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With Storen now traded by Nats, focus returns to Papelbon

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With Storen now traded by Nats, focus returns to Papelbon

With the trade of Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night, the focus for the Nationals now shifts to their other relief pitcher whom many expect to be dealt this winter. That would be Jonathan Papelbon, who despite getting in a televised fight with Bryce Harper in late September, remains on the roster three months into the offseason.

The Nationals would still like to trade Papelbon and spring training begins in five weeks, but finding a suitor is not an easy task. Storen getting dealt before Papelbon was always a likely scenario, given their difference in values and the obvious difference in urgency for the team.

The Storen trade perhaps illustrates the benefits of being patient. They waited until the second half of the offseason for a guy who had a terrible second half of the 2015 season and whose year was ended due to a self-inflicted injury to his hand. Yet there were still able to acquire a player in Ben Revere who fits perfectly into their future plans.

Getting a Revere-type haul for Papelbon may be unrealistic, as their intentions to trade him are obvious, he is owed $11 million in 2016 and has a partial no-trade clause to leverage. But Papelbon could still interest a team looking for backend bullpen help, especially as the free agent and trade markets continue to play out. Storen going to Toronto represents one less option for teams hoping to acquire a new closer.

The Nationals bullpen remains deep without Storen with the additions of Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez, Yusmeiro Petit and Shawn Kelley. Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen are two holdovers from last season who are expected to hold spots. There is also a young crop of relievers who debuted in 2015 that includes Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Rafael Martin.

Right now Papelbon projects as their closer, but he is not likely to be on the roster come Opening Day. If he is indeed dealt, the Nats will be fine in terms of depth, but will create questions as to who closes. Felipe Rivero could conceivably fill that role, though inexperience would be an issue.

Shawn Kelley and Trevor Gott, and even Blake Treinen, could fill late-innings roles, as well. But the Nats are not inclined to rely on young relievers in big spots, as they did last year with little success. The acquisition of Ben Revere to replace Michael Taylor as the starting center fielder is yet another indication of the Nationals opting to go for experience over youth. Also, see Trea Turner's once-supposed chances to compete for a starting middle infield spot.

With Storen gone, Papelbon becomes the primary focus. And if he is traded, a whole new crop of questions will emerge for the Nats and their work-in-progress bullpen.

[RELATED: Nationals trade Drew Storen to Blue Jays]

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

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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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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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