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Nationals have four chances at home to clinch National League East

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Washington even would host tiebreaker with Atlanta if necessary

The party will have to wait. The champagne will remain on ice. But maybe it is better this way for the Nationals.

After Sunday's disappointing 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals and the second-place Atlanta Braves' 6-2 win over the New York Mets, Washington's lead in the National League East race dropped to three games with three to play.

Up next
Phillies at Nationals
Kyle Kendrick (10-12, 4.08 ERA) vs. John Lannan (4-0, 4.23 ERA)
When » Monday, 7:05 p.m.
Where » Nationals Park
TV » MASN
Radio » 106.7 the Fan, WFED 1500, WHFS 1580
The Nationals return home with three more opportunities to clinch the National League East title. Left-hander John Lannan, who spent most of the season in the minor leagues at Triple-A Syracuse, gets a chance to play the hero. He already conquered some demons Wednesday after securing his first career win in Philadelphia in an eventual 8-4 Washington victory. Lannan is opposed again by Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who lasted just two innings in that game and gave up three home runs. Lannan tossed 51Ú3 innings of two-run ball and gave up just five hits and a walk.

But the Nats return home for three more games this week in front of their own fans needing just a single win to clinch the division on what would be the most memorable night of baseball in the District since 1933. Even if the worst happens and they go 0-3 against the Philadelphia Phillies and the Braves win all three of their games in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, there still would be a one-game playoff between the two teams to decide the division title in Washington on Thursday.

John Lannan will start Monday's game against Philadelphia with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez set for Tuesday against rookie Tyler Cloyd, if needed. Pushing their luck to Wednesday could be trouble with two-time Cy Young winner Cliff Lee on the mound for the Phillies.

But while the division title looks like a foregone conclusion at this point, Washington is still in a dead heat with the Cincinnati Reds for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The difference between the top seed and the No. 2 seed is big. Because Major League Baseball added a second wild card berth in each league just weeks before the 2012 season started, it had a limited window to cram in the extra two games. So the higher seeds will open with the first two games of the Division Championship Series on the road. That means the No. 2 seed gets a trip to NL West champ San Francisco, which will throw two of the league's best pitchers (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner).

The No. 1 seed, meanwhile, opens the NLDS against the wild-card winner, which already will have thrown its best pitcher Friday and must turn to its No. 2 starter. The Nats own the tiebreaker with Cincinnati for the top seed because they won the season series with the Reds.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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