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Nationals find firmer footing in wild-card race

Nationals find firmer footing in wild-card race

WASHINGTON — The Nationals take a day off Thursday. It’s one of three in the next 15 days, a rare run of breaks during the perpetual baseball schedule.

They are a season-high 10 games over .500 at 65-55 following a sweep of Cincinnati. This weekend, the situation intensifies when Milwaukee comes to Nationals Park for three games.

Here’s a look at the overall wild-card situation in the National League while the Nationals rest:

Washington. A game in front of the Chicago Cubs for the top wild-card spot. An 8-4 push in August continues a long recovery road which ran through June and July. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross are a combined 4-0 in the month. Max Scherzer is nearing a return. The Nationals have a plus-60 run differential, which is fifth-best in the league. Fivethirtyeight.com has vaulted the Nationals’ chances of making the postseason all the way up to 71 percent. Only two NL teams -- the Braves and Dodgers -- have better odds.

Chicago. Yes, the Cubs. They are back into the wild-card position -- barely -- and a game behind the Nationals. St. Louis is currently in first place in the jammed National League Central, just .001 percentage points ahead of the Cubs. What a gap if the season ended today. Instead of playing Atlanta in a division series, Chicago would have to travel to Washington for a one-game showdown against Scherzer. The Cubs were 14-15 in June, 12-11 in July and are 7-6 in August. That’s a long stretch of barely .500 baseball. 

Milwaukee. The Brewers continue to hang around despite a -21 run differential, the 12th-best NL rotation by WAR, and seventh-best offense by WRC+. Like the Cubs, the last two-plus months have been defined by mediocrity. Milwaukee is a game under .500 in that span, and a huge run is coming. After three in Washington, the Brewers play three in St. Louis, three at home against Arizona, three at home against St. Louis, three in Chicago, two at home against Houston, then four versus Chicago. That’s a blistering task in front of the midwesterners.

Philadelphia. The Phillies hired Charlie Manuel as their new hitting coach this week. They also shut down Jake Arrieta for the year. Rhys Hoskins is the new leadoff hitter. Jean Segura is the new cleanup hitter. Somehow, the Phillies continue to lurk. They are four games over .500 and two games out of a wild-card spot. An interesting note: By WAR, Bryce Harper would be the Nationals’ third-best outfielder this season. Both Juan Soto (3.6) and Victor Robles (2.7) have carried more value than Harper (2.1). Adam Eaton (0.9) is the laggard. The Nationals outfield makes roughly $9.5 million combined this year. Philadelphia owes Harper $30 million for this season.

New York. The Mets were a shiny object last weekend when attempting to sweep the Nationals and continue a fervent run. Things have slowed this week. High-end hitter Jeff McNeil landed on the 10-day injured list. New York has lost three in a row -- all to division opponents -- to slide three games out of a wild-card spot. Some leveling was bound to occur thanks to the Mets’ poor defense and unreliable bullpen. Their bullpen is 13th in the NL by WAR. Their defense is ranked 14th by Fangraphs. A weekend series against Kansas City is coming before three consecutive huge home series against Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago.

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Johnny Damon supports Nationals' decision to visit White House

Johnny Damon supports Nationals' decision to visit White House

Following Nationals GM Mike Rizzo comments on the team's celebratory visit to the White House following their World Series title, former New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon supported the team's decision. 

In a TMZ interview, Damon said visiting the White House is a great thing for annual World Series champions, regardless of their political standing. He also said the visit presented a great opportunity for people who don't support the president to voice their opinions. 

"I think it's a great thing and if you do have an issue, that's the greatest time to talk about the issues that you see and try to make things work," he said.

Damon has been vocal in his support for President Trump in TMZ interviews in the past, and complimented the nation's strong economy. 

The Nationals' White House visit drew lots of backlash in the belief that the Nationals and several of their players were making political statements. 

“You’re in a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t," Rizzo said to USA Today

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GM Mike Rizzo responds to criticism on Nationals visit to the White House

GM Mike Rizzo responds to criticism on Nationals visit to the White House

After winning their first-ever World Series title, the Nationals visited the White House to meet with President Donald Trump to celebrate the victory.

But recently, General Manager Mike Rizzo has clarified why the team made the trip. Many have accused the team of making a political statement with the visit, and Kurt Suzuki donned a Make America Great Again hat during his speech at the podium.

“We weren’t trying to make a political statement, whatsoever,’’ Rizzo told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “We just thought that the honor and the tradition of champions being invited to the White House and the office of the president, and especially us being the hometown team in their backyard two miles away from the capital, is something that should be done."

Rizzo also clarified that each player had a choice on whether or not they wanted to visit. Sean Doolittle and a host of others opted out of the visit.

"Obviously, each player could make their own decision whether they wanted to attend, but most of the players were excited by it," Rizzo said. “The office of the president is something that we respect. We felt we should be there. We also felt we should do it with everyone still in town there, or not do it at all."

Rizzo explained that he has voted for Democrats and Republicans in the past, and that there was no way to win in this situation when it came to visiting the White House.

“You’re in a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t," Rizzo noted. "I don’t have a political bone in my body. I vote for who I want. I don’t care what the party is. I vote every election. I’m listed as an Independent. My dad was a city worker in the city of Chicago for 45 years. We voted Democrat for the [Richard] Daleys a lot. I voted Republican sometimes."

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