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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Phillies 3

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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Phillies 3

Game in a nutshell: You might have been nervous after the first inning of this game, with Gio Gonzalez looking totally out of sorts and the Nationals trailing 3-1. No need to panic, though, because Gonzalez got himself back on track, and the Nats lineup bust things open again with an impressive display of power. Bryce Harper launched his second homer in as many nights, giving him 21 for the season. Michael Morse blasted two homers, the second of them a titanic clout into the visitors' bullpen. All that support -- plus some effective relief work from Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen -- set up Gonzalez to win his 21st game of the season and help the Nationals reduce their magic number to 3. The Braves, however, won for the 10th time in their last 12 games, keeping the pressure on and ensuring the Nats cannot clinch the NL East until Saturday night at the earliest.

Hitting highlight: It's been a frustrating season for Morse, who has battled serious injuries and nagging injuries and hasn't been able to produce as much as he would have liked. But the man still has the ability to hit a baseball a long way when he gets a hold of one. He didn't hit second-inning homer very far, lofting one just over the 370-foot fence in left field. But four innings later, he more than made up for it with a 451-foot bomb to right-center that sailed over the Phillies bullpen, into the Nationals' bullpen and directly into Tom Gorzelanny's hat. Yes, his hat. That was Morse's 16th homer of the season, and remarkably 12 of them have been hit to the right of center field.

Pitching highlight: The way the bottom of the first inning played out, you never would have guessed Gonzalez would wind up being credited with a quality start. He needed 37 pitches to get through that first frame, with three runs crossing the plate. His command was all over the place, leading to three walks. But he somehow battled back from that and righted his ship. Over his next five innings, Gonzalez didn't allow a run, didn't walk another batter and threw only 69 pitches. Quite a stunning turnaround. And because of it (and some run support from his teammates) the lefty departed in position to earn his MLB-leading 21st win, staying ahead of the Mets' R.A. Dickey (who notched his 20th win earlier in the day).

Key stat: For the moment, Gonzalez has thrown 199 13 innings. No pitcher in history has ever ended a season with 21 or more wins while throwing fewer than 200 innings. Gonzalez may make one more start Tuesday, depending on the Nats' status.

Up next: The penultimate series of the regular season is upon us, with the Nationals traveling to St. Louis for a weekend tilt with the Wild-Card-clinch-seeking Cardinals. Edwin Jackson, owner of a 2011 Cards World Series ring, starts Friday's 8:15 p.m. EDT opener against former rotation mate Adam Wainwright.

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Ryan Zimmerman sets career high in homers vs. Braves

Ryan Zimmerman sets career high in homers vs. Braves

Ryan Zimmerman's resurgent season continues to get more and more impressive. 

Zimmerman hit his 34th home run of the season on Thursday night, setting a new career high. 

His previous career high was set in 2009, when he hit 33 while slashing .292/.364/.525 with a .888 OPS. 

He didn't get cheated on it, either: 

RELATED: MLB POWER RANKINGS

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Updated MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

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USA Today Sports Images

Updated MLB Postseason 2017 Bracket Projection

Postseason teams are continuing to win, except for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and some incredible runs put on by teams just outside of the playoffs are being pushed to the side.

Although most of the divisions have been wrapped up, the battle for first place in each league and the overall top seed for home-field throughout the playoffs are getting heated. Of course the Dodgers losing three straight to Philadelphia Phillies, with the potential for the sweep tonight, is a huge factor.

RELATED: IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE WILD CARD RACE

Still at 96 wins they hold the best record in baseball but everyone is charging fast. Cleveland is now a game behind for home-field throughout the playoffs and Houston is 2.5 back. The Indians have won 26 of their last 27 and the Astros have claimed six straight.

The Washington Nationals (NL East Division Winner) have all but clinched the No. 2 seed in the National League and are slowly catching up to the Dodgers for No. 1.

After getting swept by the Boston Red Sox at home, the Baltimore Orioles postseason hopes are all but gone. With the possibility of losing Zach Britton it may be time to see the white flag.

Since the last bracket update on September 18, only the Boston Red Sox have clinched a postseason spot.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Things are not looking good in Los Angeles as the Phillies are in control of the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw gave up a grand slam in the sixth of his lone start and the bullpen has not been much better in the last two games. With the potential of the sweep tonight, the Dodgers are not trending in the right direction with the playoffs around the corner.

As a result, the Nationals are back into the fold for first place after winning two straight against the Atlanta Braves (the series finale is tonight). Only back 3.5 games for the top seed in the National League, the Nationals are in a golden opportunity. On top of making this run with a six-man rotation to get playoff starters rest, the team is going against opponents with a .432 winning percentage the rest of the way.

MORE NATS: SCHERZER'S HSITORIC NIGHT

While the Dodgers have struggled, their NL West rival, the Arizona Diamondbacks have not done much better. Arizona lost two of three to the Padres, only gaining one game on the Dodgers division lead. Los Angeles’ magic number is two with ten games remaining.

The National League Central Division has crunched up slightly from Monday. Chicago still leads but it is now down to 3.5 edge over the Milwaukee Brewers. Right behind the Brewers are the St. Louis Cardinals five games back of the Cubs. It is now gut-check time for the Cubs who have won seven of their last ten. Today they head to Milwaukee for a four game series that will likely decide the division and then head to St. Louis who are still in the thick of things.

Despite the bumps, Arizona is still well in control of their playoff fate. Colorado is behind them by 5.5 games for the first Wild Card, but the Brewers (-1.0 game) and Cardinals (-2.5 games) are now within striking range.

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 (82-70) at No. 4 Arizona Diamondbacks (88-65)

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

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (96-56) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Washington Nationals (92-59) vs. No. 3 Chicago Cubs (84-67)

Wild Card Race:

Arizona Diamondbacks:  +5.5
Colorado Rockies:             ---
Milwaukee Brewers:         -1.0
St. Louis Cardinals:          -2.5
Miami Marlins:                -10.0

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Both the Indians (AL Central Division Winner) and the Astros (AL West Division Winner) continue to win so there is not much change among the top teams in the American League. The lead for Cleveland for the top seed is 1.5 games. This upcoming weekend, Houston does face their division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels who are battling for one of the two Wild Card spots. Likely it is the chance for Cleveland to pull away.

The New York Yankees completed a dominant sweep of the Minnesota Twins in a battle of potential Wild Card teams. However, the Boston Red Sox also swept the Orioles preventing the Yankees from gaining any ground in the AL East race. Still back three games, New York still has the advantage of playing lesser opponents (combined .478 winning percentage) at home. Surprisingly there will not be an end-of-season series between the two to decide the division.

Boston’s sweep earned them a post-season berth but their magic number for the division is eight games.

With the Twins getting swept, ten teams remain in contention for the final Wild Card spot. Again, New York/ Boston has all but locked up the top Wild Card. The Texas Rangers (2.5 games back) have taken two straight in Seattle, vaulting the Rangers into contention but dropping the Mariners (4.0 games back). Facing the Indians, the Los Angeles Angels have barely moved (1.5 games back). Creeping in after being after-thoughts are the Kansas City Royals (3.5 games back) and Tampa Bay Rays (4.0 games back).

MORE ORIOLES: TIM BECKHAM WAS A MLB TRADE DEADLINE STEAL

Fortunately for the Twins, they get the chance for a rebound series against the Detroit Tigers this weekend.  Los Angeles travels to Houston for three games, New York heads to Toronto, Texas continues their West Coast road trip with the Athletics, while the Royals host the lowly White Sox.

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 (78-74) at No. 4 New York Yankees (85-67)

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

No. 1 Cleveland Indians (95-57) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Houston Astros (93-58) vs. No. 3 Boston Red Sox (88-64)

Wild Card Race:

New York Yankees:     +7.0
Minnesota Twins:           ---
Los Angeles Angels:     -1.5
Texas Rangers:             -2.5
Kansas City Royals:      -3.5
Seattle Mariners:           -4.0
Tampa Bay Rays:          -4.0
Baltimore Orioles:          -5.5
Toronto Blue Jays:        -7.0
Oakland Athletics:         -9.0

All records and standings are as of Thursday morning at 9:00 am, check back next Monday and Thursday for MLB bracket updates.

MORE MLB NEWS: WHEN WILL BRYCE HARPER RETURN TO THE NATS?