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Nationals beat Phillies for MLB's best record

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Nationals beat Phillies for MLB's best record

The Washington Nationals -- who never posted a winning record, never reached the playoffs and never won a division title in their first seven seasons in the District -- didn't just knock down all those barriers in year eight. They managed to knock down an even bigger one: Posting the best record in the major leagues.

With a 5-1 victory over the Phillies during Wednesday's regular-season finale, the Nationals capped off a 98-64 season that wasn't surpassed by any other franchise in the big leagues and was good enough to secure home-field advantage as long as their playoff run extends.

No matter how much optimism surrounded the organization when it gathered in Viera, Fla., in late February for spring training, few could have dreamed this big.

"It's quite an accomplishment," Ryan Zimmerman, the only player to appear in a game in all eight of the Nationals seasons, said. "Obviously winning the division was a goal, and now we've done that, and we have a chance to go do some stuff in the playoffs. This is a great season, a great team, a good group of guys, and we accomplished a lot that we should be proud of. But we have a lot more to accomplish, hopefully."

They'll wipe the slate clean and begin that journey Sunday, on the road for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the winner of Friday's winner-take-all Wild Card game between the Braves and Cardinals.

They'll enter the postseason as the No. 1 seed, a distinction that usually includes a target on their backs. But the Nationals are the only new faces among the five NL playoff participants, a group that includes the last two World Series champions (St. Louis and San Francisco) and two franchises with rich traditions that reached the postseason as recently as 2010 (Atlanta and Cincinnati).

And, as recent postseason history has shown, seeding rarely means much in October.

"I mean, once you get in, you're in, no matter how yet get there," said Jayson Werth, one of the few Nationals with significant playoff experience. "From there you need to be good, you need to be lucky, you've got to show up. It's not easy. Winning's not easy. Winning the whole thing is tough. It takes a lot. We're in good position. We've come this far and we're here. We've got a chance."

The Nationals gave themselves the best chance possible by winning Wednesday's finale and ensuring they would earn the top seed over the Reds. They did so by getting 6 23 strong innings from Edwin Jackson, who became the fifth member of the rotation to get 10 wins this year, and home runs from Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Michael Morse, who earned a curtain call after his eighth-inning blast to right field sealed this victory.

Win No. 98 came against the club that had ruled the NL East the last five seasons but faded to an 81-81 finish this year, and it came with a helping of sour grapes from one of the Phillies' long-time leaders.

"They had a good year," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said of a Washington club that finished 17 games ahead of his Phillies. "They're a talented team. Just playing against them for a while, you know they're talented. You always knew if they put it together and found some pitching ... and they've had the opportunity to have some big draft picks, and those guys have made it up to the big leagues and it's all come together for them. So that's great for them. But with us being healthy, you know, they're still second place. But we weren't."

Six members of the Phillies' projected Opening Day lineup and rotation (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Placido Polanco) missed a combined 309 games this season, a tough obstacle to overcome. Rollins, though, apparently forgot that five members of the Nationals' projected Opening Day lineup (Werth, Zimmerman, Morse, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos) and their projected closer (Drew Storen) missed a combined 380 games.

"We've played well all year long, dealt with a lot of adversity," Desmond said.

Perhaps the Nationals-Phillies rivalry that perked up in May when Cole Hamels admitted he intentionally threw at rookie Bryce Harper will carry over into 2013. Before that, though, the Nationals have more pressing matters.

They'll take Thursday off, return to Nationals Park for a closed workout on Friday, then watch the Wild Card game (scheduled to begin at 5:07 p.m.) to learn the identity of their first-ever playoff opponent.

They all insisted they have no preference between the Braves and Cardinals. Above all else, they understand every team they play from this point forward presents a real challenge.

There are no gimmes in October. That's the reward for winning 98 of 162 games.

"This is what it's all about," Werth said. "This is what you play your whole life for, to get to this point, and we've got a chance to do something special here. We've got a good team and a good group of guys, and I think the city can be proud of that."

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MLB Postseason projection: Updated bracket with one week left

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USA Today Sports Images

MLB Postseason projection: Updated bracket with one week left

A week from today, the 2017 MLB postseason is scheduled to take off with the American League Wild Card game.

Still with six or less games remaining for every team, there is little that we know in terms of the exact positioning of each team in the postseason.

As of Tuesday morning, there are seven teams that are guaranteed to be in the playoffs. Three spots, the NL Central and a Wild Card spot in each league, are still up for grabs.

RELATED: IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE WILD CARD RACE

Besides the NL Central, only the AL East is the other division that has not announced a division winner.

Also up for grabs is overall home field throughout the World Series. Without the MLB All-Star Game determining who starts as the host of the series, whichever team finishes with a higher record will have home field. That race is alive and well.

Right now it is the Los Angles Dodgers (100-57), who have leveled out after a rough August stretch, that leads the charge. Right behind them is the Cleveland Indians (1.5 GB), the Houston Astros (3.5 GB) and the Washington Nationals (4.5 GB). Surprisingly enough the Nationals face the easiest competition against the Phillies and Pirates to end the season. It will be tough for the Dodgers to keep up the pace finishing the season playing the Rockies who are still trying to claim the second NL Wild Card.

For the final three remaining postseason spots, there are nine teams mathematically alive as of Tuesday morning.

Since the last bracket update on September 22, the New York Yankees have clinched a postseason spot and the Arizona Diamondbacks have clinched the top Wild Card spot in the National League.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Leveling out and winning five of their last 10, the Dodgers are limping into the playoffs. Ultimately, with no push from the Nationals, Los Angeles will go on to claim the top spot in the National League.

With that, the Nationals will be regulated to second place as they have been resting their top players for over a week. Still the team is waiting for Bryce Harper to come back from what could have been a devastating injury. He is expected to be back in the line-up at some point this week.

Having a scary schedule to end the season, the Chicago Cubs (88-68) took care of business winning three of four against the Brewers this past weekend. It has garnered a magic number of now one for Chicago to claim the division and also the No. 3 seed in the postseason.

MORE NATS: WOULD YOU RATHER TAKE THE CUBS OR BREWERS?

The Arizona Diamondbacks are the only team in the postseason to know their fate once the season ends. They will be hosting the National League Wild Card Game on Oct. 4, clinching the first Wild Card spot.

Essentially, the only race in the National League is for the second Wild Card. Colorado holds the edge but only slightly as they play the Marlins and then host the Dodgers to end the year. The Brewers (1.5 GB) and Cardinals (-2.5 games) stay alive but have to win and hope for the Rockies to lose. Click here for an in-depth look at the NL Wild Card race.

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 (84-73) at No. 4 Arizona Diamondbacks (90-67)

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

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (100-57) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Washington Nationals (95-61) vs. No. 3 Chicago Cubs (88-68)

Wild Card Race:

Colorado Rockies:             ---
Milwaukee Brewers:        -1.5
St. Louis Cardinals:          -2.5

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Every year it seems that as the season comes to a close, the American League East is still up for grabs. Both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have already clinched a playoff spot, but with New York’s win and Boston’s loss on Monday, the race has opened up once again. It ultimately will be the difference between the No. 3 seed and the Wild Card play-in game, but likely the Red Sox are not going to relinquish the division crown.

Both the Indians (AL Central Division Winner) and the Astros (AL West Division Winner) now have a heated battle for the top seed in the American League. Neither team appears to be conceding to rest players either. The lead for Cleveland is currently at 2.0 games. The remaining schedule favors the Indians as the Astros face the Rangers and the Red Sox to end the year, all on the road.

By the end of the night, the Minnesota Twins, who have a magic number of two, could wrap up the second Wild Card. A win over Cleveland and a loss by the Angels against the White Sox is all they need to clinch a postseason berth. The only saving grace for Los Angeles is that the Twins do have a three game series with Cleveland who has won 29 of their last 31. Click here for an in-depth look at the AL Wild Card race.

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 (82-74) at No. 4 New York Yankees (87-69)

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

No. 1 Cleveland Indians (98-58) vs. Wild Card Round Winner
No. 2 Houston Astros (96-60) vs. No. 3 Boston Red Sox (91-65)

Wild Card Race:

New York Yankees:     +5.0
Minnesota Twins:           ---
Los Angeles Angels:     -5.0
Texas Rangers:             -6.0
Kansas City Royals:      -6.0
Tampa Bay Rays:          -6.0

All records and standings are as of Thursday morning at 9:00 am.

MORE NATS: NATS’ COSTUMES FROM PLAYER’S GAME OF THRONES NIGHT

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Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth awesomely lead Nats' 'Game of Thrones' dress-up

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Instagram: @bharper3407

Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth awesomely lead Nats' 'Game of Thrones' dress-up

The Washington Nationals are known for getting dressing up as fictional and real characters and getting really into it, but Sunday, they topped themselves. 

Led by Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, the team went all-out, die-hard "Game of Thrones" this year, and it was spectacular. Werth was dressed as Jon Snow, while Harper got super into it as Snow's direwolf, Ghost. 

But while Harper and Werth are definitely the highlight of this tradtion, other Nats' costumes looked pretty great (and accurate) as well. 

Number 1 team this side of The Wall!! #nats #mlb #gameofthrones #rookiedressup

A post shared by Sammy Solis (@sammy22solis) on

Rookie dress up time! #gameofthrones #faithmilitant #nats #mlb

A post shared by Sammy Solis (@sammy22solis) on

And thanks to Sammy Solis' Instagram account, there's also proof he ran into George R.R. Martin, the novelist behind "Game of Thrones."

Weird running into George R. R. Martin in the lobby 🤔 #gameofthrones #nats

A post shared by Sammy Solis (@sammy22solis) on

MORE MLB: Updated Wild Card Standings with 7 days remaining