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The Nationals, with chance to impact playoff race, show why they’re in last

Bryce Harper slides safely into second with his 10th stolen base of the season, one of six the Phillies had Friday in the first game of a doubleheader against the Nationals. (Nick Wass/AP)

The past few months of Washington Nationals baseball have been important for young, developing players to get meaningful reps in the majors. But as far as meaningful games are concerned, the Nationals began play Friday 43½ games out of first.

This weekend’s four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies offered the Nationals a taste of contests with import. Washington entered with an opportunity to have an impact on the National League postseason race with the visitors clinging to a slim lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the final playoff spot.

From the start of Friday’s planned day-night doubleheader, one team looked hungry and eager for more October baseball while the other looked sloppy and uninspired. The Phillies went on top early and cruised to a 5-1 win that the Nationals made interesting only when they brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth (but failed to score). The second game was postponed about 30 minutes before first pitch because of rain; the teams will play a split doubleheader Saturday at 1:05 and 7:05 p.m. as initially scheduled before a final game Sunday.

The Phillies (84-72) snapped a five-game losing streak to extend their lead for the final wild-card spot to a full game over the Brewers, who played late.

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“Regardless of what you think, you’re playing to knock someone out and for pride,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “They’re going out there, and they’re playing hard. … Today, it didn’t start off well, but we started coming back. And then a couple of errors hurt us a little bit. But they’re playing hard.”

The Nationals’ miscues came from all over. Starter Erick Fedde fell behind against Rhys Hoskins in the first inning, then left a 3-2 cutter over the plate that Hoskins sent into the right field seats. Hoskins added an RBI single in the ninth as the Phillies plated a pair of insurance runs.

But between the first and final Phillies runs came costly, avoidable mistakes.

Fedde’s slow delivery to the plate resulted in five stolen bases for the Phillies in the first four innings, though catcher Riley Adams shouldered the blame after the game. Philadelphia finished with six steals; Realmuto alone had three and is 21 for 21 on the season.

Victor Robles opened the third inning with a single but was picked off on the ensuing pitch when he ran on the first move from lefty Bailey Falter. Lane Thomas was thrown out by Realmuto later in the inning.

After a two-out double by Brandon Marsh in the fourth that Robles nearly grabbed, Jean Segura singled. Robles — in a recurring mistake that continues to rankle the coaching staff — missed the cutoff man, and his offline throw wasn’t in time, allowing Segura to advance to second.

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Two innings later, CJ Abrams airmailed a throw to open the sixth on a groundball from Nick Castellanos; Abrams simply didn’t get his legs under him. The throw hit the netting behind the Nationals’ dugout and came close to a few pitchers. Castellanos would go on to score when reliever Jordan Weems balked, and the Phillies led 3-0.

Even when Luis García hit a two-out RBI single in the seventh to cut the Nationals’ deficit to 3-1 and advanced to second, the momentum didn’t last. García got caught too far off second, and Realmuto threw behind him; García eventually was called out in a rundown but was bailed out by a catcher’s inference call that kept the inning alive only for Robles to strike out.

“As much as we talk about these little things, they got to start getting better at it,” Martinez said. “They got to start paying attention. They’re told by our base coaches; we’re down, so let the guy hit.”

Who is tentatively scheduled to pitch the rest of this series? Aníbal Sánchez will start Game 1 of the doubleheader, and Tommy Romero, who was scheduled to pitch Friday night, will pitch Game 2. Patrick Corbin will start in the series finale.

Romero, 25, was claimed off waivers by the Nationals on Aug. 25 from the Tampa Bay Rays. He made his major league debut for Tampa Bay on April 12 and has made three appearances in the majors. Martinez said the team let a few pitchers in Class AAA know in advance that they might need to make a start before the end of the season. Romero got the call.

Why won’t MacKenzie Gore pitch again this season? With uncertainty about this weekend’s games because of the weather, Martinez, Gore and General Manager Mike Rizzo opted to shut Gore down for the season. Instead, the left-hander will work with the team’s training staff on starting his offseason work that includes a strengthening and stamina program. Gore feels well physically, and Martinez said he could throw another bullpen session.

Who took home the Nationals’ minor league awards? Cade Cavalli, who has been sidelined since he made his debut Aug. 26, took home minor league pitcher of the year. Cavalli compiled a 3.71 ERA in 20 minor league starts this year and finished by allowing just six earned runs over his final seven outings before his call-up.

The Nationals had two hitters of the year: outfielders Jeremy De La Rosa and James Wood, who was one of six players acquired in the Aug. 2 deal that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres. Other award winners included infielders Jordy Barley (defensive player of the year) and Jake Alu (Nationals Way Award) and outfielder Jacob Young (base runner of the year).

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