Instant analysis: Cardinals 12, Nats 2

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Instant analysis: Cardinals 12, Nats 2

Game in a nutshell: Not a whole lot to say about this one, other than to point out how bad Edwin Jackson was during a miserable 1 13 innings on the mound. The right-hander was torched for nine runs (eight earned), putting his team in a 9-1 hole in the second inning. Not much else mattered after that, with Davey Johnson pulling seven of his eight regulars (everyone except Danny Espinosa), choosing to live to fight another day. And yet the night really wasn't a lost cause for the Nationals, because Lucas Duda's 3-run homer in Atlanta led the Mets to a 3-1 win and spoiled Chipper Jones Night for the Braves. Thus the Nationals somehow managed to get blown out yet still see their magic number drop to 2. Which means they can clinch the NL East title tomorrow night with a win plus another Braves loss. Kind of takes the sting out of this ugly performance, doesn't it?

Hitting lowlight: It's tough find much motivation when you step to the plate trailing by eight runs, so it's hard to find too much fault with the Nationals' hitting approach in this one. They did get a couple of nice at-bats in the top of the first out of Bryce Harper (who doubled) and Adam LaRoche (who battled through a 10-pitch encounter with Adam Wainwright to poke an RBI single). That was the 95th run Harper has scored this season, so he needs five more in the season's final five games to become only the second teenager ever to score 100 runs.

Pitching lowlight: In his defense, Jackson wasn't helped by his defense in the first inning, with Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman bobbling the ball. And he allowed a couple of soft singles. But that doesn't overshadow everything else the right-hander did wrong. He walked four batters. Uncorked two wild pitches. Threw only 25 of 56 pitches for strikes. Faced 15 batters and retired only three of them (one a 380-foot bomb to the warning track, another a double play hit by the pitcher). Thus continued Jackson's difficult September. He's now got a 7.92 ERA in five starts this month. His season ERA jumped from 3.77 to 4.13 in this outing alone. That's not easy to do this late in the year. The way things are trending, you certainly have to think Ross Detwiler will be Davey Johnson's No. 3 starter in the postseason, with Jackson bumped to the fourth slot.

Key stat: With his first-inning RBI single, LaRoche now has 99 for the season. That's one shy of his career high, set in 2010 with the Diamondbacks.

Up next: It's the moment you've been waiting 79 years to experience: Washington's baseball club has a chance to clinch a title tomorrow night. Jordan Zimmermann will face Kyle Lohse at 7:15 p.m. EDT, hoping to earn his 13th win, and hoping the Mets can beat the Braves again and secure the NL East crown for the Nationals.

Daniel Murphy owns up to costly error after loss to Mets

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Daniel Murphy owns up to costly error after loss to Mets

The margin for error is always going to be slim when you're facing your most closely-matched division rival and when they've got a pitcher as lethal as lefty Steven Matz on the mound, and on Wednesday it was a mistake by Daniel Murphy at second base that loomed large in a 2-0 Nationals loss to the New York Mets.

With the Nats down a run in the seventh inning and Mets infielder Matt Reynolds on first base, first baseman Eric Campbell smacked a hard groundball to Murphy at second. It shot up to the left of his glove and through his legs into center field.

That put runners on the corners with one out and set up an RBI single to left field by Mets catcher Rene Rivera. The score was then 2-0 and that would hold until the final out was made.

After the game Murphy brought up his mistake on his own when asked an unrelated question. 

"I misplayed another groundball, which just needs to stop happening. I just need to work harder on that," Murphy said of his team-high fifth error of the season.

Murphy came to the Nats with a reputation for subpar defensive play and this was the most obvious case so far of it affecting the outcome of a game. Though the Nats didn't score any runs on the day, Murphy explained how he thinks his mistake altered the momentum and scope of the contest.

"I think it was a double play ball and [Tanner Roark] should have gotten out of the inning. Then it was 2-0 and it just changes our approach from an offensive perspective," he said.

Murphy was asked if the ball took a bad bounce and he declined to go there, instead referring to the sequence as a "bad play by me."

His manager, Dusty Baker, didn't fault Murphy for the loss and instead focused on the dominant performance by Mets starter Steven Matz.

"Errors are part of the game," Baker said.

Baker, of course, can live with the occasional error as long as Murphy is atop the majors with a .394 batting average. Murphy's OPS is 1.043 and he's on pace for a career-high in homers. He's been as important to the Nationals' first-place start through 47 games as anybody.

Murphy knows defense is an area of game that needs improvement and Baker is not too concerned about it at this point.

"Murph works hard at it, he works very hard and he takes it hard when he doesn't make the plays," Baker said.

Matz too much as Mets take finale and series against Nationals

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Matz too much as Mets take finale and series against Nationals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 2-0 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Facing any pitcher for the first time can be a challenge, especially when that foe is an emerging star lefty with a mid-90s sinker that dives over the plate like a fighter jet.

Mets southpaw Steven Matz has had his way with the Nationals on Wednesday, just as he has with the rest of the league in his brief MLB career. He went eight efficient, shutout innings with just four hits allowed, at times retiring Nationals hitters with leisure. Perhaps they'll have better luck the next time they see him, but this simply wasn't their day.

Matz outdueled Nats starter Tanner Roark, who was pretty good himself. He went seven innings with two runs allowed, only one of them earned. The second came home after a Daniel Murphy error that ultimately proved a costly one.

What it means: The Mets have evened up the season series at 3-3 and cut the Nats' division lead back to a half-game in the NL East. The Nationals fell to 28-19 on the year with the St. Louis Cardinals up next.

Roark strong again: Roark was excellent in his first meeting with the Mets of this season despite giving up an early run on a homer to David Wright in the first inning. The right-hander settled in after that and at one point retired eight in a row from the second through the fourth. Roark did let another run in in the seventh inning before he was removed, but it wasn't earned. That's thanks to Murphy's error on a hard-hit groundball right to him by Eric Campbell. Murphy couldn't corral it and that set up runners on the corners for Rene Rivera, who singled to left field to make it 2-0 Mets. It was Murphy's fifth error this season, most on the Nationals.

Roark finished with seven innings and one earned run on five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 113 total pitches and made it at least seven innings for the fifth time in 10 starts this season. It was the sixth time he's gone at least six innings with one earned run or less allowed. It's also the fourth time this season he's reached the 110-pitch mark.

Matz tough in first matchup: This was the first time the Nationals had ever faced Matz and the lefty certainly didn't take it easy on them. Matz dazzled with a mid-90s sinker combined with a sharp slider to go eight shutout innings. He was pulled after throwing 104 pitches with seven strikeouts and just four hits and a walk allowed. Michael Taylor, Wilson Ramos, Clint Robinson and Murphy were the only ones to get hits off of him. Matz held Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon to a combined 0-for-9 with three strikeouts. Before giving up the hit to Robinson - who pinch-hit in the eighth - he had retired 16 straight batters. He allowed Robinson's single with two outs and then got Bryce Harper - who also pinch-hit - to ground out and end the frame.

Murphy nears Nats record: Murphy may have committed a costly error, but he also inched closer to setting a Nationals record for most hits in a single month with an infield single in the first inning on Wednesday. That gave him 38 hits in the month, just two away from Denard Span's record of 40 set in August of 2014. The Nats have six more games left in May, plenty of time for Murphy to break it. And if he does, he will have set a Nats hits record in just his second month with the team.

Schu ejected: Nats hitting coach Rick Schu was tossed by home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn in the bottom of the fifth for arguing about the strike zone. It happened after Chris Heisey struck out looking against Matz. Schu was seen on the TV replay in the dugout taunting Reyburn by waving his hand over his head. It was Schu's first ejection as a member of the Nats' coaching staff.

Good attendance: The Nats and Mets drew 38,700 for the series finale on Wednesday. That's a sellout and the second-largest crowd of the season so far at Nationals Park.

Up next: The Nationals turn their attention towards the St. Louis Cardinals, who come to Washington for a four-game series through the weekend. Thursday's series opener will pit Joe Ross (3-4, 2.70) against Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake (3-3, 4.07) with a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

Dusty Baker on Harvey ducking Mets media: 'New York will eat you up'

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Dusty Baker on Harvey ducking Mets media: 'New York will eat you up'

Mets pitcher Matt Harvey made headlines on Tuesday night as much for avoiding the media after the game as he did for yet another awful outing on the mound. He left the stadium before reporters entered the clubhouse and let his teammates answer all the questions for him.

As expected, Harvey has been villified by New York media members. New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, for one, went after Harvey in a piece entitled 'Silent Matt Harvey confirms he's the phony Mets have enabled.' It's brutal and Harvey shouldn't be surprised.

That's New York and, some would argue, it comes with the territory. Nationals manager Dusty Baker knows how rough New York can be and on Wednesday he talked about the dysfunction that is plaguing the rival Mets at the moment.

"I'm not going to try to straighten their clubhouse out. It's his prerogative to do what he wants to do. If he doesn't want to talk, then he doesn't have to talk. It will just make it harder on himself. New York will eat you up," Baker said. 

"They know their sports heroes in that town better than anybody... these people in New York, they know. They know sports. They know it big-time. I tell my guys. I'm not going to tell you what to do, but you're going to have to own up to it and live with whatever you do. Try not to put pressure on your teammates to answer your questions."

Whether a player talks after a tough loss always brings a mixed reaction. The media tends to harp on it, while some fans do not care. Some do, of course. But many don't.

Ultimately fans care about the performance on the field and right now Harvey isn't holding up that end of the bargain.