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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

The calendar is taking numbers with it, stripping the season down day by day, turning what was a tight wild-card race more into a fight for geography.

Washington enters the final week of the regular season with a hefty schedule ahead and its lead for the right to host the Wild-Card Game gone. The Nationals lost, 5-3, in Miami on Sunday because the bullpen blew yet another lead. As much as things have changed since April and May, one has remained constant: the Nationals’ bullpen is the worst in the league and biggest threat to team success. Their wild-card magic number is four in spite of it. 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee hung on for a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh to sweep the Pirates. The Brewers carried a perfect game through six innings. They used three pitchers -- including eventual winner Gio Gonzalez -- to do it. Milwaukee’s blistering pace the last two weeks has pulled it into a virtual tie with Washington. The Nationals are .001 ahead of Milwaukee with a game in hand. The Brewers hold the tiebreaker should it come to that once 162 games are finally complete.

The Cubs are spiraling. St. Louis scored two runs in the top of the ninth then sent Andrew Miller to the mound to finish a four-game sweep of Chicago. The Cardinals won each game by one run, reaffirming how slight the gap between the postseason and disappointment may be. Chicago manager Joe Maddon is in the final year of his contract. Even with the currency from managing the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1918, Maddon’s chances of returning on a fresh deal appear slim. If Chicago misses the playoffs, they become more unlikely, and looking back at four one-run losses to a despised rival becomes an easy spot to start the grousing.

Chicago’s six consecutive losses have turned the wild-card race into a two-team adventure. Increasingly, the main question is where the game will be played as opposed to its participants. The next seven days will determine that.

Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 98 percent

Brewers, 98 percent

Mets, 2 percent

Cubs, 1 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Monday, Washington opens a final eight-game homestand with Patrick Corbin on the mound and Bryce Harper in the batter’s box. Philadelphia lost Sunday to drop to 79-75. Its wild-card elimination number is a mere two, which provides the Nationals an opportunity for double satisfaction against the offseason’s “stupid money” spenders. Washington could both eliminate and clinch against Philadelphia by the middle of the week. 

The weekend delivers a tussle with Cleveland which could be meaningless or decide everything. An ideal setup would include Washington clinching its spot before the Indians arrive in town. To follow would be the question of how hard it wants to push for homefield. Can Davey Martinez rest his most-relied upon pitchers the final day of the season? Or will it be a desperate day just create another?

Watching Milwaukee will be more important. The Brewers’ magic number is down to three. Their soft schedule continues this week with visits to Cincinnati and Colorado. Sonny Gray opens the series for the Reds. Luis Castillo closes it. So, Washington can take some solace in knowing Cincinnati’s two top pitchers will be deployed against Milwaukee. However, Colorado, 67-89, is Colorado, and the final weekend against subpar competition gives Milwaukee ample chance to play at home Oct. 1. 

One week to go.

Coming up Monday:

Milwaukee off

Chicago off

Philadelphia at Washington, 7:05 p.m. Eflin (9-12, 4.00 ERA) vs. Corbin (13-7, 3.10)

Miami at New York, 7:10 p.m., Smith (9-10, 4.24) vs. Matz (10-9, 4.16)

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Shildt, Baldelli win Manager of Year in 1st full seasons

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Shildt, Baldelli win Manager of Year in 1st full seasons

NEW YORK (AP) -- Mike Shildt of the St. Louis Cardinals has edged out Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers to win NL Manager of the Year.

Shildt earned the award in his first full season on the job. Counsell received more first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America revealed Tuesday night, but Shildt got more second-place votes and appeared on more ballots.

Shildt teared up upon learning he'd won, saying he was already in an emotional place after his mother died last Wednesday.

Shildt replaced Mike Matheny as Cardinals manager during the 2018 season, and St. Louis has been among baseball's best teams since. The club won 91 games and the NL Central crown this year, ending the franchise's three-year postseason drought.

The 51-year-old Shildt became the first manager of the year who had never played pro ball at any level. Last week, the Cardinals gave him a contract extension through the 2022 season.

Atlanta's Brian Snitker was third after winning the award last year. The Dodgers' Dave Roberts finished fourth, and Nationals manager Dave Martinez was fifth. Washington won the World Series, but voting concluded before the postseason began.

Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli won the AL prize in a tight ballot over Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees. Both received 13 first-place votes, but Baldelli got more second-place nods. The 38-year-old is the youngest to win the award and the eighth to take it in his first full season on the job.

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Nationals reportedly one of four teams interested in free agent 3B Josh Donaldson

Nationals reportedly one of four teams interested in free agent 3B Josh Donaldson

On the heels of a historic run to their first World Series championship, the Washington Nationals will remain at the center of the baseball universe with Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon hitting free agency. 

Rendon figures to be the top position player available, and if he doesn't return to DC, it appears the Nationals already have their eyes on a potential replacement. 

According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Nats are one of four teams showing the most interest in former AL MVP Josh Donaldson along with the Phillies, Braves and Rangers.

Rendon, Donaldson, Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier highlight a deep free-agent class at the hot corner, and Feinsand adds that teams who miss out on Rendon or don't want to wait for him to make his decision can turn to Donaldson. 

Donaldson is coming off a one-season stint with the Braves where he posted a .259/.379/.521 slash line to go with 37 home runs and 94 RBI. Entering his age-34 season, Donaldson isn't quite playing at the MVP-level he did with the Blue Jays, but it's clear he can still produce.

If the Nationals aren't comfortable with committing long-term money but still want some production and a veteran presence at third base, Donaldson could be the perfect fit. 

The Braves signed Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million contract last November, so there's a decent chance he'll make a decision sooner rather than later. 

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