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Nats cut ties with Lannan, Flores, Gorzelanny

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Nats cut ties with Lannan, Flores, Gorzelanny

The Nationals will elect not to tender contracts to left-handers John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny and catcher Jesus Flores before tonight's midnight deadline, officially cutting ties with two of the organization's longest-tenured players and the only remaining lefty in their bullpen.

The decisions to non-tender Lannan and Flores weren't surprises; neither figured into the club's plans for 2013 or beyond. The removal of Gorzelanny from the roster was more surprising given the lack of any other left-handers in the Nationals' current bullpen.

The moves aren't official yet, but a club source confirmed all are planned before midnight.

Lannan, who was drafted in 2005 out of Siena College and reached the big leagues two years later, is the Nationals' all-time leader in starts (134) and ranks second to Livan Hernandez in wins (42) and innings (783 2/3).

His standing within the organization dropped significantly this year, though, after the Nationals shipped the lefty to Class AAA Syracuse after going 10-13 with a 3.70 ERA and earning a $5 million salary through arbitration. Lannan initially requested a trade, but wound up spending the majority of the season in the minors, ultimately returning to make six starts for Washington down the stretch (he went 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA).

The Nationals could have kept Lannan in the organization for another season. He actually has one more minor-league option and could have again been stashed in Syracuse to serve as an expensive insurance policy in case of injury to another member of the rotation. But general manager Mike Rizzo, out of respect for the 28-year-old, let him instead become a free agent after failing to find a trade partner.

Flores was once thought of as the Nationals' long-term catching solution, but the former Rule 5 draft pick saw his promising career derailed by a major shoulder injury that sidelined him nearly two seasons.

Drafted away from the Mets in Dec. 2006 at the urging of Davey Johnson, who at the time served as an adviser to former GM Jim Bowden, Flores got another chance to play everyday this summer after starter Wilson Ramos suffered a season-ending knee injury. But he struggled at the plate (hitting .213) and behind the plate (throwing out only 15 percent of basestealers) and wound up back on the bench after Rizzo traded for veteran Kurt Suzuki.

With Suzuki and a healthy Ramos back in 2013, plus the emergence of young catchers Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, the Nationals had little need to keep Flores in the organization.

Gorzelanny was let go despite a productive season as a long man in the Nationals' bullpen. The 30-year-old, acquired from the Cubs in 2011 for three minor-leaguers to start for Washington, posted a 2.88 ERA in 45 appearances this season.

Ultimately, Gorzelanny's price tag -- he stood to make as much as $4 million through arbitration -- was too steep for a pitcher in his role.

The decision does leave the Nationals in a predicament, with zero left-handed relievers currently on the roster. They'll have to hope to either re-sign free agents Sean Burnett and/or Michael Gonzalez or acquire another lefty or two this winter.

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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."