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Nationals’ win gives them a chance to enter postseason Tuesday

Nationals’ win gives them a chance to enter postseason Tuesday

WASHINGTON -- One step closer.

The Nationals won 7-2 Monday night, handling what they could handle: the outcome of their game.

Milwaukee and Chicago were idle. So, Washington hops a half-game in front of the Brewers for homefield in the Wild-Card Game and puts the Cubs in a rough spot, their wild-card magic number now reduced to a paltry two.

Monday’s win positions Tuesday night as the first possible crack at a clinch. If Washington wins both games, and Chicago loses to the Pirates in Pittsburgh, Washington can secure a wild-card spot.

Hints of how close they are were tacked above lockers around the clubhouse when everyone arrived Monday. Protective plastic to cover lockers during a celebration ringed the room. Some players, in particular Adam Eaton, were not pleased with the arrangement despite the setup being the same in prior years. 

The Phillies, meanwhile, are one game from their season ending. They went through the offseason followed by the “stupid money” quote from their owner, John Middleton, before making grandiose outlays to Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen. They spent a lot of money. The context around that quote has taken on a different life in late September with their season on the verge of ending Tuesday, or soon thereafter, in Nationals Park.

Joe Ross will receive the first crack at ending Philadelphia’s season when he pitches the day side of a split day-night doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Ross has not pitched since September 2, when he was battered across 3 ⅔ innings, then later said his forearm was sore. Presumably, Sean Doolittle will also enter one of the two games. He has not pitched since Sept. 16 despite warming up multiple times -- including Monday night. Max Scherzer pitches the night game when Washington could potentially wrap things up.

Despite the proximity to what months ago appeared to be an unlikely playoff berth, Davey Martinez remained on script when discussing the team’s mentality.

“It’s been the same message every day, let’s just take care of [Tuesday],” Martinez said. “..been that same message almost all year, let’s go 1-0. That’s how we got to this point. I don’t want them to think too far ahead. Let’s just keep playing good baseball.”

Patrick Corbin worked his way through six innings Monday night in his 32nd start of the season. A high fastball was the weapon of choice since his slider came to the plate short of its destination, losing some of its deception. His ERA is 3.05, and the money spent there by the Nationals appears to be of the smart kind.

Eaton hit his 15th homer -- a career high -- Monday night. Trea Turner homered. Yan Gomes homered. Philadelphia finished with five hits, appearing to be a tired team resigned to the season’s outcome.

Tuesday, Blake Parker will make his first career start for Philadelphia. He’s a reliever who usually pitches one inning. Sometimes less. After that, more relievers.

Phillies ace Aaron Nola will be opposite Scherzer in the evening. 

So, Tuesday could be eventful, delivering two ends: For Philadelphia the close of its postseason chances; for the Nationals the finishing of doubt about whether they would be playing once the regular season ended.

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Carter Kieboom has a mentor at spring training: veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera

Carter Kieboom has a mentor at spring training: veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera

With Trea Turner at shortstop and Starlin Castro at second base, the Nationals have two reliable veterans at the two positions Carter Kieboom has always played. 

So now, the Nationals' top prospect is competing for the starting third base job with seasoned veteran Asdrubal Cabrera. Once one of the best shortstops in baseball, Cabrera has fallen off defensively and has limited range nowadays, though he was still a key contributor to the Nationals' World Series championship in 2019. 

Instead of viewing Kieboom as just his competition and doing everything he can to win the job, Cabrera has taken on the role of mentor for the 22-year-old infielder.

“(Cabrera) takes ground balls with (Kieboom) every day,” Martinez said, according to MASN's Pete Kerzel. “I’ve asked him, ‘Hey, you need to take ground balls at second, too, and short sometimes.’ Religiously, for the purpose of being with Carter, he stands with Carter, helping him with his throws, making sure he understands that footwork is important when he’s throwing. ... He talks to him all the time about a bunch of different things, how to play positions, not take your at-bats to the field. He’s been unbelievable with him, he really has. It’s been good for Carter.”

Kieboom has struggled with errors through the early days of spring ball, which is to be expected considering he's a young player at a position he's never played regularly on the professional level. While a bunch of errors in February are nothing to get too concerned over, Kieboom will have to cut those down in March if he wants to win the job. 

Cabrera is seen as the backup plan at third if Kieboom can't secure the job during spring training. The 34-year-old is entering his 14th season and would probably be better maximized if he didn't have to play every day. 

If Kieboom isn't ready though, it wouldn't be the best idea for the Nationals to force it. So over the course of the next three weeks, we'll see just how much Cabrera can help the youngster. 

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Jayson Werth explains why he 'always thought' Bryce Harper could end up with Phillies

Jayson Werth explains why he 'always thought' Bryce Harper could end up with Phillies

During Phillies spring training on Friday, Jayson Werth visited his old team and former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper. It just so happened he had arrived on the one-year anniversary of Bryce Harper deciding to leave Washington to sign a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. 

Werth spent six seasons sharing an outfield with Harper but before his days in Washington, he helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008. His play in Philadelphia earned him a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals in 2011. 

Harper's exit from DC is a sore subject for Nationals fans, even though a World Series championship definitely helped numb the pain. Werth explained in a story by NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury that he always had a hunch Harper could end up in Philly. 

"I always thought this would be a possible destination for him, even way back when, for a bunch of reasons," Werth said. "Kind of where the team was, the money was right, the owner was right, the town's right.

"But more than anything else," Werth added with widening eyes, "Citizens Bank Park is just an awesome place to hit. We always talked about that."

Werth clarified he doesn't want anyone to think he was pushing Harper to Philadelphia, just that as players they naturally had plenty of conversations about other ballparks. And it's hard to argue with that. 

Before he played a single game for the Phillies, Harper was Citizens Bank Park's all-time leader in slugging percentage. In 2019, Harper hit the second-most homers of his career (35) and his second-highest slugging percentage as well.

Werth even enjoyed a nice bump hitting in Philadelphia. During his time with the Nats, Werth his .291 with a .922 OPS to go along with 15 home runs and 45 RBI in 52 trips to Citizens Bank Park. 

Between the 81 games in a hitters ballpark and a $330 million contract without the deferred payments the Nationals reportedly offered to Harper last year, it makes a decent amount of sense he decided to take his talents north. 

But hey, the Nationals won a World Series the following season, and in epic fashion I might add, while there's no guarantee the Phillies get there any time soon. I mean, have you seen their pitching staff outside of Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler?

So Bryce is happy and Nats fans are happy. Everyone wins, right? 

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