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Nationals bullpen blows two-run ninth-inning lead against Cubs, lose 5-4

Nationals bullpen blows two-run ninth-inning lead against Cubs, lose 5-4

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Jon Jay hit a go-ahead two-run double during a three-run ninth-inning rally against Blake Treinen, lifting the Chicago Cubs over the Washington Nationals 5-4 on Thursday.

Tommy La Stella drove in a run with a two-out single against Treinen (0-2), and Jay followed with a hit to right-center that brought home Javier Baez and La Stella.

Wade Davis struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 16th save after Felix Pena (1-0) worked the eighth.

Rookie Jeimer Candelario, who started for the injured Kris Bryant at third base, broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh by launching his first career homer off starter Joe Ross.

Manager Dusty Baker was ejected for the first time in his two seasons with the Nationals after arguing a third-strike call in the sixth.

Washington took a 4-2 lead in the seventh on Anthony Rendon's two-run homer and Brian Goodwin's RBI single.

Candelario was hit by Treinen's fastball in the left knee to start the ninth-inning rally. Candelario appeared to be in significant pain and was visited by a team trainer, but stayed in the game. He went for an X-ray after the win.

The Nationals blew their 13th save this season, tying the Mets and Phillies for most in the National League. Six pitchers have at least one save for Washington, and four of them also have at least two blown saves.

The win split the four-game series and kept the defending World Series champions from falling under .500.

Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP, is expected to miss at least a couple of games after spraining his right ankle in an 8-4 loss Wednesday.

Trea Turner stole two bases, bumping up his total to seven in the series and 35 on the season. He entered the day tied for the NL lead with Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras threw out two attempted base stealers, including Turner at third base in the first.

Both teams scored a single run in the first inning before the starting pitchers dominated.

Ross allowed two runs and five hits with seven strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings. After allowing Contreras's RBI single in the first, Ross didn't allow a hit until the sixth or a run until Candelario's shot.

Cubs starter Jon Lester gave up Ryan Zimmerman's RBI single in the first, but then blanked Washington over the next five innings. He struck out seven and allowed three hits. Over his last four starts, Lester is 2-0 with 2.42 ERA. He entered with a 5.49 road ERA this season.

Nationals left fielder Ryan Raburn struck out swinging in the sixth, but replay showed he made contact with Lester's pitch. Baker argued with first base umpire David Rackley before his ejection.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Manager Joe Maddon said that with a day off Monday, he may let Bryant rest until Chicago hosts Tampa Bay Tuesday. ... SS Addison Russell (shoulder) batted fifth and finished 0 for 3 with a walk after not starting the previous three games.

UP NEXT

Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (1-4, 2.50 ERA) makes his fifth start of the season as Chicago faces Cincinnati on Friday. The Cubs are 5-1 against the Reds in 2017.

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (6-5, 5.1.5) opens a three-game series Friday at St. Louis against RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.12).

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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

MORE MLB NEWS: BRYCE HARPER NEARING POSTSEASON RETURN

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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."