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Max Scherzer strikes out 14 in the Nats 2-1 win over the Dodgers

Max Scherzer strikes out 14 in the Nats 2-1 win over the Dodgers

LOS ANGELES  -- Max Scherzer knows exactly what he is. At age 32 and in his 10th major league season, he has absolutely no doubt.

"I'm a strikeout pitcher," Scherzer said. "That's just who I am."

No one had to convince the Los Angeles Dodgers after Scherzer struck out a season-high 14, outpitching Brandon McCarthy to lead the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 victory that ended with a testy exchange Tuesday night.

With a runner on second base, Koda Glover fanned Yasiel Puig for the final out and shouted in the direction of home plate. Not pleased, Puig walked toward the mound and twice appeared to ask Glover what he said.

Glover took off his cap and tossed aside his glove as players from both teams quickly intervened to keep the two separated. Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman pulled Glover away, and nothing escalated before the squads headed off the field.

"Tempers flared a little bit," Glover said. "It is what it is. I don't have any hard feelings towards him. He was staring at me and I didn't like it."

Both starting pitchers went seven innings and allowed only three hits. The first 11 outs for Scherzer (7-3) came on strikeouts.

"He can get sharp when he needs to be," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "He had quite a few pitches early. The strikeouts don't help your pitch total, but Max was outstanding."

For the second consecutive night, a scuffling Nationals bullpen came through. Oliver Perez held the Dodgers scoreless in the eighth and Glover worked the ninth to earn his eighth save in nine tries.

"He knows what he wants to do," Scherzer said. "He's a closer. He wants the ball. He's not afraid of anybody. He's going to attack the zone. He has unbelievable stuff. He has the attitude to go out there with a chip on his shoulder."

Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy each had a sacrifice fly for Washington, which has won the first two games of this series between NL pennant contenders.

Los Angeles took a tense playoff series between the teams last year, winning in five games.

Trea Turner opened the game by beating out a little tapper to third. He stole second and third before scoring on Harper's sacrifice fly.

The Dodgers answered with a run in the bottom half after Chase Utley singled. Corey Seager's grounder to second was bobbled by Murphy for an error, and Adrian Gonzalez lined a single to score Utley.

The Nationals scored the go-ahead run in the fourth after Harper led off with a ground-rule double. Zimmerman's groundout moved him to third, and Murphy hit a deep sac fly to center field.

McCarthy (5-3), who lasted only four innings in his previous start because of a blister, walked two and struck out four.

"It seems like every single time he gets out there he has control of the game, and he's so well prepared," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "For us to have him healthy -- and we got through that blister thing tonight -- I think that's a victory in itself."

Scherzer walked two and did not permit an earned run. He struck out Taylor and Yasmani Grandal three times each. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has 38 strikeouts in his last three starts.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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."