As the Nationals move closer to clinching home field advantage over the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, Washington’s thoughts shift to making sure their two best hitters — Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper — are healthy and ready for the playoffs.
Neither Murphy nor Harper played on Thursday afternoon in Washington’s 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks. The win kept the Nationals two games ahead of the Dodgers with just three games to play, with a magic number of only two to clinch home field advantage in the NLDS.
Nationals 93-66 (.585)
Dodgers 91-68 (.572) 2 GB
For the Dodgers to get home field advantage in the first round, they need five of the remaining six games to go their way. The earliest LA can clinch home field advantage is Sunday, while Washington could wrap things up as early as Friday night.
Murphy, with a muscle strain in his buttocks, hasn’t started since Sept. 17, and has been limited to two plate appearances in the last 11 games. That total doesn’t figure to increase by much this weekend, according to manager Dusty Baker.
“We’re shooting for him to be ready on the seventh,” Baker said Thursday, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. “He might get a pinch-hit, but I don’t want to take him backwards. We’ll probably have an intrasquad game or something to get him some live pitching.”
Harper hasn’t played in the last four games with a jammed thumb, though it sounds like missing Thursday was more of a precaution. Per Janes:
Tests revealed the thumb is structurally sound, but Baker and the Nationals want to be careful, particularly in wet conditions Thursday. Baker also said that because the Dodgers lost last night, meaning the Nationals maintained a two-game lead in the race for home field advantage, he thought they could afford to rest Harper against Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray, who throws hard.
Without Harper and Murphy, the Nationals beat Arizona 5-3 on Thursday, getting a home run against the left-handed Ray from catcher Pedro Severino, who figures to split time with switch-hitter Jose Lobaton behind the plate with Wilson Ramos out.
Lobaton said earlier he was told he and Severino will platoon. When asked, Dusty said "maybe." Then smiled. Severino hit his HR off a lefty.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) September 29, 2016
Dusty said he told Severino to do the same thing (homer) vs Kershaw. Asked if Seve will platoon against lefties, he said "maybe," and smiled— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) September 29, 2016
If Gio Gonzalez is the Game 3 starter for Washington, there still figures to be room for pitchers Joe Ross and Reynaldo Lopez on the NLDS roster.
Sounds like Lopez will make the playoff roster as a long man, Dusty hinted. Dusty also said Ross pitching out of bullpen possible too.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) September 29, 2016
As for the Dodgers, manager Dave Roberts in his pregame scrum with reporters said out loud what has been obvious given the recent allocation of playing time.
Andrew Toles will be on the NLDS roster, Dave Roberts says.— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) September 29, 2016
Nationals 5, Diamondbacks 3
4:05 p.m. PT: Marlins (Andrew Cashner) at Nationals (A.J. Cole)
7:15 p.m.: Dodgers (Rich Hill) at Giants (Madison Bumgarner)