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Nats have chance to KO Braves

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Nats have chance to KO Braves

It has loomed on the schedule for weeks, a mid-September showdown with the only team that still had a chance to overtake the Nationals in the NL East. But then the Nationals kept winning, the Braves started losing and now the two teams enter this weekend series in Atlanta with 8 12 games separating themselves.

And that unexpected turn could leave the Nationals in a really unexpected position by the time they leave town late Sunday night: having all but clinched the franchise's first division title.

Even in a worst-case scenario, the Nationals will end the weekend holding a still-comfortable, 5 12-game lead with 16 to play. If they win just once at Turner Field, they'll maintain a 7 12-game lead. If they take two of three, that lead jumps to 9 12 games. And if, by some chance, they happen to sweep ... well an 11 12-game lead with 16 to go is mighty tough to surrender.

Not that anyone in the clubhouse is speaking in those terms, at least not in public.

"Obviously, we have a big series coming up these next three days," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We need to go down there and just try to win a series, like we've done all year. That's really been our goal every time: To go in and try to win two out of three. If you get the extra one, great. And if you don't win the first two, try and salvage the third one."

The Nationals have put themselves in this advantageous position in large part because of their ability to take care of business against their chief division rival. They've gone 10-5 against the Braves this season, with victories in four of their last five head-to-head encounters.

This week's sweep of the Mets -- and more importantly the Brewers' sweep of the Braves -- also turned what looked like a tenuous, 5 12-game lead into the current 8 12-game spread.

Thus, the Nationals recognize what kind of opportunity they've been presented, beginning tonight.

"We're looking to go in there and make a statement," reliever Sean Burnett said.

A stranglehold on the NL East title isn't the only thing at stake this weekend. The continued meltdown of several other NL playoff contenders -- most notably the Cardinals and Pirates -- leaves the Nationals with a 14 12-game lead for the league's final wild card berth.

With the magic number in that race down to four, the Nationals conceivably could clinch their first playoff berth by the end of the weekend.

"We've been playing good, clean baseball games all year long, and we've just got to keep on doing our thing," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We're not worried about anybody else in the division, any other numbers, anything like that. If we go out and play good baseball, we believe in ourselves and we feel like we can go anywhere."

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Nats look to get back on track as Roark starts at Phillies

Nats look to get back on track as Roark starts at Phillies

Nats (75-55) at Phillies (60-70) at Citizens Bank Park

Having lost six of their last eight, the Nats now hit the road to face the Phillies for three games. This could be a good opportunity to collect some wins against a lesser team, as the Nats swept each of their last two head-to-head series.

Also working in the Nats' favor is that Tanner Roark is on the mound. Roark is 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA and is very good at going deep into games, having pitched at least seven innings in 15 of his 25 starts.

Ryan Zimmerman gets the day off as manager Dusty Baker looks to get him some rest. Clint Robinson is instead playing first base.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Phillies - Jake Thompson

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Clint Robinson
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jake Thompson

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Nationals option Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse, recall Michael A. Taylor

Nationals option Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse, recall Michael A. Taylor

The Nationals have optioned pitcher Lucas Giolito to AAA Syracuse and recalled outfielder Michael A. Taylor, the team announced Monday. 

Giolito will return to the minors after starting Sunday in Washington's 5-3 loss to Colorado. He pitched a career-high five innings, allowing four runs on six hits (two HRs) and four walks. 

As Nationals Insider Chase Hughes noted, the rookie pitcher's velocity hasn't lived up to expectations. 

His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits ... On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

Taylor, meanwhile, last played for the Nationals on July 24 against the Padres. He went 0-4 at the plate in the 10-6 loss. 

MORE NATIONALS: Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1

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State of the Nats: Trea Turner on playing like a kid, rest helped Ramos

State of the Nats: Trea Turner on playing like a kid, rest helped Ramos

Team Record: 75-55

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Turner looks, plays like a kid - It's not hyperbole to say that Trea Turner has been the Nats' best player in August and that's with Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper each having very good numbers this month. They've been excellent, it's just that Turner has been on a different level with 42 hits in 25 games (.359 BA), five homers, 10 steals and 27 runs. The 27 runs are a franchise record for a rookie in one month.

Turner has even been making slick plays in center field. During the Orioles series he robbed Adam Jones numerous times, convincing Jones to playfully shoot a pretend arrow in his direction after one impressive catch (see below). That's coming from a guy who has four Gold Gloves at center field, so it's worth noting.

One catch Turner made on Jones was a diving grab at the warning track. He then got up with a big smile on his face. I noticed that and asked him about it. His answer was great:

"I think it's like a little kid's play, just go and catch the ball. Whatever you've gotta do to get there and get a glove on it. I think that's how everyone should play center field or outfield, for that matter, just like a little kid. Just hustle and make sure you're throwing it to the right base," he said.

"I always kind of laugh. When I hit a home run, it's kind of funny to me. I think it's just the little kid in me. It's fun and exciting and I really enjoy small things like that. Everybody should enjoy as much as they can."

That's the type of talk that will endear him to a lot of fans.

Ramos feeling better after rest - Wilson Ramos had been slowing down with just one hit through five games from Aug. 20 through 24 in 22 total at-bats. So, manager Dusty Baker prescribed him some rest. He gave him two consecutive days off and said publicly he could tell The Buffalo was a bit tired.

Ramos returned and in the two games since has three hits, a homer, a walk and two RBI. His homer on Sunday was his 20th of the season and, for Ramos, it was a good indication that the time off served him well:

"I was surprised about the two off-days, but Dusty knows and he probably noticed something in my swing, that I was looking tired. I didn't personally feel that way, but he probably noticed that my swing was not the way it was at the beginning of the season with all these games," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez.

"It did help quite a bit. I felt better today. My swing felt a lot better, so I think that he was seeing something that I personally did not. You play so long, you get used to it and you don't feel it yourself. But he saw something that I didn't and it did help me out."

Zimmerman struggling - Unlike Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman continued to struggle in Sunday's loss to the Rockies by going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In his last five games, Zimmerman has just one hit across 21 at-bats with seven Ks. That followed a solid first four games when he came back from the disabled list.

Baker weighed in on what has been holding his first baseman back in recent days:

"I think he's chasing. I think he's a little over-anxious because he's swinging at balls that are out of the zone. We've just gotta get him back in the zone and get him concentrated. He's trying extremely hard, but I think he's trying too hard. We're talking to him, but you can't swing for anybody because they're up at the plate by themselves."

NL East Standings

Offensive game of the week: Trea Turner 8/23 vs. Orioles - 4-for-4, 2B

Pitching line of the week: Max Scherzer 8/25 vs. Orioles - 8.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 10 SO, 0 BB, 95 pitches (72 strikes)

Quote of the Week 

“He’s going to get stronger yet, when he gets his man-muscles or his man-bones or whatever you call it. Heh-heh. Cause today I tapped him on the butt, and I was like: ‘Man, you’re hard as a rock.’ And he said: ‘Well, I should be. It’s all bone.’”

- Baker on, uh, slapping Turner's butt

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

Road Ahead

Mon. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Roark vs. Thompson)
Tue. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Scherzer vs. Eickhoff)
Wed. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Gonzalez vs. Morgan)
Thu. - OFF
Fri. - 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Cole vs. Syndergaard)
Sat. - 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Giolito vs. deGrom)
Sun. - 8:00 p.m. at New York Mets (Roark vs. TBA)

[RELATED: Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1]

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