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What's at stake for the Nationals today

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What's at stake for the Nationals today

Last night's rainout created an old-fashioned, single-admission doubleheader for the Nationals and Dodgers later today. It also created a scenario in which the Nats could end the night having clinched the city's first playoff berth since 1933.

With a magic number of 3 to secure the final NL Wild Card berth, the Nationals would clinch with any combination of three victories andor losses by the team currently in third place in the Wild Card race. That team happens to be the Dodgers.

Thus, a win in today's 4:05 p.m. opener would drop the magic number to 1 (and ensure at the very least the Nationals will get to play a 163rd game this season). A win in the nightcap (scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. or 30 minutes after conclusion of the first game, whichever comes later) would then seal the deal and guarantee the Nats a spot in the postseason.

If you're planning to attend the doubleheader -- here's the ticket exchange policy in case you missed it -- don't expect a major celebration should the Nationals pull off the sweep. There won't be a dog pile at the center of the mound, nor champagne flowing in the clubhouse.

"That's not a big moment," manager Davey Johnson said over the weekend in Atlanta. "It's a nice moment, but it's not a big moment. The additional Wild Card, to me, just really put more of a burden on the manager, because nobody wants that one. A one-game playoff to get in? The other format, if you were the Wild Card, you're in the playoffs. So clinching a one-game playoff doesn't have any appeal at all to me."

The Nationals, as always, remain focused on the NL East title. And they drew a step closer to that last night, even though they never set foot on the field. By virtue of the Braves' wild, 10-inning loss in Miami, the Nats' magic number to clinch the division dropped to 10. Their lead over Atlanta is now 5 12 games.

Keep in mind the Nationals still have 16 games to play, but the Braves only have 13 games to play. That's fewer opportunities for Atlanta to make up ground, a real disadvantage considering they're now 7 games back in the loss column.

We'll have a much clearer idea of how things stand by the end of the night, with the Nationals playing two games and the Braves playing one. By 10 p.m. or so, the Nationals' lead in the division could be as big as 7 games. Or it could be as small as 4 games.

That all makes for one long -- and potentially dramatic -- day of baseball.

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Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nationals pitcher Joe Ross made his first minor league rehab assignment appearance on Sunday afternoon with Triple-A Syracuse and it was a brief one.

Ross tossed just 21 pitches in one inning of work against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He allowed one run on three hits and also recorded a strikeout. The three hits Ross allowed were all singles and the run was scored on a fielder's choice groundout.

Ross, 23, threw more pitches in a bullpen session this week. He threw two bullpens total, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, before going to Syracuse. Ross said he threw 25 to 30 pitches in the first session.

Ross is likely to return to the Nationals in their bullpen, with the minor league season nearing its end. He has said his goal is to be starting for the Nationals in mid-September.

Him pitching just one inning could be a part of that plan, and the Nats do have incentive to take it slow with Ross, who is returning from right shoulder inflammation. He previously pitched two minor league games - on July 24 and July 30 - before a setback made the Nats shut him down altogether.

Ross has a 3.49 ERA in 16 MLB starts this season. He last pitched on July 3 against the Reds.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Nats send down Wilmer Difo to call up Lucas Giolito to face Rockies

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Nats send down Wilmer Difo to call up Lucas Giolito to face Rockies

In need of a starter to fill the void left by injuries in their rotation, the Nationals called up top prospect Lucas Giolito on Sunday morning to face the Colorado Rockies.

Infielder Wilmer Difo was optioned to Double-A Harrisburg as the corresponding move, though he will likely be back soon with the minor league season ending in just over a week and MLB rosters expanding on Sept. 1.

Difo, 24, hit .257 with two doubles, five RBI and six runs in 18 games for the Nats before getting sent back down. He joined the team on July 27 when Stephen Drew landed on the disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.

Difo stuck around as Drew made little progress in his recovery. Now over a month later, Drew still does not have a clear timeline to return. If he doesn't show improvement over the next few weeks, Difo could again become a valuable piece for the Nationals as a backup infielder who can play multiple positions. Difo also bats switch, which is always a plus.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

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Top prospect Lucas Giolito faces Rockies as Nats close homestand

Top prospect Lucas Giolito faces Rockies as Nats close homestand

Nats (75-54) at Rockies (61-68) at Nationals Park

Lucas Giolito, the top prospect in the Nationals' organization, is back in Washington, this time to face the Colorado Rockies in his fourth career MLB start. Giolito will pitch in the big leagues for the first time since July 24, over a month ago. He will get his toughest test yet in the Rockies, who boast the highest-scoring lineup in the National League.

Pitching for Colorado will be right-hander Chad Bettis (10-7, 5.29). He saw the Nats two starts ago and gave up two runs through three innings at Coors Field. His start was cut short due to a rain delay.

Jayson Werth gets the day off with Ben Revere in left field. Revere is batting second with the rest of the lineup just like it was on Saturday.

First pitch: 1:35 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Lucas Giolito vs. Rockies - Chad Bettis

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Ben Revere
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Lucas Giolito

ROCKIES

CF Charlie Blackmon
2B D.J. LeMahieu
RF Carlos Gonzalez
3B Nolan Arenado
LF David Dahl
1B Gerardo Parra
SS Daniel Descalso
C Tony Wolters
RHP Chad Bettis

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