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Papelbon, Harper explain their fight in Nationals dugout

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Papelbon, Harper explain their fight in Nationals dugout

Saturday night was supposed to be rock bottom for the Nationals. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention, thus putting to rest preseason expectations of a dominant team destined to win a World Series. But little did they know, just one day later matters would indeed get much, much worse.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon grabbed superstar Bryce Harper by the throat and drove him into the wall of the Nationals' dugout in Washington on Sunday in one of baseball's uglier incidents in recent years. The spat apparently began because Papelbon did not think Harper hustled his way to first on a flyout to left field in the eighth inning.

Harper walked back to the dugout as Papelbon stood on the top step and yelled at him. The two exchanged words before Papelbon took the incident to an unexpected level.

Both players described the fight as an isolated incident afterwards. Both players said it had nothing to do with Harper questioning Papelbon's decision to plunk Manny Machado in the team's game against the Orioles just days prior. Both players said it was simply a matter of tensions boiling over, of family members losing their cool.

Papelbon opened his discussion with reporters after the 12-5 loss with an apology and his explanation of what happened.

"First of all, I'll say I'm in the wrong there," he said. "You know, I grew up with brothers, he grew up with brothers. I view him as a brother of mine. Sometimes in this game there's a lot of testosterone and there's a lot of intensity that spills over and I think that happened today. For me, I can't allow that to happen in the middle of a game. You handle that after the games or allow the manager to handle that. In that light of it, I'm wrong."

Manager Matt Williams - who has come under fire this season for his team's underachievement - would not give much information on the matter whatsoever.

"Certainly there is a lot of testosterone flowing among young men competing. What I can tell you is this is a family issue and we’ll deal with it that way. There was an altercation in the dugout and we’ll leave it at that," he said.

Harper and Papelbon had a discussion before the media was allowed into the clubhouse and both players said they will be able to get over their differences.

"It was a good conversation that you need to have when the situations and the heat of the battle spills over," Papelbon said. "'Hey look, I'm wrong, you're right. You're right, I'm wrong.' Let's come back together and keep fighting together and come back next year and keep doing the same thing.' I think Bryce understands where I'm coming from and it's squashed and it's good and we're gonna move on."

"He apologized so whatever. I really don’t care," Harper added. "It’s like brothers fighting. That’s what happened. And hopefully move forward and do what I can for the next six days to have fun and play the game."

Papelbon, in fact, insists he and Harper's relationship will grow stronger from this incident. Papelbon is under contract for the 2016 season and, barring something unforeseen, will remain the team's closer for another year.

"We'll be good and we'll get better from this. I truly do think that we'll get better from this, our relationship will get better from this. Next year when we are in the thick of it and we are grinding together and big games mean something, we'll pick each other up," he said.

MORE NATIONALS: Williams explains why he let Papelbon pitch after scuffle with Harper

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Local pizza chain continues to troll Bryce Harper with deal

Local pizza chain continues to troll Bryce Harper with deal

Are you a Nationals fan, a pizza lover, and still a tad bitter that Bryce Harper left the nation's capital for a mega-contract with the Phillies?

Well, you're in luck.

Philadelphia heads to Washington for a rare five-game series (Tuesday's doubleheader is a makeup game) on Monday, and barring a miracle, the final time the Phillies will face the Nationals in 2019. 

&Pizza, a Washington, D.C.-headquartered build-your-own pizza spot, is offering a promotion for every time Harper strikes out against his former team.

After every strikeout, fans will have exactly three minutes to text '#UROUT' to #200-03 in order to receive a promotional code. In return, each customer will be sent a code that will allow them to purchase a $3 pizza through online ordering or the mobile app. The full terms of the sweepstakes can be found here.

In his first season with the Phillies, Harper has had mixed results against his former club. In 48 at-bats, the 26-year-old has 12 hits (.250 average), two home runs and eight RBIs. 

But as far as team success, the Nationals have had the last laugh in the first year in the post-Harper era. Entering Sunday, with nine games remaining, the Nationals currently hold the top slot in the NL wild card race.

Things have not gone as well for the Phillies, who entered Sunday five games back of the second wild card spot with just nine games to go.

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Back before all this mania, Miami, as putrid as its season would be, loomed as a factor.

Handling the Marlins would be key for any contender. It wasn’t a question of winning, but of how much winning would occur against one of the league’s worst teams.

Following Friday’s 6-4 win in a sparsely attended Marlins Park, the Nationals moved to 14-3 against Miami this season. They are 16 games over. 500 for the year. They are plus-11 against Miami alone.

Asdrúbal Cabrera homered again, Trea Turner hit two homers, and Daniel Hudson pitched two innings to earn the save. So, the Nationals, 84-68, hold a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot. Milwaukee won again, joining a long list of teams to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates since the post-All-Star-break portion of the schedule began. Pittsburgh may be the league’s worst team, at the moment, and the Brewers host it for two more this weekend.

Trouble is brewing for Chicago. It lost again to St. Louis -- this time a 2-1 mid-day defeat in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four in a row. They are three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Brewers. Their path to 90 wins, which may ultimately be the threshold for postseason entrance, is narrowing.

The Mets won their third consecutive game. They are hanging around, 3 ½ games behind the Brewers with nine remaining on the schedule. Their wild-card elimination number is six.

News for Philadelphia is more dire. The Phillies dropped to 78-74 Friday night following a 5-2 loss in Cleveland. They are now five behind Milwaukee. Their wild-card elimination number is a mere five. 

Which brings us to the more detailed math portion of this program. Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 96 percent

Brewers, 84 percent

Cubs, 15 percent

Mets, 5 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Coming up Saturday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) vs. Quintana (13-8, 4.37)

New York at Cincinnati, 4:10 p.m., Wheeler (11-7, 4.09) vs. DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93)

Washington at Miami, 6:10 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. Plesac (8-6, 3.64)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 7:10 p.m., Marvel (0-2, 9.00) vs. Davies (10-7, 3.70)

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