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Nats beaten, but still have a chance to clinch

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Nats beaten, but still have a chance to clinch

ST. LOUIS -- They picked just about the worst possible moment to play their worst ballgame of the season, a 2-hour, 51-minute stinker that ended in a 12-2 thumping at the hands of an opponent who looked far more ready for the postseason than they did.

So why weren't the Nationals completely down in the dumps at the end of a miserable night at Busch Stadium?

"That was a beating, there," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "But we're obviously watching the scoreboard, and the Braves finally lost a game this month. So I guess we can take that as a positive."

Yes, the best thing that happened to the Nationals Friday night took place 554 miles to the southeast in Atlanta, where the Braves blew a late lead to the Mets and lost 3-1 on Chipper Jones Night, failing to gain any ground in the NL East.

So, guess what, folks: The Nationals, with their magic number down to 2, have a chance to clinch their first-ever division title Saturday night.

That kind of takes the sting out of the most-lopsided loss of the season, doesn't it?

"Oh, yeah. Yeah," LaRoche said. "You know it's getting down to the wire. We know that. We obviously like our chances, but nothing's done until it's sealed up. So you're getting beat by 10 runs, you try to look at the positives in it. Forget about this one."

That was the overarching theme throughout the Nationals clubhouse, players and coaches trying to throw this monstrosity out the window and immediately shift their attention to the greater task at hand.

"I don't even want to talk about it," manager Davey Johnson said with a smile.

It may be relatively easy for the Nationals as a whole to brush this one off. It may not be quite as easy for the man most responsible for allowing it to happen: Edwin Jackson.

The veteran right-hander suffered through his worst start of the year, getting torched for nine runs (eight earned) in only 1 13 innings and putting his team in a 9-1 hole before many in the crowd of 39,166 had a chance to settle into their seats.

"Very disappointing and embarrassing," Jackson said. "When your club is in a pennant race and you have a game like that, it definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth that you did absolutely nothing to give your team a chance to win."

Jackson didn't mince words when described an utterly forgettable start. He faced 15 batters and managed to retire only three of them. One was a double-play grounder hit by the opposing pitcher. The other two still drove in runs with productive outs.

The Nationals felt this was an anomaly, a one-time blip that carries no significance in the bigger picture. But there are some red flags for Jackson that pre-date this game.

This was the 29-year-old's fifth appearance this month. Only one qualified as a quality start: last Saturday's eight-inning masterpiece against the Brewers. His ERA for the month: 7.92. His updated ERA for the season: 4.13.

Do the Nationals need to reconsider how Jackson (who seemed to be penciled in all along as their No. 3 starter for the postseason) figures into their October plans? Johnson insisted the answer is no.

"I just throw it out," the manager said of this start. "If he usually has trouble, it's early, and he couldn't right the ship. The Cardinals are in kinda playoff mode. They're going to jump all over him. Getting behind, walking people, just gets them more fired up."

Jackson, who owns a World Series ring as a member of St. Louis' 2011 championship rotation, has bounced back from enough bad starts in his career to start worrying now. This was the fifth time he failed to complete two innings, though the first time since 2007.

"Short-term memory, man," he said. "It's not the first game. Just shake it off. I'm not dead from this game. It just definitely leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But I'm not going to go jump off a bridge or anything because of the game."

Nor should anyone in the Nationals clubhouse harbor such morose feelings right now.

They may have just suffered their worst beating of the season. But thanks to a surprising development in Atlanta, they'll show up at Busch Stadium on Saturday with an opportunity to do something no Washington baseball club has done in 79 years: Celebrate the clinching of a title.

"It wasn't happening tonight. Tomorrow's another day," Johnson said. "We got a little help from our friends. That was nice."

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Scherzer dominant as Nationals edge Phillies 3-2

Scherzer dominant as Nationals edge Phillies 3-2

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Max Scherzer didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning and he was dominant through eight as the Washington Nationals continued their mastery of the Philadelphia Phillies with a 3-2 victory Tuesday night.

Scherzer (15-7) allowed three hits and struck out 11 while walking one. He was perfect through the first four innings, striking out five consecutive batters -- all swinging -- between the second and third innings.

Ryan Howard, who got the start despite being 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer coming in, hit an opposite-field two-run home run in the seventh inning to break up the shutout and pull the Phillies within 3-2.

But Scherzer closed the door from there, striking out three more in the seventh and eighth en route to his 15th win of the season.

Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save, getting a strikeout and inducing a game-ending double play after issuing a leadoff walk.

Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera collected the only other hits for the Phillies, who have lost six of eight to fall 12 games below .500. They have dropped their last eight games to Washington, which matches the team record for consecutive losses vs. the Nationals/Expos franchise.

Scherzer, who pitched two no-hitters last season, didn't allow a runner to reach base until Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp walked with one out in the fifth. Galvis ripped a double to right-field to lead off the sixth to break up Scherzer's no-hit bid, but was picked off second base by Scherzer to end the scoring threat.

Scherzer has allowed just five hits in his last two starts after pitching a two-hit, eight-inning gem vs. Baltimore on Thursday. He's taken a no-hitter into the sixth in nine of his 61 all-time starts with the Nationals.

The Washington ace also had a sacrifice-bunt RBI in the fourth after Ryan Zimmerman walked and Danny Espinosa ripped a single. The inning ended when Espinoza was thrown out at the plate on a dart from Phillies right fielder Aaron Altherr with Espinoza colliding with Rupp on the play.

The Nationals staked Scherzer to an early lead in the first inning. With two outs and nobody on, Daniel Murphy doubled before scoring on a double by Bryce Harper, his 19th RBI in the last 19 games. Wilson Ramos brought Harper home with an RBI single to put the Nats ahead 2-0.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff (9-13), who walked just six batters in his last eight starts coming in, issued three walks and allowed five hits and three earned runs through six innings.

Scherzer's double-digit strikeout game was the 12th of the season, setting a Nationals record. He improved his career record to 7-1 against the Phillies, including a 6-0 mark since he joined the Nats in 2015.

The Nationals, who opened their six-game road trip with a 4-0 victory over the Phillies on Monday, are 7-1 at Citizens Bank Park this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: Peter Bourjois missed his second straight game after getting hit in the left wrist by a pitch Sunday.

UP NEXT

The Phillies and Nationals wrap up their three-game series Wednesday night with Philadelphia LHP Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) opposing LHP Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25).

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Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Nats (76-55) at Phillies (60-71) at Citizens Bank Park

After bouncing back with a 4-0 victory in the series opener, the Nats look to keep it going in Philly on Tuesday night with ace Max Scherzer on the mound.

Scherzer, who is 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA, tossed eight shutout innings against the Orioles his last time out. He last saw the Phillies on June 1 at CBP and gave up two runs in eight innings of work.

Ryan Zimmerman is back in there at first base after taking Monday off. The rest of the Nats lineup is the same.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Phillies - Jerad Eickhoff

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jerad Eickhoff

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

Don't count out the New York Mets just yet. 

The Nationals may be up nine games in the National League East, but their rivals from the Big Apple have slowly crawled their way back into the wild card picture.

The biggest reason why? The return of a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, who missed most of August with a quad injury. In the nine games since he’s been back, the 30-year-old outfielder has slashed .389/.450/.861 with five home runs, including Monday night’s extra-inning walk-off shot against fellow-wild card hopeful Miami Marlins.

"He's that kind of player," manager Terry Collins said via NJ.com. "You expect big things each and every time he goes up. He's one of those guys people pay to see him play. They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up."

After it seemed like the Mets were down and out, the Cespedes’ bat has resuscitated their playoff push. New York is 7-2 with Cespedes in the lineup since August 19, and its offense has averaged nearly six runs a game during that span. So just like 2015 postseason run, it's on Cespedes to lead the way. 

“Every time I see Cespedes at home plate, I feel like he's going to hit a homer," third baseman Jose Reyes said. "That's the way I feel in the dugout. I'm sure the other guys feel the same way. They had the opportunity to see him get hot last year, and for me, seeing him this year, it's unbelievable what he can do on the baseball field. Basically he can do whatever he wants to.”

New York's mini-surge has happened at the right time, with the club just 2 1/2 games out of a wild card spot and nearly a month left in the season. 

“We're going into September," Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us....now we're in a better position."