Notes and observations from the Nats' 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field…
When will they clinch?: With their loss to the Braves on Sunday, and the Mets' sweep-securing win over the Twins, the Nats' magic number remains at six as they enter the penultimate week of the 2016 regular season. New York has cut the Nats' lead to eight games, paring off two in as many days. It still appears a near certainty the Nationals will win the NL East, but the Mets are doing their best to delay the champagne celebration.
The earliest the Nats can clinch is now Wednesday, but that would require three straight wins for the Nats and three straight losses for the Mets. With the way New York has been playing lately, that seems extremely unlikely. They are about to host the lowly Braves and have won 11 of their last 14 games. It's unlikely that Atlanta will slow their roll. The Nats, meanwhile, will take on the Marlins in Miami. The Marlins have faded back out of the playoff picture, but they have won six of their last 10 games and recently took two of three against the Dodgers. They also have ace Jose Fernandez lined up to pitch on Tuesday.
This upcoming weekend's series at the Pittsburgh Pirates looks like the most probable time for the Nats to clinch, but a few more losses on this road trip and the Nationals could push their celebration back to their final homestand, which begins next Monday with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Having former manager Matt Williams in town for that wouldn't be awkward at all. Nope, not one bit.
If the Nats were to clinch against the Diamondbacks, there could be even more irony involved. The opener on Monday is the one-year anniversary of them being eliminated from playoff contention in 2015. And Tuesdsay will mark exactly one year since Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper locked horns in the dugout.
Harper finally gets a hit: Harper had been hitless in his last six games across 15 at-bats, and was just 3-for-32 (.094) in his last 10 games heading into Sunday's finale with the Braves. He then began his day with a groundout in the first inning and a lineout in the fourth, and looked visibly frustrated in the dugout on the television replay. Harper eventually broke through, however, with an RBI single in the sixth inning to score Jayson Werth. That cut the Braves' lead to just one run at the time, though they eventually added to that against the Nats' bullpen. It was just one hit for Harper, but a much-needed breakthrough for the right fielder, who was in the middle of this longest hitless streak of this season.
Turner hits another triple: Trea Turner landed his 100th career hit on Sunday with a triple to center field off Braves starter Matt Wisler in the top of the sixth inning. It was his seventh triple of the season, which ties Ben Revere for most on the Nationals. Only six players in baseball have more triples than Turner this season, and he's only played in 60 games. Turner has now tied Revere for fourth in Nats team history for triples in a season. Denard Span twice had more, with eight in 2014 and 11 in 2013. And Harper had more with nine as a rookie back in 2012.
Turner has put himself in some elite company with his batting average, which now sits at a cool .355. That's the best average by a rookie with at least 260 plate appearances since 1930 when George Watkins hit .373 for St. Louis. Since 1970, only one player in his Age 23 season has hit for a higher average than Turner this season. That was Albert Pujols, who hit .359 in 2003, also for St. Louis.
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