The Washington Nationals ensured a share of the N.L. East division title with an extra innings win Saturday night. They’ll have to wait at least one more game, though, to clinch the spot outright, as the St. Louis Cardinals, still fighting for their post-season lives, beat up on Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang and beat the Nats 10-4 on Sunday, delaying any champagne celebrations until they return to Nats park for a three-game series with the eliminated Philadelphia Philles, starting Monday evening.
Coupled with an Atlanta Braves 6-2 win over the New York Mets, the Nats lead in the division is down to three games with three to play.
This game got out of hand early as Nats starter Ross Detwiler (L, 10-8, 3.40) had command issues from the very start. Detwiler issued a one-out walk in the first inning but escaped damage in that frame, but it was just a harbinger of things to come. He started the second inning with back-to-back walks to the first two hitters. He then coaxed a ground ball from left-handed hitting Daniel Descalso, but Danny Espinosa booted the tailor-made double play ball and all hands were safe.
After that, the floodgates opened up. No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma doubled to the right field corner to score two runs. Two batters later, Jon Jay singled to left to plate Kozma. Then, Carlos Beltran clobbered the first of his two homers on the day to make it 5-0.
Detwiler got out of the inning, but his troubles continued in the third. A one-out walk and single ended his day after 2 1/2 innings. Manager Davey Johnson asked for Chien-Ming Wang out of the bullpen, and the right-hander was no better than Detwiler. Wang’s first two pitches were wild pitches, bouncing in the dirt way in front of home plate. The first one allowed David Freese to score and Descalso to move up to third. He scored on Kozma’s line drive sacrifice fly to left field to make it 7-0 after three innings.
The bats made some noise in the fourth off Cards starter Lance Lynn (W, 18-7, 3.78) to momentarily give the Nats life again. Bryce Harper led off with his 22nd home run of the season, moving him within two of Tony Conigliaro for the all-time lead in home runs by a teenager. Later, Ian Desmond doubled home Adam LaRoche, followed by a Danny Espinosa home run (17) with cut the lead to 7-4. Johnson allowed Wang to hit for himself with two outs and a runner on though, and the predictable strikeout killed the rally.
Johnson hoped Wang would settle down and give him a couple of good innings, but the complete opposite took place. Wang gave any momentum right back as the Cardinals got two runs back immediately. Wang walked leadoff hitter Jon Jay ahead of Beltran’s second homer of the game, a no-doubt shot to right center. Beltran capped his big day in the eighth, driving in Jay once again with a single to complete the scoring.
THE TAKEAWAY: Folks are starting to get nervous with the appearances by Detwiler and Edwin Jackson in this series. Neither pitcher lived up to his stats of the entire season, getting beaten up by the Cardinals prolific attack. Still, there’s no reason to think that these starts weren’t blips on the radar, individual bad games against a quality opponent still fighting to clinch a spot in the one-game Wild Card play-in game.
The Nats need to win just one of three against the Phillies this week to clinch their first division title. I’m sure everyone will feel better if it comes Monday so a couple of the starters can geta day or two of rest before the playoffs start.
THE GOOD: It was good to see Espinosa make contact, delivering a big home run when the Nats were trying to make a game of things in the fourth.
THE BAD: Detwiler. Only three of the seven runs against him were earned due to Espinosa’s error on the potential double play ball. It really could have been a much different game if Espi makes that routine play. Detwiler still has a habit of allowing outside forces to knock him off his game, and it was apparent that the tight strike zone and the error really upset him, which led to even more control issues.
THE UGLY: Wang. He simply does not have Major League quality stuff anymore.
THE STATS: 7 hits, 1 BB, 11 Ks. 1-for-8 with RISp, 5 LOB, 1 GIDP. E: Espinosa (13); no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Monday at 7:05 pm against the Phillies. John Lannan (4-0, 4.23) hosts Kyle Kendrick (10-12, 4.08).