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Nats have chance to KO Braves

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Nats have chance to KO Braves

It has loomed on the schedule for weeks, a mid-September showdown with the only team that still had a chance to overtake the Nationals in the NL East. But then the Nationals kept winning, the Braves started losing and now the two teams enter this weekend series in Atlanta with 8 12 games separating themselves.

And that unexpected turn could leave the Nationals in a really unexpected position by the time they leave town late Sunday night: having all but clinched the franchise's first division title.

Even in a worst-case scenario, the Nationals will end the weekend holding a still-comfortable, 5 12-game lead with 16 to play. If they win just once at Turner Field, they'll maintain a 7 12-game lead. If they take two of three, that lead jumps to 9 12 games. And if, by some chance, they happen to sweep ... well an 11 12-game lead with 16 to go is mighty tough to surrender.

Not that anyone in the clubhouse is speaking in those terms, at least not in public.

"Obviously, we have a big series coming up these next three days," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We need to go down there and just try to win a series, like we've done all year. That's really been our goal every time: To go in and try to win two out of three. If you get the extra one, great. And if you don't win the first two, try and salvage the third one."

The Nationals have put themselves in this advantageous position in large part because of their ability to take care of business against their chief division rival. They've gone 10-5 against the Braves this season, with victories in four of their last five head-to-head encounters.

This week's sweep of the Mets -- and more importantly the Brewers' sweep of the Braves -- also turned what looked like a tenuous, 5 12-game lead into the current 8 12-game spread.

Thus, the Nationals recognize what kind of opportunity they've been presented, beginning tonight.

"We're looking to go in there and make a statement," reliever Sean Burnett said.

A stranglehold on the NL East title isn't the only thing at stake this weekend. The continued meltdown of several other NL playoff contenders -- most notably the Cardinals and Pirates -- leaves the Nationals with a 14 12-game lead for the league's final wild card berth.

With the magic number in that race down to four, the Nationals conceivably could clinch their first playoff berth by the end of the weekend.

"We've been playing good, clean baseball games all year long, and we've just got to keep on doing our thing," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We're not worried about anybody else in the division, any other numbers, anything like that. If we go out and play good baseball, we believe in ourselves and we feel like we can go anywhere."

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Nats beat Mariners behind Joe Ross' career day in return from minors

Nats beat Mariners behind Joe Ross' career day in return from minors

WASHINGTON -- Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five runs, Joe Ross returned from the minors to allow one run over a career high-tying eight innings, and the Washington Nationals routed the Seattle Mariners 10-1 on Tuesday night.

Bryce Harper added his 14th homer and Jayson Werth hit his seventh off Chris Bergman (1-2), who allowed all of the Nationals' runs and 14 of their 15 hits.

Rendon doubled before his second homer -- and seventh of the season -- completed an eight-run fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman also had three hits.

Mike Zunino homered off Ross (2-0) in his return from his own minor league stint. Robinson Cano was hitless in his first game back from the disabled list following a thigh injury as Seattle dropped its fourth straight.

Ross showed no signs of the late April struggles that ended with a demotion to Triple-A Syracuse. He yielded five hits and a walk while striking out six, and retired 12 straight batters after a leadoff single to begin the game.

By the time Seattle finally put multiple runners aboard, Washington had already opened a 10-0 lead.

Rendon's second-inning shot around the left field foul pole made it 2-0.

Then Werth, Harper and Rendon all connected in the fourth, helping the Nationals score seven of their eight runs in the inning with two outs.

MORE NATIONALS: WATCH: Werth, Harper go back-to-back, Rendon hits 2 HRs in Nationals win

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WATCH: Werth and Harper go back-to-back, Rendon hits 2 HRs in Nats win

WATCH: Werth and Harper go back-to-back, Rendon hits 2 HRs in Nats win

The Nationals had a big day at the plate Tuesday night.

Washington hit four home runs, including three in an eight-run fourth inning, in its 10-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon hit two home runs – the first a two-run blast to left field in the second inning and the second a three-run shot to center in the fourth. He finished the game 3-for-4 with five RBIs.

Prior to Rendon’s second homer in the fourth inning, left fielder Jayson Werth hit a two-run blast to left field, which was followed by a solo shot from right fielder Bryce Harper in the next at-bat.

Harper’s homer was measured at 450 feet.

At the end of the fourth, the Nationals led 10-0, which also included an RBI single from catcher Matt Wieters and an RBI triple from shortstop Trea Turner.

Tuesday night’s contest was the first of a three-game home series against the Mariners, who play in the American League. The Nationals and Mariners also will play Wednesday and Thursday.

Earlier this season in a 23-5 win over the New York Mets on April 30, Rendon went 6-for-6 with three home runs and 10 RBIs to become the first player to accomplish that feat since at least 1913. He now has seven homers this season.

Harper’s homer was his 14th of the season, tying him for first in the National League with the Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman. The New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge is first with 15.

Though he did not have a home run Tuesday night, Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has 13 for the season.

MORE NATIONALS: 2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals