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Nats must take advantage of home field

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Nats must take advantage of home field

ST. LOUIS -- As much as the one-time-only format change to MLB's Division Series this year -- with the lesser team getting to host Games 1 and 2 -- has been criticized, there was one scenario in particular in which a team like the Nationals would actually benefit.

Sure, you could argue it wasn't fair for the team with baseball's best regular-season record to have to open the playoffs on the road in a hostile environment. But by merely winning one of the first two games of their NLDS against the Cardinals, the Nationals put themselves in a position where they now go home knowing they just need to take care of business to advance to the next round.

"With the two games on the road, I think it's almost fairer," right fielder Jayson Werth said. "It's like I said: Our job coming in here was to split the series, and we did that."

That they did. Oh, make no mistake, a 12-4 debacle in Game 2 at Busch Stadium was an ugly spectacle to behold, whether you were among the crowd of 45,840 in St. Louis or back home watching on television.

But you don't advance in the postseason on style points. It's an eitheror proposition. Either you win a game, or you lose it. The final score doesn't really matter.

"A loss is a loss," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I don't think anyone cared that we won by one yesterday. The goal was to win one game out here. Obviously, two would have been a bonus. But you split it, you go home, have an off-day tomorrow and regroup and relax a little bit and come out ready to win a series."

Win a series. That's now what the Nationals must try to accomplish. Three games in three days, all at home, all against the Cardinals.

Take away the cooler temperatures, sellout crowds and media throng and it's not all that different from a three-game homestand in mid-August, the goal still being to win twice.

Some perspective: The Nationals hosted 16 three-game series this year on South Capitol Street. They won 11 of those sets.

"It's basically go home and win a series," Zimmerman said. "Just like we've done all year."

OK, maybe there's a bit more riding on these next three games than any other three games they've played this season. But these Nationals have been good all along at focusing on the task at hand and not getting caught up in the bigger picture.

They'll have to maintain that tunnel vision now, ignoring the hoopla that will come with the first playoff game in D.C. since the 1933 World Series, which may be easier said than done.

Washington has been anticipating this moment for a long time, and though the circumstances might not be ideal for many -- a 1:07 p.m. weekday start -- the scene at Nationals Park on Wednesday will be unlike anything the town and most of these players have ever experienced.

"I think our fan base is going to come out strong," Werth said. "We've had a lot of support down the stretch, and people have been coming out in waves. Should be a packed house. Should be a lot of fun. And I can't wait to get back home in front of our fans and take care of business."

The Nationals will need an especially big-time performance from Edwin Jackson, who in the wake of two suspect starts by Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann suddenly has some added weight on his right shoulder.

In one regard, there are few guys Davey Johnson would rather entrust in this spot than Jackson, the only member of his rotation with postseason experience, not to mention a guy capable of dominating an opponent any time he takes the mound (like he did holding St. Louis to one unearned run over eight innings on Aug. 30).

"Jackson's got a lot of experience," Johnson said. "He pitched a heck of a ballgame against them. He's certainly up for it."

At the same time, Jackson is just as capable of getting knocked out in the second inning (like he did against this same St. Louis club only 10 days ago).

"Having E-Jax on the bump is going to be great for us," center fielder Bryce Harper said. "We played great at home all year. It's going to be great to go back there and really get in a groove."

After a somewhat ragged start to their postseason experience, the Nationals are heading home, and they may just get to stay there for quite a while. In fact, they could theoretically host their next five games at Nationals Park, 10 of their next 13.

It's what they earned by winning more of 162 regular-season games than any other team in the sport.

Now, they simply need to take advantage of home-field advantage.

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NL East: Braves trade for 2-time All-Star OF Matt Kemp

NL East: Braves trade for 2-time All-Star OF Matt Kemp

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Braves acquired pricey slugger Matt Kemp and $10.5 million from San Diego for troubled outfielder Hector Olivera.

Atlanta had tried for several months to deal Olivera following his April 13 arrest on domestic violence charges. He is eligible to play again in the major leagues on Tuesday following his 82-game domestic violence suspension. The Padres plan to designate Olivera for assignment when he comes off the restricted list Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.

Despite arthritis in both hips, Kemp could boost the weakest offense in the major leagues. Atlanta has baseball's worst record and ranks last in runs scored and homers.

The Braves have just one marquee everyday player, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and need more star appeal as they move a few miles north into a new suburban ballpark next year.

Kemp has a $21.5 million salary this year and is owed the same amount in each of the next three seasons.

San Diego is sending Atlanta $3 million this year as part of the trade: half on Aug. 15 and the rest on Sept. 15. From 2017-19, the Padres will pay the Braves $2.5 million annually, half each May 15 and July 15.

Olivera agreed in early 2015 to a $62.5 million, six-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then was traded to the Braves last July. He has a $4 million salary this year, but lost $1,792,350 because of his suspension. He is owed $6 million next season, $6.5 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020.

San Diego acquired Kemp, a two-time All-Star outfielder with the Dodgers, from Los Angeles in December 2014. It took several days to consummate the trade because Kemp had to be cleared medically.

In 254 games with the Padres, Kemp is hitting .264 -- 28 points lower than his nine-year batting average with the Dodgers -- with 46 homers, 169 RBIs and 247 strikeouts.

Atlanta acquired Olivera from the Dodgers last July 30 in a three-team, 13-player swap that sent Alex Wood and Jose Peraza to Los Angeles.

This trade made financial sense with both teams trying to shed expensive contracts of players no longer fitting long-term plans.

Olivera is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett but was removed from the lineup before Saturday night's game.

He was arrested April 13 at a hotel near Washington, D.C., and Major League Baseball announced May 27 that he had agreed to the suspension, which was retroactive to April 30.

Olivera, who was moved from third base to left field before the start of spring training, hit .245, two homers and 13 RBIs in 30 games with Atlanta. He has a pending court date in Alexandria, Virginia.

In rebuilding the Braves, president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella have traded Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. and Andrelton Simmons for prospects.

Atlanta also has taken on bad contracts for declining players such as Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Bronson Arroyo. Dan Uggla was released in July 2014 despite the Braves still owing him $18 million.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

MIAMI (AP) -- Right-hander Colin Rea injured his right elbow and left in the fourth inning of his first start with the Miami Marlins on Saturday after being acquired a day earlier from the San Diego Padres.

Rea struck out Jedd Gyorko to lead off the fourth inning, then immediately waved to the trainer. He has right elbow soreness and is considered day-to-day.

Rea pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

David Phelps relieved Rea with the Marlins leading the Cardinal s4-0.

Rea, right-hander Andrew Cashner and prospect Tayron Guerrero were acquired for right-handers Jarred Cosart and Carter Capps and two minor leaguers, pitcher Luis Castillo and first baseman Josh Naylor.

[RELATED: After Melancon trade, what do Nats do with Papelbon?]

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New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- When Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker called Mark Melancon on Saturday from the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park, one thing that impressed them right away about their new All-Star closer is that he planned to immediately check in with Jonathan Papelbon.

"It says a lot about his character and makeup, and that was a big reason why he was such an attractive target to us," said Rizzo, Washington's general manager. "His performance level is great but his makeup and character are a lot of the reason that we went out and got him. That tells me he's team-first and Mark Melancon second."

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates to acquire Melancon, who supplants the struggling Papelbon as Washington's closer. Rizzo and Baker also spoke to Papelbon, who made it clear he "wants to win," Baker said.

Melancon is expected to join the Nationals on Sunday for their series finale at San Francisco.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington tried to tell Melancon he had been traded. And tried. And tried.

"I felt bad because I missed his call three times because my phone was on silent, so I woke up to that," the reliever said after he awakened from his nap and learned of the deal.

A 31-year-old right-hander, Melancon has converted 30 of 33 saves with a 1.51 ERA this season and joins his fifth organization in eight years. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series; as part of the swap, the Pirates will pay Washington $500,000 on Sept. 1.

Once considered a possible successor to Mariano Rivera when he broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2009, Melancon said during the All-Star break he knew a trade was possible, given his contract status.

The move comes as the Pirates find themselves on the fringe of the wild-card race. While general manager Neal Huntington stressed the team remains committed to reaching the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the opportunity to deal Melancon -- who led the majors with 51 saves in 2015 and had 33 in '14 -- for two young arms with friendly long-term contracts was too good to pass up.

Baker's bullpen is taxed.

"We're getting some reinforcements," he said of Melancon.

Rivero is under team control through 2021 and hit 100 mph on the radar gun regularly during an extended relief appearance against the Pirates this month. If Melancon left as a free agent, Pittsburgh would have received a high draft pick as compensation.

"We knew full well that holding Mark Melancon would have been a good return, but at the end of the day we felt this was a better return for us," Huntington said.

This was the well-traveled Melancon's fourth season in Pittsburgh after he also pitched for Houston, Boston and the Yankees.

He will move his family once more -- his wife and three kids.

"This has been a blast. Pittsburgh has a special place in heart. My family has been treated so well," Melancon said. "The experiences we've had, just running through my mind all the wild-card games, just big games that we've been in. From where we started, to where we are now, it is an honor. It is an honor to be a Pirate. We got to go through those experiences together. My teammates are my best friends."

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.

Pittsburgh will plug the 25-year-old Rivero into a seventh-inning role, with Neftali Feliz working the eighth and Tony Watson in the ninth. Watson was an All-Star in 2014 in a set-up role and will take over a position where Pittsburgh has enjoyed plenty of success during its rise from mediocrity. Each of its previous three closers: Melanon, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan, made the All-Star team wearing black and gold.

Manager Clint Hurdle will miss Melancon but is confident in his bullpen options.

"I love the guy, love the family. Happy we had him. He helped us, I believe we helped him," Hurdle said. "We are not giving up anything, we aren't lowering the bar. We are not settling. Our organization made a baseball trade, with confidence that our bullpen is going to be in a good place. We are going to be able to compete this year, we are going to be able to add to our competition level in the years to come."

Huntington hinted the team may try to take the money it will save by not paying the remaining portion of Melancon's contract and use it before Monday's trade deadline. The Pirates need help in the starting rotation, which has been forced to turn to rookies Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow quickly as established players Jeff Locke, John Niese and Juan Nicasio faltered.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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