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Nats beaten, but still have a chance to clinch

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Nats beaten, but still have a chance to clinch

ST. LOUIS -- They picked just about the worst possible moment to play their worst ballgame of the season, a 2-hour, 51-minute stinker that ended in a 12-2 thumping at the hands of an opponent who looked far more ready for the postseason than they did.

So why weren't the Nationals completely down in the dumps at the end of a miserable night at Busch Stadium?

"That was a beating, there," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "But we're obviously watching the scoreboard, and the Braves finally lost a game this month. So I guess we can take that as a positive."

Yes, the best thing that happened to the Nationals Friday night took place 554 miles to the southeast in Atlanta, where the Braves blew a late lead to the Mets and lost 3-1 on Chipper Jones Night, failing to gain any ground in the NL East.

So, guess what, folks: The Nationals, with their magic number down to 2, have a chance to clinch their first-ever division title Saturday night.

That kind of takes the sting out of the most-lopsided loss of the season, doesn't it?

"Oh, yeah. Yeah," LaRoche said. "You know it's getting down to the wire. We know that. We obviously like our chances, but nothing's done until it's sealed up. So you're getting beat by 10 runs, you try to look at the positives in it. Forget about this one."

That was the overarching theme throughout the Nationals clubhouse, players and coaches trying to throw this monstrosity out the window and immediately shift their attention to the greater task at hand.

"I don't even want to talk about it," manager Davey Johnson said with a smile.

It may be relatively easy for the Nationals as a whole to brush this one off. It may not be quite as easy for the man most responsible for allowing it to happen: Edwin Jackson.

The veteran right-hander suffered through his worst start of the year, getting torched for nine runs (eight earned) in only 1 13 innings and putting his team in a 9-1 hole before many in the crowd of 39,166 had a chance to settle into their seats.

"Very disappointing and embarrassing," Jackson said. "When your club is in a pennant race and you have a game like that, it definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth that you did absolutely nothing to give your team a chance to win."

Jackson didn't mince words when described an utterly forgettable start. He faced 15 batters and managed to retire only three of them. One was a double-play grounder hit by the opposing pitcher. The other two still drove in runs with productive outs.

The Nationals felt this was an anomaly, a one-time blip that carries no significance in the bigger picture. But there are some red flags for Jackson that pre-date this game.

This was the 29-year-old's fifth appearance this month. Only one qualified as a quality start: last Saturday's eight-inning masterpiece against the Brewers. His ERA for the month: 7.92. His updated ERA for the season: 4.13.

Do the Nationals need to reconsider how Jackson (who seemed to be penciled in all along as their No. 3 starter for the postseason) figures into their October plans? Johnson insisted the answer is no.

"I just throw it out," the manager said of this start. "If he usually has trouble, it's early, and he couldn't right the ship. The Cardinals are in kinda playoff mode. They're going to jump all over him. Getting behind, walking people, just gets them more fired up."

Jackson, who owns a World Series ring as a member of St. Louis' 2011 championship rotation, has bounced back from enough bad starts in his career to start worrying now. This was the fifth time he failed to complete two innings, though the first time since 2007.

"Short-term memory, man," he said. "It's not the first game. Just shake it off. I'm not dead from this game. It just definitely leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But I'm not going to go jump off a bridge or anything because of the game."

Nor should anyone in the Nationals clubhouse harbor such morose feelings right now.

They may have just suffered their worst beating of the season. But thanks to a surprising development in Atlanta, they'll show up at Busch Stadium on Saturday with an opportunity to do something no Washington baseball club has done in 79 years: Celebrate the clinching of a title.

"It wasn't happening tonight. Tomorrow's another day," Johnson said. "We got a little help from our friends. That was nice."

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Ozuna homers, Cardinals beat Nationals for 8th straight win

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USA Today Sports Images

Ozuna homers, Cardinals beat Nationals for 8th straight win

Marcell Ozuna homered and Austin Gomber tossed six shutout innings to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.

St. Louis has won a season-high eight straight. The Cardinals, who are 18-9 since the All-Star break, captured their sixth successive series after taking the first three of the four-game set.

Daniel Murphy homered in the ninth for Washington, which has lost four in a row and seven of nine to fall below .500 and nine games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The current skid began with a loss to the Cubs on a two-out, walk-off grand slam.

Ozuna homered in the second inning, his 14th of the season and his first since July 30.

Gomber (3-0), in his fourth start of the year, gave up three hits, struck out six and walked four.

Bud Norris pitched the ninth to pick up his 23rd save in 27 opportunities.

Harrison Bader and Yadier Molina added run-scoring hits for St. Louis, which improved to 19-9 since Mike Matheny was fired and replaced by interim manager Mike Shildt.

St. Louis infielder Matt Carpenter extended his on-base streak to 33 games with a walk in the fifth. It's the longest current streak in the majors. Carpenter left the game in the seventh after he was hit on the hand by a pitch from Matt Grace, but X-rays were negative.

Jeremy Hellickson (5-3) left in the fifth inning after colliding with Bader on a play at the plate following a wild pitch. Hellickson gave up three runs, two earned, on three hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out two and walked two.

Bader, who had three hits, also made a diving catch of a liner off the bat of Bryce Harper in the fourth.

The Cardinals, who have an NL-best 12-2 mark in August, remain one game behind Philadelphia for the second wild card spot. They are four games behind Chicago in the NL Central.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg threw a simulated game on Wednesday. He threw around 70 pitches and could be ready to return early next week, manager Dave Martinez said.

Cardinals: LHP Brett Cecil was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Wednesday. Cecil, who had been sidelined with inflammation in his right foot, pitched four scoreless innings in four appearances with Triple-A Memphis. LHP Tyler Webb was optioned to Memphis.

UP NEXT

RHP Tanner Roark (7-12, 4.12) will face RHP Luke Weaver (6-10, 4.66) in the finale of the four-game series on Thursday. Roark has won his last four decision, Weaver is 1-4 with a 5.13 ERA in nine career games against NL East foes.

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Nationals' Jeremy Hellickson exits game after collision

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Nationals' Jeremy Hellickson exits game after collision

Washington Nationals right-hander Jeremy Hellickson was removed from Wednesday night's game in St. Louis in the fifth inning after colliding with Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader at the plate.

Hellickson was covering home after a wild pitch. He stumbled over Bader as Bader slid home safely.

Hellickson was charged with three runs, two earned, on three hits in his 4 1/3 innings. He struck out two and walked two.

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