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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