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Morse finds stroke in opposite field

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Morse finds stroke in opposite field

Not that anyone was really worried Michael Morse's 0-for-the-season would continue forever, but as the outs started piling up there was at least some question about when hit No. 1 would finally come.

Then Morse erased those doubts in fairly emphatic fashion, lacing a double to right-center in the bottom of the fourth Tuesday night, snapping an 0-for-9 slump to begin his injury-shortened 2012.

Morse admitted he needed to get that first hit out of the way to clear one last mental hurdle associated with the torn lat muscle that sidelined him three months.

"Oh yeah," he said. "The first one, you kind of hit the barrel and you know when that hand-eye coordination comes in. It felt good. And like I said, it kind of clicked."

It certainly looked like things were clicking for Morse eight innings later, when he again drilled a double to right-center, this time striking the wall on the fly, to jump-start the Nationals' game-winning rally.

That display of power to right-center, something Morse put on display throughout his breakthrough 2011 season, was perhaps the surest sign to date he has fully recovered from his injury and is starting to find his groove at the plate after a slow start.

The key, Morse explained, was his ability to let the ball travel deeper into the strike zone and not be overanxious.

"The last couple days, I've been kind of connecting way out in front," he said Tuesday night. "So I've been trying to see the ball deep today. I tried to really focus on right-center. That's my power. That's where I usually hit. So after I hit that first one there, it really felt normal. It felt right."

Manager Davey Johnson noticed the same adjustment from Morse, allowing him to take advantage of his power to the opposite field.

"When you're out a long time like he was, the tendency -- with any hitter, but especially with Michael Morse -- is he's going to be out in front more than he's going to be behind, which is what he was the first couple games," Johnson said. "He hates to get jammed like any hitter, and he was trying to do something with it. So he was a little early. But he stayed with the ball better last night."

Morse figures to remain entrenched in the heart of the Nationals' lineup moving forward, though it appears he'll get at least some defensive break over the weekend when the club heads to Boston.

Needing a designated hitter in American League parks, Johnson said he's likely to tab Morse.

"I had a little discussion with some of my coaches, and I think it would be a good time to DH him, regroup and let him do some throwing," Johnson said. "But he's throwing fine. He's perfectly healthy. He hasn't had any complaints since coming back. And I like the way he's starting to swing the bat, too. But it will give us an opportunity to play some other guys."

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Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Scherzer seeks redemption

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Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Scherzer seeks redemption

ATLANTA -- In his last start, only his second in the major leagues, Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara outpitched Washington Nationals ace and Cy Young contender Max Scherzer.

On Tuesday, he gets to try it again.

Gohara (1-1, 6.30 ERA) is queued up for a rematch with Scherzer (14-6, 2.59) and the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series at SunTrust Park.

Washington (90-59) has clinched the National League East title for the fourth time in six years. Atlanta (67-81) was mathematically eliminated from playoff consideration after its Sunday loss to the New York Mets. The two teams have split 16 games this season, with the Braves winning two of three last week in Washington.

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Gohara showed why he is in contention to join the Atlanta rotation on a full-time basis in 2018. The big left-hander from Brazil, who went from Class A to the majors in one season, beat the Nationals 8-2 on Wednesday. He allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits in six innings, striking out six. He didn't issue a walk.

In that start, Gohara located his four-seam fastball -- something he couldn't do in his major league debut against Texas.

"The kid gets locked in and really competes," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "And that's what I heard about him from guys that played with him, the guys that have had him, been around him. They say once he gets out there, he's trying to beat you. That's legit stuff right there, too."

Scherzer endured his worst start of the season against the Braves last week. He gave up a season-high seven runs on seven hits and a season-high six walks in six innings. He threw 116 pitches, part of the plan to stretch him out for the postseason.

"For the first 100 pitches, I felt like I was executing pitches the way I wanted to," Scherzer said. "Then, after pitch 100, that's when the wheels fell off and I was searching for everything. Sometimes that happens. I don't think anything's broken. My arm feels fine. There's nothing wrong here. This is why I needed to pitch that deep into the game, so I can shake off some of that rust."

The big hiccup for Scherzer came when he allowed a grand slam to Braves left fielder Matt Kemp. However, on Tuesday, he isn't likely to face Kemp, who has missed the past two games after leaving the Friday contest with a strained hamstring.

In 16 career appearances, 14 starts, against Atlanta, Scherzer is 6-5 with a 4.04 ERA. In 2017, he has made four starts against the Braves, going 1-2 with a 4.91. He was 4-0 against Atlanta a year ago.

The hottest batter for the Braves has been center fielder Ender Inciarte, who is 10 hits shy of becoming only the seventh player in Atlanta franchise history to reach 200. The last Brave to get 200 hits was Marquis Grissom, who had 207 in 1996.

Washington's Ryan Zimmerman is on the verge of a 30-homer/30-double season. Last week, he joined Adam Dunn as the only Nationals player to post two 30-homer seasons with the club.

 

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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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