It's never too early for trash talk.
“Clinch” is the word everyone will be waiting to hear this week.
The final seven days of the regular season is upon the Nationals. They are in a virtual tie for the wild-card with can’t-lose Milwaukee. Eight games are coming up this week. The process to end doubt starts Monday night.
Two teams -- Chicago and New York -- sit with wild-card elimination numbers of three. Which means the Nationals could be in the playoffs as soon as Tuesday night.
A magic number refresher: Nationals win, they shave a game. Cubs or Mets lose, they shave a game. Combine those things to move quickly into the offseason or postseason.
So, if Washington wins its next three games, it’s assured of a tie. If it wins three and the Cubs or Mets lose once, then the Nationals entered the postseason. Tuesday night is the earliest night for possible champagne popping. You get the idea.
Playing into the final week with so much on the line is new for the organization. It has never been the wild-card team. Usually, the division is wrapped up by now or a middling season brought elimination. Never in between.
Washington clinched the division on Sept. 10 in 2017 in game 143. The clinch came Sept. 24 in 2016 in game 154. Washington was comfortably up 8 ½ games, at that point. Its postseason spot was not in doubt.
But, not so to start this week. A careening year has come down to the final seven days. Washington is close. It could seal entrance into the postseason quickly. It could drag it out and celebrate at the end of the week. It could botch the entire thing, stunningly falling to the side, going home on Sept. 30 instead of preparing for the next game. Tune in to find out.
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WASHINGTON -- Capital City Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu often says one of the primary reasons he retired as a player to join the front office ranks was to bring his perspective as a journeyman pro to the GM position. He played for 18 professional teams across the NBA, G-League and overseas and was cut from quite a few of them. He once lost his job five minutes before his contract was guaranteed.
Those memories of disappointment and resolve have stuck with him to this day and he is reminded of them every time he has to cut a player. That experience makes him acutely aware of how a player feels when delivered the news.
"There is a way you can do business with honesty and integrity," he said.
That approach helped lead to a year-over-year change in the way the Go-Go held their tryouts on Saturday. Last year, Mensah-Bonsu delivered roster moves by taking players aside during scrimmages. The guys in the open morning session who were good enough to earn an invite to the closed afternoon tryout were told to stop playing and wait around.
That process led to a good deal of confusion. Some players who didn't know their fate came up and asked Mensah-Bonsu personally. He called it "heartbreaking."
So, this year he switched it up. He brought the roughly 100 players out to the main court and had them sit in the stands as he read out the jersey numbers of those who made it.
There was still some uncertainty from players about who had advanced to the second tryout. Several players pulled their jerseys off to double-check their numbers in disbelief.
Still, it was better than last year. With this being only the second season for the Go-Go and the second for Mensah-Bonsu as GM, that's all they can really ask for.
"You know how good things are in the first year by how the second year goes," Mensah-Bonsu said. "This year, we kind of knew the ropes and what to expect and how to do things. This year, we kind of hit the ground running. It was more seamless than it was last year."
Last year was unique because they had to build the team from scratch as an expansion franchise. This offseason, they were looking for fewer players overall, without the need to complete an entire roster.
The open tryouts generally bring a handful of players to the afternoon session where they then choose two to four as training camp invites. Those who are brought in for training camp then compete for roster spots on the Go-Go, which would put them one step away from the NBA.
Mensah-Bonsu said the goal was to take five or six players from the morning group. They ended up with 15, as he was once again surprised by the talent pool offered by the D.C. area.
That afternoon session, though, is a different level of basketball. There are players with decorated college careers and some with NBA resumes. Some of the invitees included Josh Selby, who played at Kansas and has 38 career NBA games under his belt, Maurice Creek (George Washington), Trey Dickerson (Georgetown) and Frank Howard (Syracuse).
Everyone involved is chasing the NBA dream, some giving it one final shot.
"I empathize with these guys. It's not easy," Go-Go coach Ryan Richman said. "Come here, stretch, learn some plays and then play games. It's not an easy job."
It's not easy for the Go-Go staff, either, to evaluate 100 players all within a few hours. It can be confusing in its own way. And for Mensah-Bonsu, there was a moment on Saturday that was particularly disorienting.
In attendance for the morning tryout was a player named Kojo Bonsu. That's a familiar name.
"He's got the exact same name as my brother, so I looked and made sure he wasn't out there. It was eerie to see that. It's rare you see somebody with the exact same name as you or a sibling. It was interesting," Mensah-Bonsu said.
It is already hard enough for Mensah-Bonsu to make cuts. At least he didn't have to cut his brother.
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