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Looking at the Nationals' clinching scenarios

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Looking at the Nationals' clinching scenarios

PHILADELPHIA -- And so we have reached the home stretch at last, the final nine regular season games of what has turned into a most entertaining and surprising year for the Nationals.

Much as they would have loved to break out the champagne bottles and plastic locker barriers during the just-completed homestand, the Nationals couldn't quite create enough separation between themselves and the Braves to clinch the NL East title yet. Thus, the celebration is likely to happen on the road this week, either here in Philadelphia on Thursday night or sometime Friday-Sunday in St. Louis.

Wait, you ask, don't the Braves still have a chance to steal away the division crown? Well, technically yes. But the odds are stacking severely against that happening.

The Nationals enter play tonight up five games with nine to play. The magic number is 5, so any combination of five Washington wins and Atlanta losses wraps this thing up.

Think of it this way: If the Nats go only 4-5 the rest of the way, the Braves would need to go 9-0 simply to force a one-game tiebreaker for the NL East title. (And yes, they would have to play that game in Washington next Thursday, with the winner declared division champs and the losers shipped off to the Wild Card game. That's a new rule instituted by MLB this season.)

So in many ways, it almost doesn't matter what Atlanta does down the stretch as long as the Nationals play respectable baseball and don't gag everything away.

The best-case scenario for the Nats would have them clinching as soon as Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, which would be poetic in many ways after the Phillies clinched three of their five NL East crowns against Washington (2007, 2008, 2010).

Adding to the intrigue, the Nationals could have a chance not only to celebrate on the Phillies' turf but also officially eliminate them from the postseason altogether. Despite a late surge to get back in the race, Philadelphia trails the Cardinals by 5 12 games for the final Wild Card berth. Their "tragic number" to be eliminated is 4, so any combination of four Cardinals wins and Phillies losses puts an end to that long-shot dream.

If the Nationals can't wrap things up by Thursday, they'll head west to St. Louis and bring the champagne with them. That would present a potentially bizarre scenario, one that could see the Nats clinch the NL East and the Cardinals clinch the Wild Card on the same field at the same time.

How would that work? Would both teams dog-pile in the middle of the diamond? Doubtful. Whichever team won the game would likely get to celebrate, with the other retreating to its clubhouse.

And what if the Nationals can't finish this off before Sunday? Well, they would then head back home for the final, three-game series against the Phillies.

On the bright side, they'd get to clinch in front of their own fans.

Something, though, tells me Davey Johnson and Co. have no interest in experiencing that.

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Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

Nationals stage spirited rally in ninth but fall just short in series opener vs. Cubs

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wade Davis struck out batting leader Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third to end Washington's ninth-inning rally, and the Chicago Cubs held off the Nationals 5-4 Monday night.

In jeopardy of being shut out for the first time this season, the NL East-leading Nationals scored four times in the ninth. Their comeback began against Hector Rondon and continued when Davis entered.

MORE: CSN'S UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

With Washington down 5-3, Bryce Harper's single loaded the bases with two outs. Davis threw a wild pitch that scored a run before striking out a swinging Zimmerman, who's hitting .344. The final pitch bounced, and catcher Willson Contreras zipped a low throw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to close out the victory.

Contreras hit a leadoff home run in his first career game-opening at-bat and Eddie Butler (4-2) worked five scoreless innings to keep the Cubs ahead.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Jansen went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great.

It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE