MIAMI -- The Nationals have been searching for offense during a four-game losing streak that slowed their march to secure the National League East. They had managed just eight runs during the stretch without second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was out of the starting lineup for a fourth consecutive game with a left leg injury.
But Washington's offense broke out in Wednesday night's 8-3 victory over the Marlins at Marlins Park, including a three-run homer from Ryan Zimmerman and a solo blast from Trea Turner, to back a strong start from right-hander Max Scherzer, who won No. 18.
"We had some good offensive days out of some guys, especially after our offense was a little sleepy the last couple days," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We picked Murph up, which I urged everybody to do."
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The victory lowered the Nationals' magic number for clinching the NL East for the third time in five seasons to two, after the Mets fell to the Braves, 4-3.
"You've just got to keep your blinders on and keep going at it," Scherzer said. "You can't worry about playoffs and [everything else]. You've got to just go out there and understand that if you take care of business, good things happen. And I think if everybody does that, we're going to be partying."
Scherzer cruised through the first six innings before serving up a pair of homers in the seventh. Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich started the inning with a homer, his 20th, and Derek Dietrich added a pinch-hit two-run blast to knock Scherzer out of the game. But the Nationals' offense responded with a pair of runs in the eighth inning to extend the lead back to five.
The Marlins were unable to overcome a short start from right-hander Tom Koehler, who lasted only four innings, as they fell back to .500 and are struggling to keep pace with the trio of contenders ahead of them in the NL Wild Card race, remaining four games back.
"It kind of leaves us in the same spot," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Obviously, it would have been nice if we could have won and cut a game off. So, really, those kinds of wins for us, from the other teams, keeps us alive. So we don't really go any further. We just lose a game, from the standpoint of we have one less game to play. It obviously makes it tougher, but in a sense, you didn't go the other way. So you're still sitting where you're at."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Much needed: Zimmerman nearly homered during his first at-bat in the second inning, driving the ball 406 feet with 106-mph exit velocity, as projected by Statcast™, before it was tracked down in center field by Yelich.
But Zimmerman did not miss during his next at-bat, launching his first home run since Sept. 6, a span of 12 games that saw him hit .175/.195/.200.
"I've been feeling good the last week or so," Zimmerman said. "I feel like I've been having good at-bats and haven't been getting too much to show for it, trending in the right way. Hopefully just got to continue working these last 10, 12 games, whatever we have left . Hopefully get hot at the right time." More >
Koehler's quick exit: When Koehler is on the mound, the Marlins typically can count on the right-hander to work deep into games. But he was lifted after just four innings -- and four runs, with three earned. It was the first time in 12 consecutive starts that he was unable to last at least five innings. Koehler walked three, and two scored. After Danny Espinosa walked and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt to open the third inning, Koehler made a wild pickoff throw and was charged with an error. Espinosa ended up scoring from second on the play because center fielder Christian Yelich bobbled the ball for a second error.
"It's one of those matchups you know going in, it's a tough matchup for him," Mattingly said. "It's just one of those teams that sees him well. It's a little bit more of a veteran team. They're not going to chase as much. They're going to force you in the strike zone. They're more experienced. They hit the breaking ball a little better. It was a tough matchup going in, we knew that. But you've got to play the game. It was one of those games that didn't work out for him."
Cy Young case: One of the reasons Baker believes Scherzer should be a favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award is because of his ability to shut down losing streaks by providing Washington with a chance to win each time out. Scherzer was dominant until he wavered in the seventh, but he finished with a solid outing -- three runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. The Nationals have won each of his last eight starts.
"For the first six innings, I really was on the top of my game and really had a good cutter going, locating the fastball, slider was good," Scherzer said. "I really was mixing and matching. When we needed shut-down innings, I was able to go out there and put up zeros when we really needed it, and that really helped get the offense going."
Yelich, Dietrich go deep: The Marlins had just two bloop singles off Scherzer heading into the seventh inning. That's when Yelich and Dietrich connected on a couple of no-doubt shots. Now showing more power, Yelich hadn't hit more than nine homers in any of his three previous seasons. Dietrich's blast closed the gap to 6-3.
According to Statcast™, Yelich's shot was projected to travel 410 feet from home plate, with an exit velocity of 107 mph, and Dietrich's drive was 405 feet at 100 mph. It was just the third time this season the Marlins have hit two homers in an inning. The most recent was July 1 against the Braves, when Dietrich and Marcell Ozuna connected in the first.
"He's tough, man," Yelich said of Scherzer. "It's tough to fall behind guys like that when they get the lead. They know how to put the game away, and that's what he did." More >
"You can't really afford to spot Max a four-run lead. More times than not, when he gets four runs like that, he's not going to give them back." -- Koehler
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Yelich has hit 14 home runs in 66 games since July 8.
Nationals: After a day off Thursday, the Nats open up a three-game series Friday in Pittsburgh, where they will conclude their final road trip of the season in position to secure the division title. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (11-10, 4.48 ERA) will take the mound looking to bounce back after giving up six runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Braves in his last start. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Marlins: Miami opens a four-game series with the Braves beginning Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET, with José Ureña (4-7, 5.59 ERA) getting the nod against Josh Collmenter (2-0, 4.61) at Marlins Park. Urena is 1-4 with a 5.11 ERA at home.
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