Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Will the Nationals celebrate this afternoon at Busch Stadium?
Today, though, when the Nationals take the field at Busch Stadium, they won't need to look at the out-of-town scoreboard. Their task is simple: Win and they're NL East champs. Yes, they could also back their way in if the Braves lose to the Mets in a game that begins 40 minutes before this one. But the players in the visitors clubhouse prefer it not come to that. As one guy said this morning: "We want to dog-pile."
So it will be a motivated group this afternoon, led by St. Louis native Ross Detwiler and catcher Kurt Suzuki (starting his ninth consecutive game behind the plate). All the regulars are in the lineup, another sign Davey Johnson wants to end this thing right here and right now, then give everyone a rest during the final three games against the Phillies.
Enjoy this day, everyone. And, of course, be sure to check in here for live updates and analysis throughout...
WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Where: Busch Stadium
Gametime: 2:15 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, Ch. 50, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 187
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 70 degrees, Wind 8 mph in from RF
RF Jayson Werth
CF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
LF Michael Morse
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
LHP Ross Detwiler
CF Jon Jay
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Matt Holliday
1B Allen Craig
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese
2B Daniel Descalso
SS Pete Kozma
RHP Lance Lynn
HP Chris Guccione
1B Jeff Nelson (cc)
2B Bill Welke
3B Cory Blaser
2:14 p.m. -- We're about to get underway here, but they're already underway in Atlanta, and David Ross just belted a three-run homer for the Braves to give them a 3-0 lead the bottom of the second.
2:16 p.m. -- And now we're underway with a strike from Lance Lynn to Jayson Werth. Buckle up, folks. Could be a wild ride.
2:27 p.m. -- Jayson Werth, doing what he always does: Getting on base. He roped a double to left-center to get this one started and put the Nats in great position to take an early lead. But then, the unthinkable: Bryce Harper made an out. In the first inning. For the first time in seven days. Still, it was a productive out, a flyball to center that advanced Werth to third. The bigger problem was that the big boys behind Bryce couldn't finish the job. Ryan Zimmerman grounded out to third, and Adam LaRoche (seeking his 100th RBI) struck out to end the top of the first with no score on the board. Meanwhile, the Mets did get a run back in Atlanta in the top of the third, so the Braves now lead 3-1.
2:36 p.m. -- Plenty of fastballs from Ross Detwiler in the bottom of the first, though a good number of them outside of the zone. He threw only 8 of 17 for strikes, walking Carlos Beltran with one out. The lefty battled back, though, and struck out Matt Holliday and got Allen Craig to ground out to end the first inning scoreless.
3:06 p.m. -- Wow, that was ugly. Detwiler and the Nats completely crumbled in the bottom of the second. It began with a pair of walks, then Danny Espinosa booted a tailor-made, 4-6-3 double play grounder. That prolonged the inning, but Detwiler did nothing to help his cause after that. Pete Kozma doubled home two runs into the right-field corner, with the Nats catching a break and throwing out Daniel Descalso trying to score all the way from first. Jon Jay then singled home another run. Carlos Beltran then crushed a 1-2 pitch into the bullpen for a two-run homer. Throw in another walk (his fourth of the game already) and Detwiler is in serious trouble. How bad? So bad that Chien-Ming Wang has begun warming in the bullpen. It's 5-0 Cardinals, while the Braves continue to lead 3-1 in the fifth.
3:12 p.m. -- Meanwhile, Lynn has retired nine straight since Werth's game-opening double. Five of them are strikeouts. The Nats couldn't have scripted the first 2 1/2 innings of this game any worse.
3:27 p.m. -- And that's it for Detwiler. He strikes out Molina to open the third, but then issues his fifth walk of the day and serves up his fourth hit. Just like that, the St. Louis native is done after 2 1/3 innings. In comes Chien-Ming Wang, who naturally throws his first pitch to the backstop, then throws his second one there, too. In comes another run. Then in came another run on a sac fly. Incredibly, the Nationals trail 7-0 after three innings. They may be pleading for the mercy rule to be instituted before this one ends.
3:47 p.m. -- Hold the phone, folks. This one ain't over yet. Harper led off the top of the fourth with his 22nd homer, leaving him just two shy of Tony Conigliaro for the all-time record by a teenager. Hits by LaRoche and Desmond kept the inning going. Espinosa then launched a two-run bomb to right, and all of sudden it was 7-4. In a curious move, Wang got to hit for himself with two outs and a man on first. Predictably, he struck out. As much as Davey has been insisting all hands were on deck until the Nats clinch, you have to wonder why that wasn't the case right there. Why not send up a pinch-hitter? You've got plenty of arms out in the bullpen to get through this game.
4:03 p.m. -- And sure enough, Wang opens the bottom of the fourth by walking Jay and then serving up a two-run bomb to Beltran. Just like that, it's 9-4. Not Davey Johnson's finest managerial hour here today.
4:10 p.m. -- Another walk for Harper. On this road trip, he's now 11-for-23 with three doubles, a triple, three homers, seven RBI, a .520 OBP, a 1.087 slugging percentage and a 1.607 OPS. It's quite possible he's the only guy on the Nats roster right now not caught up in the moment.
4:29 p.m. -- It's over in Atlanta. The Braves win 6-2. So unless the Nats can rally from five runs down, they won't be clinching today and they'll head home hoping to do it against the Phillies tomorrow night.
4:40 p.m. -- Christian Garcia mows down the Cards in order in the bottom of the sixth. Guess he wasn't available to pitch the bottom of the fourth, when the Nats trailed by only three runs. It's still 9-4 as we move to the seventh.
4:56 p.m. -- Onto the eighth, still 9-4. The Reds, meanwhile, came back to win in Pittsburgh. So if the Nats lose today, those two teams will again be tied for the NL's best record. Remember, the Nats would win a tiebreaker against them, based on head-to-head record, so they would still be the NL's No. 1 seed in that scenario.
5:05 p.m. -- Still 9-4, the Nats now down to their last three outs.
5:16 p.m. -- 10-4 now as we go to the ninth.
5:23 p.m. -- It's over. The Nats lose 10-4. They lead the Braves by three games with three to play. The magic number remains 1. They'll head home and try to clinch tomorrow night against the Phillies.