WASHINGTON -- For the past two seasons, the National League East belonged to the Nationals, who dominated the division and usually commanded a large enough lead by this point in the year to have wrapped up the crown. Division titles have become the expectation in Washington, especially after winning the
WASHINGTON -- For the past two seasons, the National League East belonged to the Nationals, who dominated the division and usually commanded a large enough lead by this point in the year to have wrapped up the crown. Division titles have become the expectation in Washington, especially after winning the NL East in four of the previous six seasons, and this team began the year with aspirations to do more.
The end of that chase came unceremoniously on Friday night. As a quiet Nationals clubhouse emptied out following their 4-2 loss to the Mets, most of the members were gone by the time the Braves sealed a victory over the Phillies, mathematically eliminating Washington from the division race.
"We control what we control, and that's winning ballgames," Bryce Harper said. "We haven't done it the past two nights, so… it's part of the game. That's what happens. One team loses, one team wins. Got a good Braves team over there that's playing good baseball."
The Nationals are still alive in the NL Wild Card race, albeit barely, as they trail the Cardinals by eight games for the second NL Wild Card spot. Friday's loss dropped Washington back to .500 once again (77-77) as the Nats were unsuccessful in playing spoiler to Jacob deGrom's bid for the NL Cy Young Award.
Like so many teams before them, the Nationals' offense had no answer for deGrom. He limited the Nationals to one run in seven innings with eight strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 1.77 and strengthening his grip on the NL Cy Young Award. Although the race for the award has been tight from the start, with deGrom competing against Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola of the Phillies, deGrom's recent run has created some separation.
Friday's outing was deGrom's 23rd consecutive quality start, setting a new Major League record. deGrom will make one more start before the season ends, while Scherzer is in line for two more and a chance to reach 300 strikeouts.
"I think he's just getting better and better," said Harper, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against deGrom. "He's a special ballplayer. … He's one of the best in baseball from both leagues. You know what you're going to get out of him every single night, and tonight, he was pretty tough."
Joe Ross, making his second start back from Tommy John surgery, held his own by allowing four runs (three earned) in six innings with three strikeouts. His velocity hovered around the mid-90s -- harder than he threw before his elbow injury, which is an encouraging sign for Washington for its potential 2019 rotation.
But the Nationals never expected to be looking toward 2019 so soon. This disappointing season forced them to do so, and Friday's loss made what has been inevitable as of late official.
"They're not going to quit," manager Dave Martinez said. "We could have had the tying run up today with a chance to win the game again. We had the tying run up. So they're not going to quit. I know they're going to finish this out."
With a walk to start the second inning, Anthony Rendon reached base for the 29th consecutive game, extending his career high and the longest active streak in MLB.
With a double in the ninth, Trea Turner extended his own on-base streak to 21 games, matching a career high.
HE SAID IT
"I just feel good to be back, to be healthy on the mound again. I kind of expected to be where I'm at as far as feeling good and competing. So I'm glad I made it back, but we've got hopefully one more start before my time is done for this season. It's good to know I'm healthy going into the offseason, and hopefully can build to next year and make 30-plus starts. I'm excited. We've got a couple games left, but I'm still looking forward to next year already." -- Ross, on his return from Tommy John surgery
• Eaton dealing with sore knee
Austin Voth will make his second career start when he takes the hill for a spot start on Saturday against the Mets. Tanner Roark was originally scheduled to pitch, but his outing will be pushed back after spending the past few days away from the team with his wife for the birth of their third child. Corey Oswalt will counter for New York, with first pitch scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.