Todd Dybas

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Wild-card tracker: Cubs drop out of wild-card spot -- for now

Wild-card tracker: Cubs drop out of wild-card spot -- for now

The Nationals took Thursday off. But, they kept hold of their wild-card lead during the break.

Chicago lost to St. Louis in 10 innings. The Cubs are on a three-game losing streak, which became enough Thursday for them to slip out of a wild-card spot. Milwaukee beat lowly San Diego.

So, the Nationals open a three-game series in Miami on Friday with a one-game lead on the Brewers for the right to host the Wild-Card Game on Oct. 1. The Cubs are two games behind Washington and a game behind Milwaukee. They also have a distinct challenge going forward: Six of their remaining nine games are against St. Louis. Splitting those and sweeping Pittsburgh -- the series in between dates with St. Louis -- only gets the Cubs to 88 wins.

The idle Mets moved to 3 ½ games behind Milwaukee. Philadelphia lost to start the day, which put it four games out of a wild-card spot with 11 to go on its schedule.

Coming up Friday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Wacha (6-7, 4.76 ERA) vs. Mills (1-0, 3.42)

Washington at Miami, 7:10 p.m. Sánchez (9-8, 3.86) vs. Dugger (0-2, 3.95)

New York at Cincinnati, 7:10 p.m., deGrom (9-8, 2.61) vs. Castillo (155-6, 3.22)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Smyly (4-6, 6.22) vs. Bieber (14-7, 3.26)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 8:10 p.m., Brault (4-5, 4.96) vs. Anderson (6-4, 4.50)

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Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lined up as Wild-Card Game options if Nationals make it

Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg lined up as Wild-Card Game options if Nationals make it

Washington has options at the end of next week.

It shuffled this weekend’s rotation in order to put end-of-season choices in play. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg are in a place where they could each influence the final game of the season or the Wild-Card Game.

First, to this weekend: Aníbal Sánchez, Strasburg and Austin Voth are lined up to pitch against Miami. Sánchez has a 3.31 ERA against the Marlins this season, Strasburg a 1.19 ERA in four starts, Voth has not faced the Marlins.

Voth was moved back a day to accommodate this setup. Sánchez and Strasburg will be on regular rest. Patrick Corbin receives an extra day off before he starts the Phillies series. 

Which, in part, is what this is about. Corbin pitches the opener Monday. He is set to pitch again Saturday. Which means he could possibly be available for an inning in the Wild-Card Game on Oct. 1 and definitely available if needed for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, which starts Oct. 3, exactly when Corbin would be on regular rest.

Scherzer, who looked sharp most of Wednesday in St. Louis, should pitch the night portion of next week’s split day-night doubleheader against Philadelphia. The day-side portion of that game will fall to Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson, the latter of which has not pitched in a major-league game since May 19. 

Pitching on Tuesday means Scherzer can pitch Sunday in game 162 if the Nationals need to win to get in. Otherwise, it means he can pitch Oct. 1 on extended rest. Should Washington make the postseason -- still a lot of work to do there -- and win the Wild-Card Game -- getting ahead of ourselves -- he would be able to pitch Game 3 of the NLDS in Nationals Park.

Next is Strasburg. After pitching Saturday in Miami, he should pitch Thursday against Philadelphia. That alignment puts him on regular rest for the Wild-Card Game. Which leaves the recently much-discussed choice: Scherzer or Strasburg to start a winner-take-all game? Both could be available. At the least, Scherzer could pitch game 162 or (gasp) 163 and Strasburg would be available for the Wild-Card Game.

So, a subtle shift this weekend set up everything to come. That’s if the Nationals can get into the postseason.

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals lose, but so does Milwaukee and Chicago

Wild-card tracker: Nationals lose, but so does Milwaukee and Chicago

The Nationals led off the day with a loss Wednesday afternoon which positioned both Chicago and Milwaukee to gain a game in the evening.

Instead, San Diego held Milwaukee to a run in a 2-1 win and Cincinnati beat Chicago in extra innings, 3-2.

Washington remains 1 ½ games ahead of both Milwaukee and Chicago, which are tied with each other in the second wild-card spot. Both have 10 games to play. The Nationals have 11 games to play.

Philadelphia and New York are each 4 ½ games behind Washington. Both are three games behind Milwaukee and Chicago.

Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Nationals a 92 percent chance of making the postseason.

Coming up Thursday:

Nationals are off

Mets off

Philadelphia at Atlanta, 12:10 p.m. Nola (12-5, 3.62 ERA) vs. Soroka (12-4, 2.57)

San Diego at Milwaukee, 4:10 p.m.. Luchessi (10-8, 4.22 ERA) vs. Lyles (11-8, 4.25)

St. Louis at Chicago, 7:15 p.m.. Flaherty (10-8, 3.05) vs. Hendricks (11-9, 3.26)

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