one and fanning six. The No. 8 overall selection in the 2016 Draft has given up three runs in 12 Triple-A innings since his promotion from Double-A San Antonio.

Watch: Quantrill notches strikeout

• Left-hander Cole Irvin, the Phillies' No. 10 prospect, blanked Louisville for seven innings in Triple-A Lehigh Valley's 4-0 victory. He surrendered just three hits, walked three and struck out two. In 23 starts for Lehigh Valley this season, he owns a 2.85 ERA.

Watch: MiLB Video

• Patrick Mazeika, the Mets' No. 28 prospect, went 3-for-3 with his seventh home run of the season during Double-A Binghamton's 8-5 loss to Reading. The catcher is hitting .218/.322/.342 in 72 games this season.

Athletics No. 27 prospect Parker Dunshee gave Double-A Midland 7 1/3 scoreless frames in its 2-0 victory over Arkansas. The right-hander has turned in scoreless performances in three of his last four outings, lowering his season ERA to 2.51 in 21 appearances (19 starts) between Class A Advanced Stockton and Midland (nine starts).

Watch: MiLB Video

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Zim hits 2 HRs as Nats romp vs. Lester, Cubs

Roark wins fourth straight start with 7 2/3 crisp innings
MLB.com @JamalCollier

CHICAGO -- When Dave Martinez took the Nats' manager job this offseason, one of the things he was most excited about was the prospects of his lineup, which on paper was set to be one of the deepest in the National League. Through a combination of injuries and underachievement, the lineup has struggled to produce runs consistently this season, but perhaps the Nationals' bats have finally started to hit their stride.

Washington tagged left-hander Jon Lester for nine runs (eight earned) and knocked him out of the game in the fourth inning in Saturday's 9-4 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice and matched a career high with six RBIs while Daniel Murphy added three hits and a homer to back a strong start from Tanner Roark.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- When Dave Martinez took the Nats' manager job this offseason, one of the things he was most excited about was the prospects of his lineup, which on paper was set to be one of the deepest in the National League. Through a combination of injuries and underachievement, the lineup has struggled to produce runs consistently this season, but perhaps the Nationals' bats have finally started to hit their stride.

Washington tagged left-hander Jon Lester for nine runs (eight earned) and knocked him out of the game in the fourth inning in Saturday's 9-4 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ryan Zimmerman homered twice and matched a career high with six RBIs while Daniel Murphy added three hits and a homer to back a strong start from Tanner Roark.

View Full Game Coverage

"I think since the All-Star break we've been swinging the bats well and putting some good at-bats together, grinding out at-bats a little better than we were before," Zimmerman said. "Our lineup's getting longer and deeper than it's been all year."

Video: WSH@CHC: Murphy, Zimmerman homer in big 4th inning

The victory pulls the Nationals to within five games of the Braves and Phillies, who are tied for first in the NL East.

Ever since Zimmerman returned from the disabled list on July 20, he has been one of the team's hottest hitters while settling into a platoon at first base with Matt Adams. He got the Nats on the board in the first inning with a two-run homer -- his first homer at Wrigley Field since 2013 -- and added a sacrifice fly in the third. His three-run homer in the fourth served as an exclamation point for a six-run inning and drove Lester from the game.

Video: WSH@CHC: Reynolds makes a sparkling diving stop

After Anthony Rendon was scratched from the lineup with a left wrist contusion, Martinez bumped Zimmerman up in the lineup to hit cleanup.

"Zim, when he's good, he's a cleanup hitter," Martinez said. "He's been that guy. … It gives the opposing manager something to think about if he has to make a pitching change. What a day he had, too."

Video: WSH@CHC: Murphy drives a 2-run, opposite-field homer

Murphy continued to punish the Cubs as he has so often in his career. That he did so from the No. 7 slot in the lineup and Matt Wieters reached base five times from the No. 8 spot underscored just how deep and dangerous this lineup can be.

Roark never appeared during the NL Division Series between these two teams 10 months ago, something that bothered him during the offseason. He got his chance to finally take the mound at Wrigley Field on Saturday and twirled another strong start. He gave up two runs in 7 2/3 innings, sealing his fourth straight strong start.

Video: WSH@CHC: Roark tosses 7 2/3 innings, strikes out 7

"There's still definitely things I need to work on and just maintain," Roark said. "And keep building off each and every start and having the confidence in myself and everybody on the team to do their job and go out there and win."

SOUND SMART
After collecting three hits Saturday, Murphy now owns a lifetime average of .327 in his career against the Cubs, the fourth highest among all active qualified players.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Michael A. Taylor was subbed into the game to start the seventh inning to give Bryce Harper a breather, and he instantly made an impact, chasing down a line drive from Kyle Schwarber for a stellar diving catch. Taylor ran 41 feet in 3.1 seconds before he dove and robbed Schwarber of a hit on a ball that had just a 35-percent catch probability, as measured by Statcast™, which rated the play as a four-star catch.

Video: WSH@CHC: Taylor dives, snags sinking liner

UP NEXT
Max Scherzer will be on the mound for Sunday night's series finale against Cubs left-hander Cole Hamels. In six career starts vs. Chicago, Scherzer owns a 2.92 ERA. He's won his past five decisions. First pitch is at 8:05 p.m. ET.

Video: WSH@CHC: Scherzer, Hamels get set to duel in Chicago

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman

Sim game next after Stras throws 'pen session

Nats hopeful right-hander can return before Aug. 21-23 series vs. Phillies
MLB.com @JamalCollier

CHICAGO -- Stephen Strasburg threw an extended bullpen session on Saturday afternoon, clearing his latest hurdle as he works his way back from the disabled list. As Strasburg walked off the field, he told manager Dave Martinez he felt really good during his 64-pitch bullpen session, his biggest test since landing on the DL with a pinched nerve in his neck.

The next step for Strasburg is a simulated game on Wednesday and then perhaps a Minor League rehab assignment before he rejoins Washington's rotation. The Nats would like to have Strasburg back before the start of a three-game set with the Phillies -- one of the teams they are chasing in the standings -- from Aug 21-23, so there is a chance if all goes well that he would not require a rehab start.

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CHICAGO -- Stephen Strasburg threw an extended bullpen session on Saturday afternoon, clearing his latest hurdle as he works his way back from the disabled list. As Strasburg walked off the field, he told manager Dave Martinez he felt really good during his 64-pitch bullpen session, his biggest test since landing on the DL with a pinched nerve in his neck.

The next step for Strasburg is a simulated game on Wednesday and then perhaps a Minor League rehab assignment before he rejoins Washington's rotation. The Nats would like to have Strasburg back before the start of a three-game set with the Phillies -- one of the teams they are chasing in the standings -- from Aug 21-23, so there is a chance if all goes well that he would not require a rehab start.

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Still, the Nationals are going to remain cautious with Strasburg and want to make sure there are no issues when he is activated.

Video: WSH@MIA: Strasburg fans 8 over 5 scoreless innings

"We're at a critical moment right now," Martinez said. "When we get him back, we need him back. We can't have any setbacks. So we want to make sure when he does get back, he can pitch every five days."

Strasburg has made 14 starts this season with a 3.90 ERA, but has been on the DL since July 25, retroactive to July 22. That came after he missed a month with inflammation in his right shoulder. In his place, left-hander Tommy Milone has slotted into the Nats' rotation, but after a solid initial two starts, he got shelled for seven runs on 10 hits in his last outing on Wednesday.

Rendon scratched from lineup
Anthony Rendon was a late scratch from the Nationals' lineup on Saturday with a left wrist contusion after he was hit by a pitch in the first inning on Friday.

Video: WSH@CHC: Rendon gets hit on the wrist, stays in game

X-Rays were negative for Rendon, who remained in the game for the duration of Friday's 3-2 loss to the Cubs. After the game, he walked out of the clubhouse with the team's head athletic trainer, Paul Lessard, for further testing. Martinez initially said Rendon was fine on Friday afternoon, and he was in the initial lineup Saturday.

Mark Reynolds started at third base in his place on Saturday.

Worth noting
Kelvin Herrera played catch on Saturday afternoon for the first time since he landed on the DL with a inflammation in his rotator cuff on Wednesday.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg

Walks haunt Hellickson, Nats in loss to Cubs

Free passes play key role in all 3 Chicago runs; starter tosses 5 2/3 hitless innings
MLB.com @JamalCollier

CHICAGO -- The last time the Nationals played a game here at Wrigley Field, it was during the National League Division Series, one that resulted in a heartbreaking five-game series loss to the Cubs. The circumstances are different for this three-game weekend series, as Chicago stands with the best record in the NL and paces the NL Central, while Washington has underperformed after massive expectations.

That makes these games important for the Nationals, as they begin a seven-game road trip in their latest attempt to climb back into the race in the NL East. And in the seventh inning of a tie game Friday afternoon, they turned to right-hander Greg Holland to keep the game deadlocked. The Cubs were all over Holland, who issued a four-pitch walk to force in the go-ahead run in the Nats' 3-2 loss.

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CHICAGO -- The last time the Nationals played a game here at Wrigley Field, it was during the National League Division Series, one that resulted in a heartbreaking five-game series loss to the Cubs. The circumstances are different for this three-game weekend series, as Chicago stands with the best record in the NL and paces the NL Central, while Washington has underperformed after massive expectations.

That makes these games important for the Nationals, as they begin a seven-game road trip in their latest attempt to climb back into the race in the NL East. And in the seventh inning of a tie game Friday afternoon, they turned to right-hander Greg Holland to keep the game deadlocked. The Cubs were all over Holland, who issued a four-pitch walk to force in the go-ahead run in the Nats' 3-2 loss.

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It was another close loss for the Nationals, who are now 11-19 in one-run games and fell to six games behind the first-place Phillies in the NL East.

Video: WSH@CHC: Hellickson, Martinez on tough loss to Cubs

"We just got to get better, fundamentally better. That's the key," manager Dave Martinez said. "We can't make those little mistakes, because when you're playing a team that's good, it's gonna cost you. And it did today."

The Nats jumped out for a pair of early runs against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks on run-scoring singles from Juan Soto and Adam Eaton in the first two innings to take a 2-0 lead. Jeremy Hellickson made the lead stand, with command of his entire arsenal as he flummoxed the Cubs until he reached two outs in the sixth inning, and faced Chicago's lineup for the third time through the order.

Video: WSH@CHC: Soto rips an RBI single to center in the 1st

The turning point for Hellickson was a 13-pitch battle with Anthony Rizzo, who outlasted him to draw a walk. Martinez said he believed Hellickson was gassed after that at-bat, as the right-hander followed with eight straight balls to walk both Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist to load the bases and end his day without giving up a hit. Sammy Solis came on in relief and promptly surrendered a two-run single to Jason Heyward to tie the game.

"I think I tried everything," Hellickson said. "That's why he's one of the best hitters in our game. He's just always up there battling. … I just can't walk guys right there. It just can't happen that way. I've got to make them put the ball in play."

Video: WSH@CHC: Rizzo battles Hellickson for a 13-pitch walk

That the Nationals needed to call upon Solis and Holland to get themselves out of big spots is a statement about the state of their bullpen. The team traded away both Shawn Kelley and Brandon Kintzler, who pitched in the eighth inning for the Cubs, and have lost both Sean Doolittle and Kelvin Herrera to the disabled list with injuries.

"I think we're doing just fine down there," Solis said. "I think everyone's real confident, especially having Holland now, veteran guy. Just keep pitching. The results will come. We've just got to attack these guys and get ahead, that's the biggest thing. Because we all know they're up there to swing. We need to make our pitches, and the results will come."

Video: WSH@CHC: Eaton plates Murphy with a single to right

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Nats staged an attempt at a comeback when Kintzler walked the first two batters to begin the eighth. But Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief to escape the jam with an assist from catcher Willson Contreras, who picked off Soto at first base for the first out of the inning.

First-base coach Tim Bogar warned Soto -- who was picked off first by Hendricks in the sixth -- prior to the throw about Contreras' knack for throwing down to first, so Soto was aware but said he thought Rizzo was blocking first base on his way back.

"Just try to come back fast, and when I tried to come back, Rizzo was in my line to run," Soto said. "I can slide and go under him. Just timing."

Video: WSH@CHC: Contreras picks off Soto at first in the 8th

SOUND SMART
In three of their last six games against the Cubs, including the postseason, Nationals pitchers have carried a no-hitter into at least the sixth inning (Stephen Strasburg in Game 1 of the NLDS, Max Scherzer in Game 3, Hellickson on Friday) but Washington has lost all three games.

Video: WSH@CHC: Hellickson finishes 5 no-hit frames vs. Cubs

UP NEXT
Tanner Roark never appeared in the five-game series between the Cubs and Nationals during the 2017 NLDS, but he will get his chance to pitch at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon. He has found a groove in his past three starts, allowing a combined two runs over 22 innings (0.82 ERA) to bust out of his month-long slump. Jon Lester will be the opposing pitcher; first pitch is at 4:05 p.m. ET.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Jeremy Hellickson

The coolest Topps baseball card every year

In honor of National Baseball Card Day on Aug. 11, we're selecting the coolest baseball card from every year since Topps' first set in 1951. Rather than simply focus on the most famous or valuable cards, we asked some of the best minds in baseball to provide us with their favorites. It could be because of a great photo, a hilarious story or just a personal memory they have with the card.

So, if you want to see the funniest, weirdest, most expensive or iconic cards in history, you are just a click away. Then, come back on Saturday when MLB.com selects the 10 coolest Topps cards of all-time. 

Robles could help down the stretch

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

Though the Trade Deadline has come and gone, contenders still have other avenues in which to improve their clubs. They can still make deals, though they have to jump through waiver hurdles to do so. Even simpler and cheaper, they can promote players from their farm systems.

Though the Trade Deadline has come and gone, contenders still have other avenues in which to improve their clubs. They can still make deals, though they have to jump through waiver hurdles to do so. Even simpler and cheaper, they can promote players from their farm systems.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

The best in-house move down the stretch last year came when the Cardinals recalled Luke Weaver in mid-August. He proceeded to win his first six starts, though St. Louis eventually would finish four games behind the Rockies in the race for the National League's second Wild Card berth.

Which of this year's contenders have prospects who could help in the final two months of the regular season and the playoffs? We rank the 10 best options, considering both talent and opportunity:

1. Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees (No. 27 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, No. 1 on Yankees' Top 30)
Trading for J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn at the Deadline didn't answer all of the Yankees' rotation questions, nor give them a potential frontline starter for the playoffs. With three quality pitches and no difficulties dealing with Triple-A at age 22, Sheffield might be able to fill both voids.

Video: Top Prospects: Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees

2. Victor Robles, OF, Nationals (No. 5, Nationals' No. 1)
If Robles hadn't hyperextended his left elbow in the fourth game of the Minor League season, he likely would have gotten the opportunity that went to Juan Soto. While he doesn't have the same clear path to playing time now, he might offer the best combination of offense and defense of any of the Nationals' center-field options.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

3. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics (No. 12, Athletics' No. 1)
Despite not making his full-season debut before April, Luzardo has vaulted to Triple-A as well as into consideration as baseball's best pitching prospect. The A's hold the lead for the second American League Wild Card spot despite using 13 starting pitchers already, and he misses bats better than anyone in their rotation thanks to two plus pitches, flashes of a third and control to match.

Video: Top Prospects: Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics

4. Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros (No. 8, Astros' No. 2)
The Astros gave Tucker a shot to win their left-field job for three weeks in July, then sent him back to Triple-A after he went 7-for-45 (.156). That doesn't change the fact that he's still one of the game's top all-around hitting prospects and a lock for at least a September callup, so he could mash his way back into the lineup.

Video: HOU@COL: Tucker hits a clutch pinch-hit, 2-run triple

5. Brendan Rodgers, INF, Rockies (No. 6, Rockies' No. 1)
In a dogfight with eight clubs vying for two NL Wild Card berths, the Rockies need all the help they can get. Rodgers has more offensive upside than most middle-infield prospects, could be an upgrade over the slumping DJ LeMahieu at second base and is definitely better than current Colorado utility man Pat Valaika.

Video: Top Prospects: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies

6. Touki Toussaint, RHP, Braves (No. 76, Braves' No. 7)
With three starting pitchers on the disabled list and Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb approaching career highs for innings, the Braves will need more reinforcements even after trading for Kevin Gausman. Toussaint is pitching better than anyone in Triple-A Gwinnett's prospect-laden rotation, delivering more strikes than ever, while continuing to showcase a mid-90s fastball and a hammer curveball.

Video: Top Prospects: Touki Toussaint, RHP, Braves

7. Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros (No. 7, Astros' No. 1)
MLB Pipeline's top-rated pitching prospect hasn't seen 2018 go as hoped, as Whitley missed the first 50 games with a drug suspension and is currently sidelined with an oblique issue. But he has a fresh arm (just 21 innings this year) and four pitches that are allergic to bats, so it would make sense for the Astros to acclimate him to the big league bullpen and deploy him as a late-inning weapon in October.

Video: Top Prospects: Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros

8. Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers (No. 28, Dodgers' No. 1)
Verdugo is raking in Triple-A for the second straight year while hitting for more power than he has previously, but there's no obvious spot for him on an already-crowded Dodgers roster that got more crowded following midseason trades for Manny Machado and Brian Dozier. He has batted .280/.345/.440 in two brief stints in Los Angeles this season, hinting at what he might do when he gets a chance.

Video: LAD@ATL: Verdugo belts 1st homer of the season

9. Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves (No. 90, Braves' No. 8)
The Braves already have given Allard two starts in the past two weeks, but he got hit hard in both and Toussaint might get the next call. Allard has extremely advanced pitchability for a 20-year-old and wasn't afraid to challenge big league hitters, so he could get another look.

Video: MIA@ATL: Allard gets Straily swinging for 1st MLB K

10. Josh James, RHP, Astros (Astros' No. 6)
James has come out of nowhere to lead the Minors in strikeouts (154) and strikeout rate (14.0 per nine innings), thanks to a mid-90s fastball, hard slider and diving changeup. He may lack the command to be a long-term starter, but he has the stuff to be a bullpen factor for the Astros in the postseason.

Video: Top Prospects: Josh James, RHP, Astros

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.