Neil Walker back in starting lineup for first time since August 26

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The Pirates’ recent collapse has been pretty depressing to watch, but there is some good news to report this morning.

According to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Neil Walker is back in the Pirates’ starting lineup this afternoon against the Cubs after missing 16 straight starts due to lower back tightness. He struck out as a pinch-hitter yesterday in his first game action since August 26.

The Pirates went 4-12 with Walker out of the lineup and have lost seven in a row to fall to 72-71 on the year. They’ll open today’s action three games behind the Cardinals in the Wild Card race with 19 games to play. Postseason aspirations aside, avoiding a 20th straight losing season is suddenly looking dicey.

Walker, 27, is batting .280/.341/.434 with 14 home runs, 69 RBI and a .775 OPS in 122 games played this season.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.