- - Sunday, September 8, 2019

After going just one-for-four against the Atlanta Braves over the weekend, the Washington Nationals can now concentrate on the task at hand — nailing down the top wild-card spot.

The Nationals salvaged a face-saving 9-4 win Sunday afternoon, but any hopes of catching the first-place Braves likely disappeared with three straight losses in Atlanta Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Washington (79-63) is now nine games back in the division with 20 games left.

The Nationals are still in line for the playoffs, but it will take a collapse by the 89-55 Braves to claim the division. ESPN.com had Washington’s playoff chances at 93.3% before Sunday’s win.

“September, there’s a lot of things going on,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “One, we’re in a pennant race. It takes everybody on the roster, and everybody has to participate, and when we do that we’re really good.”

The Nationals are ahead of the Chicago Cubs (76-66), who may be without injured shortstop Javier Baez (left hand) for some time. Third baseman Kris Bryant also did not start Sunday for the Cubs due to a knee injury.



The Arizona Diamondbacks (75-68) are hot, with 11 wins in 12 games before losing Sunday.

The Cubs had a 70.2% of making the playoffs and Arizona was at 18.3% before Sunday, per ESPN.com

The relief core of the Nationals is going to be a topic of discussion — and a concern — until their last pitch of the season.

Hunter Strickland, acquired in a late July trade with Seattle, gave up two homers in the 5-4 loss Saturday night. Reliever Javy Guerra gave up a homer in the ninth Sunday to Charlie Culberson.

The bullpen ERA was 5.74 going into Sunday’s game and Washington relievers have allowed 80 homers while posting a 24-30 record. The starters are 55-33 with an ERA around 3.60 and have given up 101 homers.

The Nationals had just one lefty available in the bullpen Sunday in closer Sean Doolittle, who came off the injured list seven days earlier. Doolittle pitched a scoreless inning Saturday and lowered his ERA to a career-high 4.09.

Lefty Roenis Elias has a hamstring strain and was unavailable Sunday. Veteran lefty reliever Matt Grace was designated for assignment Aug. 30, cleared waivers and accepted his minor league assignment, according to a source.

When Adam Eaton got banged up, the Nationals started Michael A. Taylor in right field on Thursday and Friday. Eaton was back in the lineup Sunday. Veteran outfielder Gerardo Parra was another option, but he is hitting .077 in his last 15 games.

Left fielder Juan Soto, who got his 100th RBI of the year Saturday, is optimistic about the stretch drive.

“We just feel a little bit down, but we still have a chance,” Soto said. “We got another series with [the Braves], so we got to keep it going.”

The Nationals are now 36-44 against teams with a winning record and 16-21 in one-run games this season, after losing by one Friday and Saturday. Washington is 43-19 against teams with a losing record in 2019.

The Nationals begin a three-game series on Tuesday at Minnesota, which leads the American League Central. The Nationals host the Braves for three games starting Friday. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 4.11) is on track to start Tuesday for Washington against the Twins, followed by Stephen Strasburg (16-6, 3.50) and Patrick Corbin (11-7, 3.16).

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