Washington can clinch playoff spot with win Thursday
If the Nationals are to contend for a World Series title without ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, then they need the Jordan Zimmermann of the season's first four months.
That pitcher had been missing since Aug. 4 as his ERA rose from 2.28 to 3.01 in just six starts. But recently Zimmermann has steadied himself. The latest effort was far from perfect, but in six solid innings he helped lift Washington to a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday afternoon.
The Nats (90-58) weren't so fortunate in Game 2, however, when a win would have clinched a playoff berth for a District-based baseball team for the first time since 1933. Instead, the Dodgers blew a 6-0 lead in the eighth inning before recovering to win it in the ninth when Matt Kemp homered off closer Tyler Clippard for an eventual 7-6 win.
Washington's magic number to clinch at least a National League wild-card spot remains one game. It can accomplish that with a win over the Dodgers in the series finale on Thursday. Meanwhile, the second-place Atlanta Braves cut the Nats' NL East lead back to five games.
But even before playing Game 2 Washington's players insisted that a playoff berth alone was not a primary goal.
"You're really not thinking about that. I'm not anyway," said Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki. "We're thinking about winning the division. It's obviously in the back of your mind a little bit. But right now our main focus is winning it all."
Zimmermann (11-8, 2.96 ERA) gave up six hits in his six innings of work in Game 1 and walked two batters while hitting another. Los Angeles had leadoff men reach against him in the first, second and fourth innings yet managed just a single run.
In his last three starts Zimmermann has now allowed five earned runs in 18 innings, each one good enough to give Washington a chance to win.
"Sometimes through the long course of the year you can go through maybe a little tired arm or whatever," Nats manager Davey Johnson said before the game. "Sometimes you can go through little things against certain ballclubs that have made adjustments against you. There's all kinds of reasons. But I like the way the ball is coming out of his hand, and that's all I really care about."
Zimmermann's teammates gave him some help by manufacturing their runs. A sacrifice fly by Suzuki in the second inning put Washington up 1-0. Ryan Zimmerman drove in another run with an RBI ground out in the fifth, Pinch hitter Tyler Moore did the same in the sixth.
In the nightcap, the Dodgers roughed up John Lannan (3-1, 4.43). In just his fourth big league start of the season, he gave up six runs on eight hits with two walks added. But Washington sent 12 men to the plate in the eighth inning and scored six runs to tie it. Morse homered and singled home two runs in the inning to ignite the crowd before Kemp saved his team the next inning.