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Another blown save costs Nationals first game of double-header against Phillies

Another blown save costs Nationals first game of double-header against Phillies

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After the Nationals' latest blown save, Washington manager Dusty Baker said he's open to a move to bolster his faltering bullpen.

He also knows he might have to wait a while.

Shawn Kelley struggled Sunday before Koda Glover allowed Ty Kelly's tiebreaking RBI single in Philadelphia's three-run ninth inning, sending the Nationals to a 4-3 loss to the Phillies in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.

"You're always pushing for a trade, but there ain't nobody trading right now," Baker said after his team suffered a third blown save in six games. "Sometimes you have no choice but to have patience. Nobody's going to drop you down a knockdown closer out of the sky until there's some teams out of it."

Aaron Altherr opened the ninth with his eighth homer. Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp hit consecutive doubles off Kelley, and Freddy Galvis walked before Kelly's clutch swing lifted Philadelphia to its third win in 14 games.

"We've been in a hole, trying to climb out," Philadelphia manager Pete Mackanin said.

The Phillies also came back from three runs down to win in the teams' series finale last weekend in Philadelphia.

"That's how it's been against these guys all year," Altherr said of the Nationals relievers, who entered Sunday with a combined NL-worst 5.18 ERA. "We know their bullpen has been struggling a little bit. Never give up, never quit, keep fighting."

Kelley (3-1) blew his second save in five opportunities. The right-hander was activated from the disabled list Friday after being sidelined with a back strain and got the win with a scoreless inning in Saturday's 6-4 victory.

"I wasn't 100 percent," Kelley said of the quick turnaround. "But we don't always pitch 100 percent every time out. The bottom line is, in that situation, I want the ball there. And I've got to do my job, and I didn't."

Joaquin Benoit (1-2) pitched a scoreless eighth for Philadelphia, and Hector Neris finished for his fourth save.

Bryce Harper hit his 12th homer for NL East-leading Washington, and Trea Turner added a two-run shot.

Gio Gonzalez allowed one run and four hits in 6 2/3 innings, but saw a late lead disappear with the bullpen for the second time this season.

"This is just, `Turn the page, hey it happens, it's part of baseball,'" Gonzalez said of Kelley. "I know for a fact that he put his heart out there and he tried his best, you know."

Tommy Joseph hit an opposite-field homer off Gonzalez in the seventh, setting up Philadelphia's late rally.

TRAINERS ROOM

Phillies: INF Howie Kendrick (abdominal strain) is about to begin swinging the bat and will have at least one rehab game before returning, Mackanin said.

Nationals: LF Jayson Werth was out of the lineup for both games after leaving Saturday night's game because of groin tightness.

HOMER HAPPY

Harper has homered five times in eight games against the Phillies, even after missing an entire series with a groin injury.

SO IT'S BEEN A WHILE

Hellickson's fourth start against Washington in the season's 34th game is the earliest a Phillies starter has seen a team that many times since Jumbo Elliott faced the Brooklyn Dodgers for a fourth time in the 32nd game of the 1931 season.

UP NEXT

Phillies: Game 2 right-handed starter Vince Velazquez has a 6.88 ERA in six career starts vs. Washington, including an 8.18 ERA in two starts this season.

Nationals: Righty ace Max Scherzer aims for his 53rd career double-digit strikeout game -- and third straight -- to pass the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw for the most among active players.

MORE NATIONALS: Bryce Harper said he wants to be like John Wall

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MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

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USA Today Sports

MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

Two weeks remain in the regular season for the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and the rest of Major League Baseball.

Already, the Nationals have clinched a spot in the MLB postseason, while the Orioles are still clinging to an outside chance of making it through to one of the two Wild Card spots. If Baltimore were to make the surprise climb they would likely be the third team from the AL East to make the MLB postseason.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Washington is joined by the Los Angeles Dodgers as the only two teams to have claimed a playoff berth in the National League. This past weekend the Dodgers took two out of three in a pivotal series from the Nationals to hold on to the top seed. The lead is now up to 6 games for Los Angeles after it was down to only 3.5 games in the middle of the week.

MORE NATS: STRASBURG PREVENTS SWEEP FROM DODGERS

The Dodgers have not clinched their division yet but with their turnaround in Washington this past weekend it is only a matter of time. Leading the Arizona Diamondbacks by 9.5 games, the Dodgers magic number is only four. With 96 wins, Los Angeles also would be the team to hold home-field advantage throughout the postseason, including the World Series.

Only the National League Central Division has an interesting battle as the year winds down, but the Chicago Cubs maintain a four game edge over the Milwaukee Brewers. Right behind the Brewers are the St. Louis Cardinals, two games back. There is brief two-game series for the Cubs in Tampa Bay before back-to-back road series against the Brewers than the Cardinals. Within a week, this division could be flipped over. It is a near lock that the division winner will be the No. 3 seed.

Arizona is likely to clinch one of the Wild Card berths this week. Colorado currently holds the second spot, and they're 2.5 up on the Brewers.

If the season were to end today, here is how the National League bracket would look:

Wild Card Round (Winner-take-all):

No. 5 Colorado Rockies (82-68) at No. 4 Arizona Diamondbacks (87-63)

National League Divisional Series (Best-of-5):

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (96-53) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Washington Nationals (90-59) vs. No. 3 Chicago Cubs (83-66)

Wild Card Race:

Arizona Diamondbacks:  +5.0
Colorado Rockies:              ---
Milwaukee Brewers:        -2.5
St. Louis Cardinals:          -4.5
Miami Marlins:                -12.5

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Thanks to their improbable 22-game winning streak, the Cleveland Indians now sit atop the American League. They hold a slight 1.5 game lead over the Houston Astros for the top seed and home-field advantage in the AL. Both of these teams have already handily clinched their divisions holding on to the No. 1 and 2 seeds.

The incredible run by Cleveland has also put them 3.5 games behind the Dodgers for home-field throughout the entire postseason.

As it does seemingly every year, the American League East will come down to the wire. The New York Yankees trail the Boston Red Sox by only three games with their season series already wrapped up. Of the Yankees final 13 games though, 10 are at home where they are 43-28 on the season. Boston only has seven at home and six on the road. New York also faces an easier stretch playing opponents with a combined .487 win percentage compared to Boston’s .501.

Unlike the National League Wild Card, which is essentially down to four teams, the American League is wide open. Ten teams are mathematically still alive including the Oakland Athletics who are 17 games under .500. New York or Boston will likely take the top Wild Card slot with the Minnesota Twins currently holding down second. The Los Angeles Angels (2.0 games back), Seattle Mariners (4.5 games back), and the Kansas City Royals (5.0 games back) are giving chase.

MORE ORIOLES: TIM BECKHAM WAS A MLB TRADE DEADLINE STEAL

It will be tough for the Twins to hold on to the final spot with 10 of their final 13 games being on the road. First up for them is a three-game series in the Bronx. The Red Sox and Orioles also start a three-game series in Baltimore with much on the line for both teams. 

If the season were to end today, here is how the American League bracket would look:

Wild Card Round (Winner-take-all):

No. 5 Minnesota Twins (78-71) at No. 4 New York Yankees (82-67)

American League Divisional Series (Best-of-5):

No. 1 Cleveland Indians (93-57) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Houston Astros (91-58) vs. No. 3 Boston Red Sox (85-64)

Wild Card Race:

New York Yankees:     +4.0
Minnesota Twins:          ---
Los Angeles Angels:     -2.0
Seattle Mariners:         -4.5
Kansas City Royals:      -5.0
Texas Rangers:             -5.0
Baltimore Orioles:       -5.5
Tampa Bay Rays:          -5.5
Toronto Blue Jays:       -8.5
Oakland Athletics:      -12.0

MORE MLB NEWS: BRYCE HARPER NEARING POSTSEASON RETURN

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Nationals' Bryce Harper takes next step in recovery from knee injury

Nationals' Bryce Harper takes next step in recovery from knee injury

WASHINGTON-- Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper took swings during batting practice Sunday for the first time since hyperextending his left knee on Aug. 12.

Harper previously had taken cuts in the batting cage, but was on the field before the Nationals' series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers. His session included several shots deep into the stands at Nationals Park.

"Just trying to get out there and trying put the bat on the ball and just try to be as fluid as I can and try to get my swing back," said the 2015 NL MVP, who is second in the NL with a .326 batting average.

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The NL East champions open the NLDS on Oct. 6.

"I hope so. That's definitely in my head," Harper said of a return goal. "That's what I want to do. That's where I want to be. But it takes time."

Harper remains second on Washington with 29 home runs this season despite missing 34 games.

He was injured at home against the Giants when he awkwardly landed on the slick first base bag during a game that was delayed by rain. Washington placed the All-Star on the disabled list the following day.

"It just happened. It's something I can't control," Harper said. "It definitely was a freak accident. We put it behind us as quick as possible and tried to get everything going as quick as we could. And then it was all behind me. I didn't really worry about it much."

The right fielder said he tested the knee Sunday running to first base. "Felt fine. Just super-easy. Just kind of jogging to first and trying to get the feel for it again. Running to first feels a lot more comfortable than running on the track. "

Harper said timing in the batter's box could be a process. If his return matches the start of the postseason, he'll have to adjust on the fly.

"It's definitely going to be a tough thing," Harper said. "If we play Chicago, I might be facing Jon Lester for my first at-bat in six weeks. That's a tough task. It's going to take some time. Hopefully, I can get back and get going a little sooner than later."

Harper was succinct with his biggest physical test remaining.

"Playing in a baseball game. That's going to be the biggest thing, getting in there and playing the game and feeling good," he said. "As long as I'm healthy, that's all I want."