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Daniel Murphy adds to his October resume in Nationals' Game 2 win over Dodgers

Daniel Murphy adds to his October resume in Nationals' Game 2 win over Dodgers

Postseason heroics are nothing new for Daniel Murphy. It’s how he made his name in 2015 as a member of the New York Mets, as they rode his hot streak at the plate all the way to a World Series appearance.

The magic from last October hasn’t dissipated; Murphy would sign a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the division rival Nationals and prove his torrid stretch was no fluke. He turned in a career year (.347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI) that put him squarely in the NL MVP discussion.   

So even if he would be in a different uniform this time around, the Nats didn't have any reason to expect that Murphy wouldn't excel on game’s biggest stage. 

“He wants to be in that position,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s where it starts. You have to want to be in that position.”

Indeed, Murphy has picked up where he left off last postseason. While Jose Lobaton had the big blow in Sunday’s 5-2 win, the 31-year-old second baseman did his part by going 3-for-3 with run with a pair of crucial RBI singles.  

The three-hit effort raised Murphy's career playoff average to .359 (18-for-64) over 16 games.

“He's just a great player,” left fielder Jayson Werth said afterward. “What he did last year down the stretch, he's been able to hold on to that and keep it going. It's really cool to see. Obviously a big part of our team.”

“He's one of the best in baseball,” added right fielder Bryce Harper. “That's the MVP this year. He did it the right way and bringing it on to the postseason.”

Murphy’s had quite the 12 month-stretch, and yet he hasn’t spent much of it patting himself on the back. Instead, he’s quick to point to his teammates for his success.

“One of the first things that I’ve been fortunate to be in is a really good spot in two really good lineups,” said Murphy, who’s batted cleanup for most of this season. “...I get to reap the benefits of guys on base in front of me and guys swinging the bat well behind me.”

On Sunday, Murphy gave the Nats what they had been missing in their previous two playoff trips in 2012 and 2014. He especially excelled with runners in scoring position, spraying singles to right and center field to plate insurance runs after Washington grabbed a 3-2 fourth-inning lead.

For a lineup that sometimes gets too keen on hitting the long ball, Murphy’s approach is a welcome sight.

 “I think that's what experience gives you," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Being in the big leagues now for seven years like he has, and having been in those RBI situations where you know the pitcher is not going to give in, he just does such a good job of sticking with it.”

Perhaps the only reason anyone would have thought Murphy wouldn’t perform was because of his strained left glute he suffered in mid-September. With the Nats virtually assured a playoff spot at the time, they shut their best hitter down for the rest of the regular season in hopes to get him closer to full strength for the playoffs.

So far, so good, as Murphy’s resembled exactly the type of October hero Washington needs him to be. 

“[He] didn't play for three weeks, and now he's raking again,” Harper said “He's just incredible. A lot of fun to watch. We need that out of him, and [it was] huge game for him." 

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Nationals, without their big guns, fall to Mets

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Nationals, without their big guns, fall to Mets

NEW YORK -- Travis d'Arnaud hit two home runs and the New York Mets ended a three-game skid, rallying past a watered-down lineup of Washington Nationals 7-6 on Friday night.

Washington manager Dusty Baker said he needed to "give my big boys much needed rest" with the playoffs nearing, and not a single regular started for the NL East champions. Star Daniel Murphy pinch hit in the eighth and flied out.

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The Nationals begin the Division Series in exactly two weeks. If the current standings hold, they would host the World Series champion Chicago Cubs to open the best-of-five matchup.

Adam Lind hit a three-run homer for Washington. It was the Nationals' 203rd home run this season, matching the franchise record dating to 1969 when they were the Montreal Expos.

Howie Kendrick had an RBI double and prized prospect Victor Robles lined a two-run triple in the fifth that put Washington ahead 6-1.

Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley exited in the eighth inning because of an apparent injury. He' has struggled this season and missed more than two months because of back problems.

Nori Aoki had three hits for the Mets, including a go-ahead double in the sixth inning off Joe Blanton (2-4).

Chasen Bradford (2-0) pitched a scoreless inning for the win.

Jeurys Familia, the Mets' third pitcher in the ninth inning, came on to strike out Robles with runners on first and third for his fourth save -- his first since May 5. Familia, who missed three months after surgery to repair a blood clot, entered as part of a double switch, with Kevin Plawecki taking over at catcher for d'Arnaud.

D'Arnaud hit a solo homer in the second and connected for a tying, three-run drive in the fifth that finished starter Edwin Jackson. That gave d'Arnaud a career-best 15 homers and marked his second multihomer game, the other coming in April against Washington.

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Mets starter Robert Gsellman allowed six runs in five innings. He moved up a day to pitch in place of ace Jacob deGrom, who was moved back in the rotation until Sunday because of a stomach illness this week.

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Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

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Cubs, Brewers, or Cardinals: potential postseason opponents for the Washington Nationals

The regular season is winding down and there is no drama in the nation’s capital.

With a stranglehold on the National League East for the entire season, the Washington Nationals were the first team in baseball to earn a playoff spot and their division. Since June, the Nationals’ lead has been hovering around 20 games. Their record against the division is 44-26 with three NL East series forthcoming.

Beyond that, positioning has not been a factor in the National League either. It was a near forgone conclusion that the Nationals were going to earn the No. 2 seed in the NL side of the postseason. There was a slight chance last week that Washington could pass the Los Angeles Dodgers with them losing 16 of 17 games. Alas, the Dodgers took two out of three in their series, solidifying their No. 1 seed hopes.

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Dusty Baker then basically threw in the towel for that race. He spread out his rotation to six pitchers and gave his players consistent rest. Focusing on the postseason more than the playoff race, he does not appear to care about their positioning.

With that, the Nationals are all but guaranteed to finish second behind the Dodgers. Floating between four and six games back, there is no sense of urgency.

There is no worry about the team in third either. The Chicago Cubs, as of September 22, sit seven games behind the Nationals and are in the thick of a Divisional race.

Either way, even if the Nationals were to collapse and the winner of the National League Central was to rocket up to second, the Nationals will play against whoever wins the division in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 match-up.

The Central has actually been the Nationals Achilles heel this year. They finished with a 17-13 record vs. NL Central teams. It is not the whole division the Nationals have to worry about though, just the one that comes out.

Entering Friday’s action the Cubs are well on their way to winning the division, according to fangraphs.com. Below are the current odds to win the division:

Chicago Cubs                     97.8%
Milwaukee Brewers          0.9%
St. Louis Cardinals            1.3%

This is slightly misleading though, because the Central could completely flip before the postseason. The lead is 4.5 over the Milwaukee Brewers and 5.0 over the St. Louis Cardinals. However of their final 10 games, three are against the Brewers, four against the Cardinals, all seven on the road.

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In the five-game NLDS the Nationals will face one of these teams. Even if it is the defending World Series Champions, you have to like the Nationals’ odds.

CHICAGO CUBS PREVIEW

Current record: 85-67
2017 Record vs. Washington: 2-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Jon Lester (11-8), Jake Arrieta (14-9), John Lackey (11-11), Kyle Hendricks (7-5), Jose Quintana (6-3)
Top position players: Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 28 HRs, 69 RBIs), Anthony Rizzo (.278 BA, 32 HRs, 107 RBIs)

If these two teams were to meet up, it would be easily the best starting pitching match-up in the National League. Likely the Cubs would only go to four guys, maybe three if they get desperate. With Jake Arrieta on the mind, that would be a dicey move to start the postseason. They have not played to the level that the 2016 did a year ago, but a majority of the position players are still in place and can still put together a run.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS PREVIEW

Current record: 81-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-4
Last head-to-head postseason series: Never
Starting pitchers: Zach Davies (17-9), Chase Anderson (11-3), Brandon Woodruff (2-2), Brent Suter (3-2)
Top position players: Domingo Santana (.281 BA, 28 HRs, 80 RBIs), Travis Shaw (.274 BA, 30 HRs, 96 RBIs)

As one of the hottest teams in the first half of the season, the Brewers are only relying on their early success. Their team has quickly cooled off and their number two starter Jimmy Nelson is out the remainder of the season. The rest of the roster is shaky at best as they are trying to stay relevant in the postseason chase. If the Nationals are fully prepared for the playoffs there should be no worries if Milwaukee represents the Central.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS PREVIEW

Current record: 80-72
2017 Record vs. Washington: 3-3
Last head-to-head postseason series: 2012; Cardinals won 3-2 in NLDS
Starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright (12-5), Carlos Martinez (12-11), Lance Lynn (11-7), Michael Wacha (12-8), Luke Weaver (7-1),
Top position players: Yadier Molina (.276 BA, 18 HRs, 82 RBIs), Tommy Pham (.311 BA, 21 HRs, 168 RBIs)

With both the Brewers and Cubs you know what you are getting, with the Cardinals it could be anything. The starting pitchers have a history of success, just not in 2017. Also how Wainwright comes back will be a huge factor in how the Central race will play out and how their odds in the postseason increase. With a mix of a young and aging line-up, the Cardinals can both win with the long ball and piece runs together by playing small ball. St. Louis is easily the most interesting team of the three and could be the scariest if the Wainwright comes back at 100%.

Both the Brewers and the Cardinals have to rely on each other to win the NL Central. They cannot do it on their individual series's alone.