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MIAMI -- When the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins conclude their three-game series on Wednesday, it will be a tale of two National League East franchises headed in opposite directions.
The Marlins (50-55) were sellers in the weeks leading up to the Monday non-waiver trade deadline, and that was fitting because the franchise is also for sale. The club will, in all likelihood, play out the rest of the season as a non-contender and wait to see if a new franchise owner emerges.
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Meanwhile, Washington (63-42) has its eyes on the prize and what would be the first World Series in franchise history. The Nationals are well on their way to their second straight NL East title and their fourth since 2012 … but they want more.
Even after Miami rallied from six runs down to beat Washington 7-6 on Tuesday night, the Nationals were still the happier team.
After all, they lead the second-place Marlins by 13 games, and Washington got good news when two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer announced after the game that the neck spasms that forced him out of the game in the second inning were but a minor inconvenience.
"I'm all right," a jovial Scherzer said as all of Washington D.C. exhaled.
Looking forward, the Nationals' main roadblocks to getting to the World Series this year appear to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the best record in the majors, and the defending champion Chicago Cubs.
With the big picture in mind, Washington will focus on the details, beginning with Wednesday's pitching matchup. The Nationals will send out right-hander A.J. Cole against Marlins right-hander Vance Worley.
Cole, 25, was brought up from Triple-A Syracuse in a move announced late Tuesday night. He is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in one start for Washington this year, a 6-2 victory at Philadelphia on May 6. At Syracuse, he was 4-4 with a 5.66 ERA in 16 starts.
Worley, who turns 30 in September, is the sort of journeyman pitcher Washington hitters should feast on. He is 0-2 with a 6.42 ERA this season, starting five games and pitching eight times in relief.
For his career, Worley is 33-32, including 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 10 appearances against Washington.
Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy has had great success in 24 plate appearances against Worley, batting .545 with three extra-base hits.
Worley lasted just four innings in his most recent start, Friday against the Cincinnati Reds, which means the bullpen could be on alert Wednesday.
Miami traded setup reliever David Phelps and closer AJ Ramos before the deadline, and the Marlins also lost key bullpen piece Kyle Barraclough to the disabled list.
Still, the Marlins' bullpen was brilliant on Tuesday as five relievers combined to pitch six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits. Brad Ziegler, in his first appearance since coming off the disabled list after recovering from a back injury, earned his first save of the season.
"Everyone was locked in," Ziegler said of the Miami bullpen. "Guys were attacking the zone and making them hit on our terms, and that's a pretty good recipe for success."
Washington's bullpen, which has been the club's weakness all season, was poor again on Tuesday, allowing seven runs in seven innings.
The Nationals 'pen should be better now than it was earlier in the year. The team added three bullpen arms right before the deadline, Brandon Kintzler (28 saves), Sean Doolittle (seven saves) and Ryan Madson (1.83 ERA).
But given how many innings the Washington relievers had to pitch on Tuesday, manager Dusty Baker hopes Cole can pitch at least six innings on Wednesday.
"It's very important," Baker said. "We had to use almost our whole bullpen (Tuesday). Fortunately for us, we will have a day off on Thursday."