"It's been under our control. If we keep playing like we're capable of playing," Davey Johnson told reporters before Sunday's game in St. Louis, discussing the position the Washington Nationals found themselves in with four games left in the regular season. Win one more game and the NL East division was clinched. "And now that we're down to that last one, this is what we've been shooting for since day one," the Nats' manager said, "I really like the energy level on our ballclub during the games leading up to this one, it's been great." Ross Detwiler took the mound in Busch Stadium in the series finale with the Cardinals and got knocked around, however, giving up four hits and five walks in just 2.1 IP, and the defense faltered as well, leading to the left-hander allowing seven runs, three earned, before he was lifted.
The Nationals managed to score four runs in the top of the fourth, momentarily making a comeback seem possible, but the Cardinals came right back with two runs on Carlos Beltran's second home run of the contest and a game that was close for a minute at 7-4 was suddenly a 9-4 game that seemed out of reach. Washington eventually lost 10-4 and the Nats were forced to head home to the nation's capital where they'll have to win one of three against the Phillies to claim the division crown.
"Obviously it was a little bit of a rough outing for Ross Detwiler," the Nats' skipper admitted after the loss, which was the Nats' second of three in St. Louis and the third in their last six overall on the season's last road trip, "I took [Detwiler] out [at] 80 pitches. I didn't want him throwing 90 pitches in 3.0 innings. He's got too good a future and I need him for the postseason. So... just another bad outing early."
Friday night in St. Louis, Edwin Jackson had the first bad outing of the series, giving up six hits and nine runs, eight earned in just 1.1 IP before he was lifted. Not exactly the way Davey Johnson wanted his three and four starters to finish up as the Nats play out the last three games of the regular season. "It's not really the time I want to see it," Johnson said of his starter's struggles, but he stressed that it wouldn't lead him to alter his plans for Jackson or Detwiler going forward. "They've been so good, I'm not worried about it. I don't have a doghouse." Now the Nationals will turn to 28-year-old left-hander John Lannan in tonight's game against the Phillies.
In his career, Lannan's (3-12) vs the Nationals' NL East rivals from Philadelphia, with 41 BB (4.13 BB/9), 48 Ks (4.84 K/9), a 5.64 ERA, 1.74 WHIP and .311 BAA over 18 starts and 89.1 IP. Last time out against the Phillies, the left-hander who failed to make the Nats' rotation out of Spring Training beat Philadelphia with 5.1 innings of work on the mound in which he allowed five hits and two runs in an 8-4 Nats' win.
"He's (4-0). He's pitched some good ballgames," Davey Johnson said when asked about turning to Lannan tonight, "It's better to clinch it at home." Clearly, however, the Nationals wouldn't have minded winning the division on the road in St. Louis. Asked if their inability to do so was having any affect on the team's mindset, Johnson said, "No. We've had rough outings before. We come back good. We'll be fine."
"I like clinching at home," the 69-year-old skipper continued, "In front of our home fans. It's nice." Johnson told reporters last week that he had no intention of resting his regulars until they won the division. With three games to go, the Nats need one more win against a Phillies team they're 7-8 against after 15 games this year. The Nats are 3-3 against the Phillies at home in D.C. this season. A win tonight in Washington and the Nats can relax, at least for a moment while they finish up the last two games. A loss tonight and they still have two chances. The Nats' manager would like to get it done tonight, however. "I'd like to do that," Johnson said on Sunday before the team left St. Louis. "So we'll have a nice resting flight and get after them tomorrow."
One win away. No one said it was going to be easy...