I'm back, folks. Can't get rid of me that easily.
Big thanks to the MASNsports.com staff for filling in over the last few days while I was out of town for my good buddy's wedding. I wish I could say I'm returning to the beat rested and refreshed, but that's most certainly not the case.
Still, it's good to be back.
I guess I missed a little bit while I was gone. Bryce Harper followed his emotional clubhouse rally-cry in Detroit with a homer on Friday, Dan Haren continued his post-DL turnaround with a gem on Saturday, Jayson Werth got stuck with a couple more bumps and bruises but kept on raking, Adam LaRoche borrowed Werth's bat and went yard, and the Nats closed out their weekend set in Milwaukee yesterday with a tough 8-5 loss.
All that is just the opening act for what will take place the next three days, however.
The Nats open a three-game series with the Braves tonight, and calling these games "big" is probably an understatement.
Atlanta enters this series absolutely on fire, having won 10 games in a row, and the Braves now hold a 12 1/2-game lead in the National League East. The Nats still have nine games left against Atlanta, and so while a comeback in the division seems pretty darn unlikely, it is still doable.
That said, the Nats probably need to take seven of those nine games at the absolute least in order to have any type of shot at another NL East title.
Win all three games against Atlanta this week, you're heading in the right direction. Win two, you've still got a chance. Win fewer than that, you're at least 13 1/3 back with 48 games to play and it's probably time to turn the attention completely towards the Wild Card.
We've got three pretty good pitching match-ups ahead of us in this series; tonight it's Stephen Strasburg (5-9, 3.04 ERA) against left-hander Mike Minor (11-5, 2.75), tomorrow it's Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.57) against Julio Teheran (8-5, 3.02) and Wednesday it'll be Jordan Zimmermann (13-6, 3.06) against Kris Medlen (8-10, 3.85).
On the Wild Card front, the Nats are 6 1/2 games back of the Reds for the final playoff spot in the NL, but there are no head-to-head battles between the Nats and the Reds left on the schedule. That obviously makes overcoming the deficit a tougher battle.
Meanwhile, on a larger scale, today should end up being a monumental day in baseball history, as Major League Baseball is expected to hand down lengthy suspensions this afternoon for the number of players that took or received performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis, the now-shuttered anti-aging clinic in the Miami area.
Alex Rodriguez will be the headliner along that group of players receiving suspensions, but there are other big names in the mix, as well. It still doesn't appear Gio Gonzalez will be one of them.
I was told by a Nats official last night that the team still doesn't expect any league-issued punishment for Gonzalez, which stays consistent with what we've heard in the last handful of months.
Gonzalez's name was listed in the notebooks of Tony Bosch, Biogenesis' founder, but at no point in the last six months or so since the Biogenesis story broke thanks to records obtained by the Miami New Times have we heard of any direct purchase or use of PEDs by the Nats left-hander.
Gonzalez has claimed he's completely clean and never purchased or used PEDs, and his father, Max, has stated that he was the one that had ties to Biogenesis, in an attempt to lose weight. There has been no evidence that we've seen released to disprove those claims, and the Nats have been confident for a while now that Gonzalez would avoid any punishment from the league office.
We'll find out sometime in the next handful of hours exactly how many players are given suspensions and how long they're out, news that very well could impact playoff races around the game over the final two months of the regular season.
Update: According to multiple reports, Gonzalez has been cleared by MLB and will not be suspended for any involvement with Biogenesis.
There are 13 total players who have been suspended by MLB, and 12 have accepted the suspensions. Rodriguez is reportedly the lone player who received a suspension who will appeal, allowing him to play for the Yankees tonight.
The players suspended today are: Rodriguez, Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo, Mets utilityman Jordany Valdespin, minor leaguers Sergio Escalona, Jesus Montero, Cesar Puello and Fernando Martinez, and free agents Jordan Norberto and Fautino de los Santos.
Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun had already been suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season.
All the suspensions except for Rodriguez's and Braun's are for 50 games. Rodriguez will reportedly be suspended through the 2014 season.