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Instant analysis: Nats 2, Mets 0

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Instant analysis: Nats 2, Mets 0

Game in a nutshell: While much of the baseball world questioned the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg over the weekend, the Nationals insisted all along they had a capable late-season replacement in John Lannan. And given what Lannan did tonight -- 5 23 scoreless innings -- it's hard to find fault with the Nationals' logic. The left-hander wasn't overpowering by any means, but he threw strikes, kept the ball down in the zone and most importantly kept the Mets off the scoreboard. Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond then supplied the offense with a pair of solo homers. And five relievers (Christian Garcia, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen) finished off the shutout. Yes, Burnett pitched the ninth inning to record the save, despite missing the last 10 days with elbow inflammation. With Tyler Clippard having pitched the previous two nights and a couple of left-handed hitters due up for the Mets, Davey Johnson rolled the dice and turned to Burnett. It worked, though it still required Storen recording the final out of the game to give the Nats a series sweep. And with the Braves trailing by a touchdown late in Milwaukee, the Nationals could find themselves with an 8 12-game lead in the NL East by night's end.

Hitting highlight: They tried to produce offense via small ball -- Bryce Harper laid down a sacrifice bunt with two on and nobody out, which wound up failing miserably -- but in the end the Nationals stuck with what has become their forte in recent weeks: the long ball. Zimmerman launched a solo homer to left in the fourth, his 22nd of the season. Then Desmond launched a solo homer of his own to deep left-center in the eighth, his 23rd of the season. That gave the Nationals 35 homers over their last 14 games. And boy were these two needed tonight.

Pitching highlight: Facing added pressure and scrutiny since he was officially taking over Strasburg's start, Lannan remained calm, cool and collected as always. He didn't try to be something he's not and stayed true to what has allowed him to be successful in his career: He pitched to contact and kept the ball on the ground. Twelve of the 23 batters Lannan faced hit groundballs. He issued only one walk (to the last batter he faced). And he made some big pitches when he needed to with men on base. Johnson gave him kind of an early hook (after only 81 pitches) but nobody can complain about the job Lannan did, or has done for the Nationals this year. In three big-league starts, he's now 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA.

Key stat: With his fourth-inning homer, Zimmerman recorded an RBI in his ninth straight game. That's a new franchise (ExposNationals) record.

Up next: The Nationals will fly to Atlanta late tonight, enjoy a day off tomorrow and then open a big weekend series with the Braves. Ross Detwiler faces the red-hot Kris Medlen in Friday night's 7:35 p.m. opener.

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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.