Would the Nationals have won the NLCS?

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Would the Nationals have won the NLCS?

If you've been able to muster up the strength to watch this year's NLCS -- and it's perfectly understandable if you haven't, given how Game 5 of the NLDS ended -- you've seen quite a compelling series between the last two World Series champions, each of them making a desperate push to reach the Fall Classic again.

You also might have emerged from all this contemplating a simple, and perhaps painful, question: Would the Nationals have won this thing had they simply not blown a six-run lead to the Cardinals 10 days ago?

There's legitimate reason to believe they would, in fact, have won the pennant and secured a date with the Tigers in the World Series.

There's obviously no way to know how a series that never took place would have played out. But given the way they handled the Giants during the regular season, and given the way that potential NLCS would have set up, the Nationals certainly would have been in a favorable position.

The Giants, make no mistake, are a resilient bunch and got some fantastic pitching performances from Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong to win Games 5 and 6 and stave off elimination. But they haven't done much of anything at the plate, aside from Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, and will enter Game 7 with a .241 team batting average and paltry .369 slugging percentage in the series.

The Nationals, meanwhile, feasted on Vogelsong during their only encounter this season, racking up eight runs on nine hits Aug. 13 against what was then the NL's ERA leader.

But the biggest advantage the Nationals would have had in this phantom NLCS would have been their home-field advantage. The Giants' pitching staff fared far better at AT&T Park this season (3.09 ERA) than it did away from that spacious ballpark along McCovey Cove (4.29 ERA).

And unlike the case in the actual NLCS against the fourth-seeded Cardinals, third-seeded San Francisco would not have held home-field advantage against Washington. Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 would have been played at Nationals Park, which you have to believe would have favored Davey Johnson's club.

Not only because of the Giants' road struggles this season, but because of history. Home-field advantage may not mean much in the best-of-five Division Series, but it means a whole lot in the best-of-seven Championship Series and World Series.

There have been only 23 Game 7s played in baseball over the last 30 years. And in those winner-take-all showdowns, the home team is 18-5.

History, then, would have been on the Nationals side had they found themselves in position to host Game 7 of the NLCS tonight.

That game, of course, isn't being played on South Capitol Street. It's being played on the other side of the continent, in front of a rabid San Francisco fan base that figures to aid the Giants' cause.

That may still be a bitter pill for the Nationals and their fans to swallow, recognizing just how close they were to finding themselves in this very position right now instead of watching it all unfold on television.

But if you've refused to partake yourself over the last week, do yourself a favor and tune in to Game 7 tonight. These classic October battles, as pointed out above, simply don't happen that often. And they typically produce some of the most memorable games in baseball history, whether it was rookie David Price preserving the upstart Rays' ninth-inning lead against the mighty Red Sox in 2008 or Aaron Boone taking Tim Wakefield deep into the Bronx night in 2003 or Sid Bream sliding in just ahead of Barry Bonds' throw to the plate in 1992.

Yes, it may still be painful to realize the Nationals could -- perhaps should -- have been the ones playing tonight. But nothing is going to change that now. Might as well enjoy the high drama of a Game 7 involving two franchises that have been staving off elimination all month and now meet in the ultimate pressure cooker of a ballgame.

State of the Nats: Turner close? Plus, Scherzer's Mount Rushmore

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State of the Nats: Turner close? Plus, Scherzer's Mount Rushmore

Team Record: 30-21

Top storylines

When will we see Trea Turner? - The Nationals are in first place in the NL East and could make a significant addition to their roster very soon. 

Waiting in Triple-A is shortstop Trea Turner, who is batting .319 through 47 games with Syracuse and is ranked the ninth-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He has yet to play with the Nationals this season in part due to his MLB service time clock, but as of this week, that is no longer a concern.

By keeping Turner in the minors until now, the Nationals preserved an extra year of Turner's rookie contract. The cutoff is 172 days on a 25-man roster, what is considered a full year of service time. Turner logged 45 days last year and there are 126 days remaining in the 2016 regular season. Add those two numbers up and you get 171, one day short of the full-year allotment.

Exactly when the Nats will pull the trigger to bring up Turner and whom will be affected is not clear. The obvious first place to look is at shortstop where Danny Espinosa is batting just .201/.299/.314. With his high average and impressive speed (16-for-16 in SB at Triple-A), Turner may represent an upgrade offensively, even if he takes time to adjust to the big league level. But what about defense? Espinosa remains a plus-defender at shortstop, while Turner has committed eight errors already in 44 games at Syracuse. That pace would give him 29 over a 162-game season, which is a lot.

When Turner comes up, the Nats will have to remove somebody from their bench. Stephen Drew is currently their backup infielder and is on a one-year, $3 million deal. Interestingly enough, Drew has a series of performance bonuses in his contract based on games played. If he reaches 80 games this season, for instance, he earns another $150,000. If he gets to 90 games it's another $200,000 and another $200,000 for 100. For 110 games he would get $250,000. Drew has only appeared in 27 games this season, so the extra money isn't a pressing concern for the Nats, but it is something to consider.

As far as his performance on the field goes, Drew's .157 batting average isn't doing him any favors, but he does bring value defensively with the ability to play three positions. Aside from the one time he lost a ball in the sun, he's been fairly solid at second base, third base and at shortstop.

Scherzer's Mount Rushmore - This week I spoke with Max Scherzer for a separate story, but also threw in some random questions towards the end of our conversation, including one on his favorite pitchers of all-time. Scherzer knew immediately who to highlight, as he had clearly thought of this before.

"My four favorites growing up, my Mount Rushmore, it was [Greg] Maddux, [John] Smoltz, Pedro [Martinez] and Randy Johnson. Those four, those were my guys. I loved the way Pedro went after and attacked hitters. I loved the way he threw the ball just with everything. Those were the guys I always tuned in to and made sure I always tried to find if I were ever going to a baseball game and knew they were going to throw," he said. 

"You can appreciate everything that those guys did, what made them successful and how they went after hitters and how they were all able to do it for such a long time. I think that's the thing. Anybody can have a great year, but when you start talking about longevity of a career, eight to 10 years of pitching at an elite level, that's an unbelievable feat."

NL East Standings

Offensive game of the week: Ryan Zimmerman 5/28 vs. Cardinals - 4-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R

Pitching line of the week: Joe Ross 5/26 vs. Cardinals - 7.0 IP, ER, 6 H, 4 SO, BB, 110 pitches (74 strikes)

Quote of the Week 

"I guess the baseball gods don't want me to wear the batting gloves right now. I went up and hit a homer and came back and cut 'em up just so guys don't come out of the trash can and grab 'em and sell 'em. It's happened before."

- Bryce Harper on cutting up his batting gloves after hitting a homer in Saturday night's loss

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

Road Ahead

Mon. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Roark vs. Hellickson)
Tue. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Ross vs. Nola)
Wed. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Scherzer vs. Morgan)
Thu. - OFF
Fri. - 7:10 p.m. at Cincinnati Reds (Strasburg vs. Straily)
Sat. - 4:10 p.m. at Cincinnati Reds (Roark vs. Moscot)
Sun. - 1:10 p.m. at Cincinnati Reds (Ross vs. Latos)

How Wilson Ramos' daughter helped key his 4-RBI day in Nats' win

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How Wilson Ramos' daughter helped key his 4-RBI day in Nats' win

Of all the great uses for iPads, from business to education to watching movies on flights, many parents would argue there is no better utility for the Apple product than keeping children entertained.

Kids absolutely love them. The lights, the sounds, the games, the pictures. It's sensory overload and they'll entertain - and often keep quiet - a child for up to hours at a time.

For Wilson Ramos this weekend, it went much further than that. His young daughter - who turns two later this year - was watching cartoons on his iPad on Saturday night when she stumbled across a highlight video of him hitting a home run against the Chicago Cubs on May 6 at Wrigley Field. 

"For some reason, she was pointing it out and saying, ‘Daddy, daddy!’ Kinda like saying this is you," Ramos said through an interpreter after Sunday's 10-2 win over the Cardinals.

"For whatever reason, today I took that same approach like I did back then, nice and relaxed. And it worked out."

Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu may have some competition, because Ramos' daughter was on to something, whether intentionally or not. 

The Nats catcher reached base four times on Sunday with three hits - including a two-run homer - and a walk. It was the fifth time in 40 games this season that he's been on base four times.

Ramos' homer came in the eighth inning off Cardinals reliever Tyler Lyons. It was Ramos' sixth home run of the season and his fourth in the month of May. Ramos is now batting .336 this season to lead all MLB catchers. That number ranks ninth in all of baseball and second on the Nationals behind only Daniel Murphy.

Ramos' other big hit Sunday was a two-RBI single in the fourth inning against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha. He took a 94 mile per hour fastball the other way to right field to score Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and put the Nationals up 3-1 at the time.

It was yet another game this season where Ramos has helped lead the way on offense. The 28-year-old backstop has - perhaps quietly - been one of the key cogs for the Nationals so far this season.

Some of it has to do with health, as well as the LASIK surgery he had during spring training. But don't forget his daughter.

"For some reason she’s learned how to play with it and look up certain files," Ramos said. "I’m going to try to put the same things on, little cartoons for her, and hopefully she takes it away and swipes to my at-bats and hopefully they’re good ones."

Stats you need to know in advance of Nationals' road trip

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Stats you need to know in advance of Nationals' road trip

BY RICH GOLDBERG (@GoldyStats)

After dismantling the Cardinals 10-2 in the series finale on Sunday, the Nationals hit the road for a nine-game road trip that will see them take on their N.L. East rival Philadelphia Phillies, the N.L. Central cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds and the suddenly ice-cold Chicago White Sox.

CSN researcher Rich Goldberg details the five stats you need to know before the Nats start June off on the road.

RELATED: CONSISTENCY KEY TO STRASBURG'S HISTORIC START

1. Bryce Harper has a 6-game home run streak at Philadelphia.

The only other visiting player to do that in Philadelphia? Hall of Famer Ernie Banks back in 1955.

 

2. Wilson Ramos is hitting .336 and leads all MLB catchers.

The previous 5 seasons, Ramos batted .270, .246, .250, .265 and .252 through the end of May.

 

3. Daniel Murphy has a career .406 batting average (26 for 64) at Great American Ballpark.

That is Murphy’s highest BA at any ballpark with a minimum of 4 games played.

 

4. Tanner Roark is 1-4 with a 8.27 career ERA in 5 road games (4 starts) at Philadelphia.

Roark has the fifth worst ERA by a visiting player at Citizens Bank Park, with a minimum of 4 starts. Roark pitches Monday against the Phillies.

 

5. Stephen Strasburg is the first pitcher in Nationals/Expos history to begin a season 9-0 and he’s 9 strikeouts away from his 1000th career K.

Strasburg is scheduled to start Saturday against the Reds.