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Bryce Harper and the Nats have a chance to clinch a playoff berth tonight.
With a magic number of 3 to secure the final NL Wild Card berth, the Nationals would clinch with any combination of three victories and/or losses by the team currently in third place in the Wild Card race. That team happens to be the Dodgers.
Thus, a win in today's 4:05 p.m. opener would drop the magic number to 1 (and ensure at the very least the Nationals will get to play a 163rd game this season). A win in the nightcap (scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. or 30 minutes after conclusion of the first game, whichever comes later) would then seal the deal and guarantee the Nats a spot in the postseason.
If you're planning to attend the doubleheader -- here's the ticket exchange policy in case you missed it -- don't expect a major celebration should the Nationals pull off the sweep. There won't be a dog pile at the center of the mound, nor champagne flowing in the clubhouse.
"That's not a big moment," manager Davey Johnson said over the weekend in Atlanta. "It's a nice moment, but it's not a big moment. The additional Wild Card, to me, just really put more of a burden on the manager, because nobody wants that one. A one-game playoff to get in? The other format, if you were the Wild Card, you're in the playoffs. So clinching a one-game playoff doesn't have any appeal at all to me."
The Nationals, as always, remain focused on the NL East title. And they drew a step closer to that last night, even though they never set foot on the field. By virtue of the Braves' wild, 10-inning loss in Miami, the Nats' magic number to clinch the division dropped to 10. Their lead over Atlanta is now 5 1/2 games.
Keep in mind the Nationals still have 16 games to play, but the Braves only have 13 games to play. That's fewer opportunities for Atlanta to make up ground, a real disadvantage considering they're now 7 games back in the loss column.
We'll have a much clearer idea of how things stand by the end of the night, with the Nationals playing two games and the Braves playing one. By 10 p.m. or so, the Nationals' lead in the division could be as big as 7 games. Or it could be as small as 4 games.
That all makes for one long -- and potentially dramatic -- day of baseball.