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Nationals hit three homers to win third straight game against Mets

Nationals hit three homers to win third straight game against Mets

NEW YORK -- Trea Turner hit a leadoff homer and the Washington Nationals backed Stephen Strasburg with three long balls Saturday, beating the New York Mets 7-4 to stay undefeated at Citi Field this season.

Adam Lind added a two-run shot and Jose Lobaton also went deep for the NL East leaders, who can finish a four-game sweep Sunday afternoon. Washington is 6-0 in Queens this year -- part of an impressive 24-12 mark on the road -- and has won 12 of 16 at the Mets' home ballpark since the start of last season.

Yoenis Cespedes homered and had four hits for third-place New York, which dropped 11 1/2 games out of first. The banged-up Mets (30-37) expected to challenge rival Washington at the top of the division, but injuries and poor pitching have taken their toll in a race that no longer looks competitive.

Strasburg (8-2) permitted two runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings, rebounding from his worst start of the season. He struck out five and walked two.

Four relievers from a much-maligned bullpen finished up, with Enny Romero getting five outs for his second save. The left-hander gave a huge fist pump after Cespedes grounded into a game-ending double play.

Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon each had an RBI double for the Nationals, who have won seven of nine meetings with the Mets this season. Washington hit three homers for the second straight matchup and turned four double plays -- one night after spinning three behind ace Max Scherzer.

The Nationals scored once in each of the first four innings against Seth Lugo (1-1), including on a two-out throwing error by third baseman Wilmer Flores. Turner's fifth career leadoff homer and third this season, on Lugo's second pitch, was the third the Mets have allowed in their past five games.

After trailing by four twice, New York cut it to 6-4 in the eighth on an RBI single by Jose Reyes. With two on, Romero struck out Rene Rivera to end the inning -- Rivera fanned all four times up.

Rendon's run-scoring double in the ninth made it 7-4.

Lugo gave up four runs, three earned, over 6 2/3 innings in his second start of the season after recovering from elbow inflammation. He was diagnosed with a partially torn ligament late in spring training.

The Mets had won Lugo's previous eight starts dating to last year.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Shawn Kelley was receiving treatment for tightness in his neck before the game. Unless it loosened up, manager Dusty Baker did not expect Kelley to be available out of the bullpen. Kelley worked the ninth inning Friday night and threw 26 pitches in closing out a 7-2 victory.

Mets: Cespedes, who returned from a strained hamstring June 10, started his third straight game ahead of a scheduled day off Sunday. The slugger has also dealt with quadriceps and heel issues recently, and his legs were tested several times Saturday following hours of heavy rain in the early afternoon before the game. But he ran well all day, legging out two infield singles, twice going first to third and even galloping a long way for a running catch in deep left field. He hustled into second base on one of Jay Bruce's three singles and later scored one of his three runs with a feet-first slide on Flores' line-drive sacrifice fly, barely beating a strong throw from right fielder Bryce Harper.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (3-2, 6.39 ERA) pitches the series finale Sunday. Washington has scored 85 runs in Ross' eight starts this season.

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 4.33 ERA) threw 116 pitches Monday in his second career complete game, beating the Chicago Cubs 6-1 with a five-hitter. He is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in nine starts vs. the Nationals and has 22 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings against them this year.

More Nationals: NATS BULLPEN IS ONE OF THE WORST IN LAST 40 YEARS

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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.

MORE NATS: STRASBURG PREVENTS SWEEP FROM DODGERS

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."