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Philadelphia

Nationals still fighting for playoff spot as they visit Marlins

Sports Xchange
17 Sep 2018, 16:03 GMT+10

The Washington Nationals, who have won two straight division titles and three in the past four years, need a miracle to make the playoffs this season.

On Monday night, the Nationals (76-74) visit the Miami Marlins to start a quick two-game series.

The Nationals enter Monday in third place in the NL East, trailing the division-leading Atlanta Braves by 7.5 games.

The Nationals are also six games out of the second and final wild-card spot with just 12 contests left on their schedule. Worse yet, the Nationals trail five teams in the wild-card standings.

"It's a bummer we're not winning games," Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper told the media recently. "That's the biggest thing on my mind."

If Harper is disappointed, imagine how the Marlins feel. Miami (58-91) has the worst record in the National League and the third-lowest win percentage in the majors.

Miami hasn't won consecutive games since Aug. 24-25, and the Marlins have gone 5-13 in that span.

Monday's pitching matchup features a pair of 25-year-old rookie right-handers: Miami's Trevor Richards against Washington's Erick Fedde.

Richards (3-9, 4.85 ERA) has struck out at least seven batters in six of his 22 games this season. He has a below-average fastball (90.8 as opposed to the league norm of 93.1 mph). But he survives on a nasty changeup.

Lately, though, it appears teams have figured him out. In his past seven starts, Richards is 0-4 with a 6.68 ERA.

Perhaps a good omen for Richards is the fact that he pitched six scoreless innings the only time he faced the Nationals at Marlins Park this year, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out eight.

Fedde (2-3, 5.12 ERA), a Las Vegas native, was Washington's first-round pick in 2014, coming out of UNLV.

His best pitch may be his hard (94 mph) slider, and this will be his first-ever start against the Marlins, so there could be an adjustment required of Miami hitters.

Fedde is coming off his best start of the season, holding the Philadelphia Phillies scoreless for 5 2/3 innings on Tuesday, striking out nine while allowing just two hits.

One of the batters Fedde will have to pitch carefully to is Marlins right fielder Peter O'Brien, a 6-4, 235-pounder who has massive power but has yet to get his major league career untracked at age 28.

A former University of Miami star, O'Brien was picked up by the hometown Marlins earlier this month and has two homers and five RBIs in his past three starts.

"We're going to get him extended playing time as we finish up," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of O'Brien. "He has a good approach and a feel for his game, which is that he can hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Indeed, O'Brien hit 26 homers in 2013, 39 in 2014, 32 in 2015 and 29 in 2016. He hit just 16 homers last year but has 32 this season in a bounce-back campaign.

Still, out of all those homes, only eight have come in the majors, where his career OPS is just .699.

"I'm looking to have quality at-bats," O'Brien told the media on Sunday when asked about his approach. "Consistency is the main thing."

Harper, of course, is Washington's big bat. He has 97 RBIs, 97 runs scored and 118 walks. He is on track to become just the sixth player since 2014 to record 100 in each of those categories.

A free agent after this season ends, Harper -- who turns 26 next month -- needs to drive in two more runs to tie his career high.

"I'm not worried about my numbers because I am who I am," Harper said. "That sounds bad, but I am. On any given night, I'm able to do things that are special."

Harper hit just .214 with an .833 OPS in the first half of this season. But since then, he has hit .305 with a .985 OPS.

The Nationals, who have won seven of their past nine games, have ridden the hot bats of Harper, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, among others.

Rendon has reached base in 25 consecutive games, hitting .330 during that span. He hit his 20th homer on Sunday, marking the third straight season he has reached that milestone.

Soto, 19, has reached base in 21 consecutive games. That ties Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle for the second-longest streak by a teenager since 1920. Mel Ott, who had a 22-game streak in 1928, owns the record.

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