5 Reasons the Nationals Will Beat Out Cincinnati for the No. 1 Seed
At 96-62 with four games remaining, Washington is also the only team in baseball with a shot at reaching 100 wins.
The Reds and Nationals have been battling back and forth for this position for what seems like several weeks now. Each team has seen some time at the top spot, but the Nationals are the team to beat after the Reds fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night on an Andrew McCutchen walk-off blast.
Both teams have already guaranteed playoff spots. The Reds have already clinched the NL Central, while the Nationals' magic number is down to just one. A win or an Atlanta Braves loss on Sunday would do the trick.
With each team playing just four more games before the start of the playoffs, it'll be a race to the finish for the top two teams in the National League.
1. Davey Johnson
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Davey Johnson is a near-lock for the NL Manager of the Year award.
He's turned this franchise around in a big way, and their current record is a far cry from the 103-loss season they experienced just a few seasons ago in 2009.
Johnson always knows what buttons to push, and that's a huge reason why I believe that they will go far in October.
However, this slide is more about the lack of health of Dusty Baker than the prowess of Johnson.
Who knows how his health may affect his decision-making or his ability to stay calm in stressful situations? I believe it best for Baker to stay out of the dugout until the playoffs begin, but hey, I'm not his doctor.
2. Remaining Games
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The Reds play the Pirates for one more game on Sunday, and then take on the Cardinals to close out their regular season schedule.
St. Louis, the team that currently owns the second wild-card spot in the National League, will be playing all out to make sure that they don't relinquish their two-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Add that to the fact that the Cardinals are just a strong team in general, and it'll be interesting to see how the Reds fare.
The Nationals, on the other hand, play a team in the Phillies that have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Philadelphia is just 5-5 in their last 10 games, so the Nationals shouldn't have any problems taking at least two games of the series.
3. Bryce Harper
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Bryce Harper is absolutely on fire right now.
He is scorching in September, hitting .316/.385/.622 with six home runs, 13 RBI, six doubles, three triples and four stolen bases.
He's been a major reason why the Nationals' offense has come on of late.
It's been an up-and-down season for the 19-year-old rookie, but he can silence some doubters if the finishes off these final four games on a high note. If he drives in a few more runs and hits another home run or two, I like the Nationals' chances of beating out the Reds.
Harper's ability to carry a club offensively will be invaluable in the postseason. For now, he'll be asked to be a major part of their quest for the top seed.
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Motivation alone may be enough to carry the Nationals to the No. 1 seed.
Guys like Ryan Zimmerman, John Lannan, Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen—lifelong Nationals—have never seen their team play as hard and be as successful as this year's squad.
They've already broken new ground in just clinching a postseason berth, but there's no doubt that they're motivated to go for gold and win the top spot.
Look for the aforementioned players to play big roles in the upcoming games. Also look out for Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa and Desmond have no playoff experience, so they'll be excited for the postseason to start. LaRoche's experience is limited, but he'll be motivated to perform for a team that actually has a legitimate shot at winning the whole thing.
5. Gio Gonzalez
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Although it has yet to be announced, 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez will likely take the mound in one of the season's final three games.
Gonzalez has been the true ace of the staff this season, even while Stephen Strasburg was active and pitching well. Gonzalez has been the model of consistency this season, and GM Mike Rizzo couldn't be happier about bringing him aboard this past offseason.
Aside from R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets, Gonzalez has arguably been the best pitcher in the National League this season.
Lining him up against any team gives the Nationals a chance to win the game.
With him on the mound in one of the remaining three games against the Cardinals, I like the Nationals' chances to win. With one "guaranteed" win under their belts, Washington is one step closer to securing the No. 1 seed.