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A St. Louis stinker puts Nats party on hold

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A St. Louis stinker puts Nats party on hold

ST. LOUIS -- They wanted to get this thing over with.

Sure, it's always nice to celebrate at home in front of your own fans, but the Nationals have been inching toward their first-ever division title for quite a while now, and each day that passes without them finishing it off feels like a wasted day, another day in which Davey Johnson feels forced to play all of his regulars instead of giving them a pre-postseason breather.

So the Nationals desperately wanted to celebrate at Busch Stadum Sunday afternoon, either via their own win over the Cardinals or an admittedly unlikely Braves loss at Turner Field.

In the end, they got neither. Atlanta cruised past the Mets again. And the Nationals were ambushed by St. Louis' potent lineup, with starter Ross Detwiler tagged for seven early runs and Chien-Ming Wang adding kerosene to the fire with an ugly performance out of the bullpen.

That all added up to a lopsided, 10-4 loss and (more importantly) no reduction of the Nationals' magic number. Now leading the Braves by three games with three to play, they'll head home and hope now to clinch the the NL East on Monday against a Phillies club that was already eliminated from postseason contention over the weekend.

It's not the scenario Johnson envisioned when he filled out his lineup card Sunday morning, all eight regulars in there, including catcher Kurt Suzuki (who started behind the plate for the ninth straight day).

Johnson had been saying all week he wouldn't hesitate to use up all of his best bullets, as much as necessary, to clinch the division. After that, he'd start resting guys. But a few of his managerial decisions in this game brought that sentiment into question a bit.

Which isn't to say Johnson was the No. 1 reason for this loss. The blame begins with Detwiler, who in the biggest start of his young career fell flat.

Pitching 40 miles from his hometown of Wentzville, Mo., for the first time as a big-leaguer, Detwiler entered this one with plenty of emotions running through his slender frame, knowing he'd have a chance to pitch the Nationals to a division crown in front of dozens of family and friends whose allegiances might have been a bit torn.

Perhaps the 26-year-old lefty couldn't harness all that emotion, though, because he had all sorts of trouble finding the strike zone. He escaped the first inning without allowing a run, but then issued back-to-back walks to open the bottom of the second. He appeared to get himself out of the jam by inducing a tailor-made, 4-6-3 double play grounder out of Daniel Descalso, but Danny Espinosa booted the ball, everyone was safe and the inning was prolonged.

It really was prolonged, because Detwiler responded by serving up a two-run double to Pete Kozma, an RBI single to Jon Jay and then a two-run homer to Carlo Beltran. Just like that, the Nationals trailed 5-0 and Detwiler sauntered around the mound with a look of disgust on his face.

Johnson let his starter take the mound again for the bottom of the third, but he already had Wang warming in the bullpen in case of trouble. Which Detwiler immediately got himself into, issuing a one-out walk and then surrendering another single to Descalso. Johnson strode to the mound, took the ball from his starter and handed it to Wang.

The Taiwanese right-hander has little experience as a reliever, and he hasn't been particularly effective in that role this season, but this might have been his worst performance to date. Wang's first pitch went to the backstop, letting a run score. His next pitch? Also to the backstop, letting a runner advance to third (he then scored moments later on a sacrifice fly, extending the Cardinals' lead to 7-0).

Just when things looked their bleakest, though, the Nationals came storming back in a last-ditch attempt to make a game of this. Bryce Harper led off the fourth with his 22nd homer of the season, leaving him two shy of Tony Conigliaro's all-time record for a teenager. Adam LaRoche singled. Ian Desmond doubled him home. And Espinosa atoned for his earlier error by blasting a two-run homer to right, trimming the lead to 7-4.

His team now trailing by only three runs with five innings still to go and Cardinals starter Lance Lynn on the ropes, Johnson surprisingly let Wang hit for himself with two outs and a man on base. With some awkward hacks at the plate, Wang not surprisingly struck out to kill that potential rally, then retook the mound for the bottom of the fourth hoping to stop the bleeding.

Instead, Wang opened the inning by walking Jay, then served up a two-run homer to Beltran (the veteran's second of the day, meriting a curtain call).

The Nationals now trailed 9-4, having frittered away whatever momentum they had picked up the previous inning. Nobody was warming in the bullpen. Wang was allowed to pitch another 1 23 innings before Johnson finally re-emerged from the dugout to take the ball.

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Nats can't complete rally as they drop third straight to Orioles

Nats can't complete rally as they drop third straight to Orioles

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-8 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night at Nats Park.

How it happened: It appears the Nationals won’t be earning regional bragging right this year.

After dropping two games to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Nats were hoping for some home cooking as the series headed to D.C. They didn’t get it. Instead, they dropped their third straight to the Birds, and fourth overall.

What made Wednesday night particularly disappointing was the uncharacteristic performance of Tanner Roark, who entered the game as perhaps the Nats’ most consistent starting pitcher. From the very first batter, it was apparent the 29-year-old right hander didn’t look like himself. He allowed six of the first seven hitters to reach base, yielding a first-inning four-spot that was highlighted by Manny Machado’s two-run home run.   

The Nats countered with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning, but the Birds reestablished their four-run lead on a Machado RBI single in the second inning to make it 5-1.

From there, Roark settled down a bit, stretching an otherwise laborious outing to five innings. In the meantime, the Nats weren’t able to get to Orioles starter Wade Miley, who limited Washington to one run over five-plus innings.  

The Nats clawed back with a run in the fifth and another in the seventh, but Baltimore did enough to keep the game out of reach. Machado struck again in the eighth inning, tacking on an insurance run with an RBI single to extend the Orioles lead to 6-3. A few batters later, Matt Wieters delivered what looked like finishing blow as he drilled a three-run shot to center field to make it 10-3. 

But the Nats wouldn’t go down without a fight. After a ninth-inning grand slam by Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon soon followed with an RBI double against Orioles closer Zach Britton. However, with two men on for Ryan Zimmerman, Britton induced the game-ending double play.

What it means: The Nats losing skid is now at four, which combined with the Miami Marlins’ win Wednesday night means their NL East lead is down to seven games.

Roark struggles: To put Wednesday night’s uneven outing in perspective, consider this: Roark had allowed four runs combined over his last three starts — and he yielded that many in the first inning alone. His command was clearly off, which is never a good thing against an Orioles lineup that is known to score in bunches. In all, he allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits over five innings while throwing 111 pitches. That’s not a typical Roark start, putting extra stress on an already-taxed bullpen.  

Turner’s historic streak: To watch a Nats game these days is to wonder what Trea Turner will do next. The 23-year-old rookie speedster has done nothing but impress in his first taste of everyday action in the big leagues. And on this night, he etched his name into the franchise record books. Turner notched his eighth hit in his as many at-bats over the last two games, which tied Dmitri Young and Andre Dawson for the Nationals/Expos record. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Up next: The Nats will look to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of their Beltway rivals in Thursday night’s series finale. They'll send ace Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) to the mound, who will be opposed by Ubaldo Jimenez (5-10, 6.94 ERA).

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Trea Turner ties franchise mark with hits in consecutive plate appearances

Trea Turner ties franchise mark with hits in consecutive plate appearances

Trea Turner may be a rookie, but there is no stopping him right now.

The 23-year-old tied a Nationals/Expos franchise record on Wednesday night by landing a hit for the eighth consective plate appearance. He set a career-high with four hits on Tuesday at Camden Yards and carried that over with four hits in his first four at-bats on Wednesday.

That tied Dmitri Young, who had hits in eight straight PAs in 2007 to set a Nationals record, and Andre Dawson, who did the same for the Expos in 1983. 

The MLB record, by the way, is 12. Walt Dropo did that in 1952 for the Detroit Tigers. The NL record is 10, set by Andre Ethier of the Dodgers in 2012.

All four of Turner's hits on Wednesday were singles. One of them was on a bunt in the third off Orioles starter Wade Miley.

Turner also made a highlight reel catch in the first inning to rob Adam Jones of a would-be double. Turner is killing it in the field and at the plate. One could argue he is the Nats' most complete player at this very moment, despite them boasting several stars and a first-place record.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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GIF: Nats CF Trea Turner makes amazing diving grab vs. Orioles

GIF: Nats CF Trea Turner makes amazing diving grab vs. Orioles

Trea Turner has made a few plays in center field this year that may have made some forget he's just learning the position. He was drafted as a shortstop and remained an infielder for almost all of his minor league career.

On Wednesday night, though, he made his best play yet in the very first at-bat of the Nats' game against the Orioles. Adam Jones launched a long flyball to the right-center field gap and Turner tracked it down in a full sprint. He dove and made a fantastic grab to rob Jones of a would-be double.

See the amazing play for yourself:

Turner is an absolute blur.

[RELATED: Olympian Katie Ledecky visits Nats Park, players enthralled with medals]

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