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Nats look for four-game sweep vs. Astros - 8:05 p.m.

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Nats look for four-game sweep vs. Astros - 8:05 p.m.

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Jordan Zimmermann tries to pitch the Nats to a sweep at Minute Maid Park.
It hasn't come as easy as they would have liked, but the Nationals have done just enough to win the first three games of this series in Houston and put themselves in position for a four-game sweep tonight. Really, you can't ask for anything more than that.

Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball for the finale at Minute Maid Park, hoping to create a new streak of six-inning starts after he went only five last week for the first time this season. He'll be opposed by Lucas Harrell, a pretty good right-hander who has a chance to earn his 10th win tonight -- fairly impressive considering the team he plays for has only won 36 total games in 2012.

After a rough game last night that included a couple of confrontations with plate umpire Angel Hernandez and an ill-advised throw from center field in the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper is not expected to be in the Nationals' lineup. Probably a good time for the 19-year-old to take a physical and mental break.

I'm not in Houston, but I am en route to Phoenix as we speak for this weekend's series against the Diamondbacks. Enjoy tonight's game and the conversation...

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at HOUSTON ASTROS
Where: Minute Maid Park
Gametime: 8:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 184
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS (68-43)

2B Steve Lombardozzi
CF Roger Bernadina
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse
RF Jayson Werth
SS Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
RHP Jordan Zimmermann

ASTROS (36-76)

2B Jose Altuve
SS Marwin Gonzalez
RF Steve Pearce
CF Justin Maxwell
3B Brett Wallace
LF J.D. Martinez
1B Scott Moore
C Chris Snyder
RHP Lucas Harrell

UMPIRES

HP Ed Hickox
1B Chris Conroy
2B Mark Carlson
3B Angel Hernandez

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Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

With the division title clinched the night before, it seemed the Nationals were poised for an uneventful series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. 

That wasn't to be, as the two clubs engaged in a benches clearing altercation in the bottom of the third inning. The tension started in the top of the frame, when Bryce Harper was injured while sliding to third base on a triple. The Nats took exception to Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang faking a tag on Harper, which may have led to the injury. 

So when Nats starter A.J. Cole threw behind Kang in the bottom of the inning, the near-fracas was ignited.

Cole was immediately ejected from the game, benches cleared, and each side exchanged words. The Pirates' Sean Rodriguez was also ejected from the game. 

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Nats close homestand against Pirates day after clinch

Nats close homestand against Pirates day after clinch

Nats (90-64) vs. Pirates (77-77) at PNC Park

Saturday night was a big party in Pittsburgh as the Nationals clinched their third NL East title in the last five years. On Sunday, they have a quick turnaround with a 1:35 p.m. start to finish off their final homestand.

Rookie A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.68) will get the start as the Nats now turn their sights towards securing home field advantage in the NL Division Series. He's coming off a two-run, four-inning outing against the Marlins.

Right-hander Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 4.11) will pitch for the Pirates. A rookie, Glasnow has never faced the Nationals before.

The Nationals lead the Dodgers, their likely NLDS opponent, by just 1 1/2 games. They need to stay ahead of them to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. If they each finish with the same record, the Dodgers will get the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head record this season.

First pitch: 1:35 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - A.J. Cole vs. Pirates - Tyler Glasnow

NATS

CF Ben Revere
2B Wilmer Digo
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Clint Robinson 
SS Danny Espinosa
LF Brian Goodwin
C Jose Lobaton
RHP A.J. Cole

PIRATES

TBA
RHP Tyler Glasnow

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