Daniel Murphy has taken only two at-bats in the last two weeks, with the Nationals trying to give their MVP candidate as much time as possible to recover from a strained buttocks muscle and be ready for Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday.
Murphy, though, might have good reason to try for one at-bat at some point in today's series finale.
Murphy enters the day with a batting average of .3472, narrowly behind the Rockies' D.J. LeMahieu's .3478 for the NL lead. LeMahieu wasn't in Colorado's lineup Thursday or Friday, was pulled Saturday after going 0-for-2 and is not in today's lineup. And there's been no indication he's dealing with any injury.
If LeMahieu decides to sit on his average and not play today, and if Murphy were to go 1-for-1 with a pinch-hit, Murphy would raise his average to .3484 and thus win the batting title.
Would the Nationals take the risk and give him a crack at it? Manager Dusty Baker would like him to be as prepared as possible for the playoffs, and there is some concern about his timing at the plate after this long layoff.
At the same time, the last thing the club wants is for Murphy to injure himself now, so they may prefer to let him prepare in more controlled environments. He has been taking batting practice the last few days, and he could get at-bats in some kind of simulated game later this week.
Murphy isn't the only regular out of the Nationals lineup for today's finale. Jayson Werth is out for the second straight day after leaving Friday night's game in the eighth inning with tightness in his back. Werth insisted all along the injury wasn't significant and didn't rise to the level of a strain or pull, but it appears the club is taking the extra-cautious route with this.
Bryce Harper is playing today, and perhaps for good reason: Tom Koehler is starting for the Marlins. If you were trying to concoct a best-case scenario to get Harper's swing in order in time for the playoffs, this would be it.
Harper's career numbers vs. Koehler: 11-for-30, six homers, 11 RBIs, six walks, 1.472 OPS. That includes 4-for-6 with a homer this season.
In other news, A.J. Cole dropped the appeal of his five-game suspension yesterday, according to the Nationals. He is serving the first two games of the suspension this weekend, then will serve the final three games at the start of the 2017 season. (Postseason games are not subject.)
Update: The Nationals jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second, thanks to three straight walks issued by Koehler, Jose Lobaton's sacrifice fly and Max Scherzer's two-run single up the middle. Yes, Scherzer, who was fired up big-time after that hit. On the mound, Scherzer was strong for three innings, but then he served up a two-run homer to Destin Hood in the top of the fourth. Hood, once a second-round pick of the Nats, probably always dreamed of hitting his first career homer here. He just didn't expect to do it in a Marlins uniform. So that trimmed the Nats' lead to 3-2, but then who should get those runs right back but Scherzer again. Yep, another two-run single to center, giving him four RBIs on the afternoon. The crowd here loves it. Nats lead 5-2 after four.
Update II: This has turned into a wild one. The Marlins scored three times in the top of the fifth, getting a two-run homer from Tomas Telis (first of his career) and an RBI triple by Christian Yelich. Scherzer departed after those five innings, his ERA up to 2.96, his chance at 20 wins gone ... unless his teammates could re-take the lead in the bottom of the inning. Which they did. Wilmer Difo delivered an RBI groundout to bring home the go-ahead run. Danny Espinosa then launched a two-run homer, his 24th of the season, making it 8-5. Then came some real drama: Murphy came up to pinch-hit, as suspected earlier. A base hit would have made him the NL batting champion. The crowed roared as he roped a ball down the right field line ... but foul. He then sent a high fly ball to right, dashing those dreams. He finishes the season with a .3465 batting average, with LeMahieu (who has not played today) still sitting at .3478.
Update III: That'll do it. Nats win 10-7 after both teams scored a pair of runs in the eighth. Scherzer finishes 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 228 1/3 innings. Mark Melancon finishes with 47 saves, including 17 in 18 attempts with the Nats. The Nationals finish 95-67. Next up: Game 1 against the Dodgers on Friday.