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Another crazy weekend provides Nationals little wiggle room in wild-card race

Another crazy weekend provides Nationals little wiggle room in wild-card race

Clarity? Nope. Not after another manic weekend in the National League wild-card race.

Ugliness? Well, that showed up again in Citi Field for the Nationals. Two late losses, a dropped series, the Mets continuing to surge until Sunday’s 7-4 Washington win allowed the Nationals to scamper out of Flushing with some form of breath still intact.

They come home to open a three-game series against Cincinnati with a wild-card spot in hand, fingers crossed about Juan Soto’s health and 45 games to play. Three teams are within two games of a wild-card position, including the Mets and Phillies. Good news for Washington: it plays three more games against the Mets -- none in New York -- and five more against Philadelphia. Those all arrive in a daunting September which includes seven against the first-place Braves. Also in the offing: series against NL Central contenders/wild-card candidates Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago. Not available: rest.

Washington opens another series without Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick or Max Scherzer. Soto’s swollen ankle may remove him from the lineup for a day or two despite his insistence otherwise. There is some good news around the trio’s current negative situation. Zimmerman did more work over the weekend and could run the bases this week. Scherzer said he felt better Sunday after throwing -- stay tuned for a Monday update on his situation. X-Rays of Soto’s ankle were negative, suggesting RICE and time could swiftly return him to the lineup. 

Without Scherzer, the Nationals turn to their guys who are supposed to be dueling for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but are currently the No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Erick Fedde opens the series against Cincinnati, Joe Ross follows and Stephen Strasburg finishes it. Again, everything here is tenuous. Fedde and Ross were better in their last starts. Also part of the reality is Fedde’s 5.23 FIP and Ross’ equally egregious 5.18 FIP. Neither has pitched well for any substantial amount of time. Without Scherzer, the Nationals are just trying to steal starts.

If Scherzer returns this weekend and remains healthy, the Nationals could have him to face the Mets once, Atlanta twice and the Phillies once in September. Targeting that month was the plan from when Scherzer’s first mid-back strain slowed him in July. Washington wants to line him up for those series as much as possible. However, the calendar is moot if Scherzer is not healthy.

He’s not -- yet. 

One benefit Monday for the Nationals is Cincinnati pitches right-hander Anthony DeSclafani. That helps left-handers Matt Adams and Gerardo Parra, who have been forced into every-day work because of injuries. The Reds throw left-handed Alex Wood in the second game Tuesday night and right-hander Trevor Bauer in the third on Wednesday afternoon. 

Slogging through April and May assured a mid-August series against a sub-.500 team would carry weight. The crowded standings and recent injury clump have put even more emphasis on what could have been three dog-day games against an inferior opponent. No longer. It’s tight, every day, and that starts again Monday.

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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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Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Two weeks left

Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Two weeks left

With September more than halfway through, the postseason is mere weeks away in Major League Baseball, and teams have fewer than a dozen games left in the season. With stars like Christian Yelich and Mike Trout hitting the shelf, there may not be too much shuffling ahead.

Let's take a look around baseball to see who should be favored in each of the major races in both leagues.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Alex Bregman, Astros
3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox

Mike Trout is now out for the rest of the season, which stinks to see as a baseball fan. That said, the AL MVP award should probably still be his.

I'd be more worried about Trout (8.3 WAR) losing his grip on this award if his lead in WAR wasn't so substantial. That said, Bregman (7.6 WAR) is doing an admirable job closing the gap, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him grab a few votes.

But the only real change here is Trout's third career MVP likely moving from unanimous, to merely overwhelming. 

NL MVP

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

With Trout's unfortunate injury, Cody Bellinger now leads baseball in WAR this season, according to Baseball-Reference. His lead was already substantial over Christian Yelich and the rest of the NL field, but Yelich's injury should just about lock this up for Bellinger (if it wasn't certain already).

There's little change in this update, as Rendon continues to enjoy a dominant contract year as well. In any other year, he may have been a better candidate, but Bellinger's coming out part has been historic. 

It is definitely possible a strong finish pushes Rendon past Yelich into second, however.

AL Cy Young

1. Justin Verlander, Astros
2. Gerrit Cole, Astros
3. Charlie Morton, Rays

Is there such a thing as a combined teammate Triple Crown? No, but perhaps there should be for Verlander and Cole. The two aces are, by far, the best pitchers in the American League this season. Each is top-two, in some order, in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.

That said, given Verlander's standing ahead of Cole in the rotation and his lead in most categories besides strikeouts, it's hard to envision Cole overtaking the elder statesman. It may very well be Verlander's last chance to win a Cy Young, given his age, though anything he does at this point in his career is thoroughly unsurprising.

NL Cy Young

1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
2. Max Scherzer, Nationals
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers

It may not feel like the same level of historic race between deGrom and Scherzer as we saw in 2018, but it is still shaping up to be a photo finish. Ryu's ERA has come back to Earth, but he does still lead the NL in the category. Even so, this feels like another two-man race.

deGrom leads in ERA, though the Nationals' rotation includes numbers two through four in WAR. The Nats' rotation is also the first to see three pitchers each top 222 strikeouts in a season, an impressive feat.

Scherzer is still leading that charge for the Nationals and is thus their pick. He doesn't have as many strikeouts as deGrom, but his K/9 is more than a full strikeout higher. This is going to be a fun final two weeks.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
2. John Means, Orioles
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

As much of a lock to take home hardware this awards season as any Astro, Alvarez has blown away the competition in the AL since his debut. His arrival may have come been belated, but his impact (26 home runs, 1.090 OPS) is undeniable. This is an all-time great rookie season that just happens to have been cut short in April and May.

Means and Guerrero Jr. deserve mention still. Means ranks ahead of Guerrero thanks to a 2:1 ratio in WAR, but there's a distant gap between Alvarez and these two.

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, Mets
2. Mike Soroka, Braves
3. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres

Alonso leads Major League Baseball with 49 home runs, and will likely finish with more than 50. This is one of the most impressive rookie seasons at the plate in baseball history and is the single biggest lock of any award in 2019. It would have been fascinating to see a true race between Tatis and Alonso, but the chase for 50 has been pretty incredible as well.

AL Manager of the Year

1. Rocco Baldelli, Twins
2. Aaron Boone, Yankees
3. Bob Melvin, Athletics

I can't bring myself to move off Baldelli, just for how much better the Twins' record is compared the expectations entering the season. Having said that, if the Yankees finish the season with the best record in baseball, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Boone win this award, considering the ridiculous injuries they've suffered in 2019.

Melvin is a new addition, but it's a tight race between the A's manager and the Rays' Kevin Cash. The winner will likely come from whichever team makes the AL Wild Card Game.

NL Manager of the Year

1. Davey Martinez, Nationals
2. Dave Roberts, Dodgers
3. Bruce Bochy, Giants

The Nationals have to make the postseason for Martinez to win this award. There's no way around it. But if they do make it, and I still project them to play in October, then he instantly becomes one of the favorites.

This is one of the trickiest awards to project, even with just two weeks left in the regular season. There's a compelling case to be made for Martinez, but there's also plenty of positives to say about Roberts, Bochy, Brian Snitker in Atlanta, Tony Lovullo in Arizona and Mike Shildt in St. Louis.

For now, we'll stick with Martinez, but this award isn't just a coin-flip; it's a dice roll.

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