DENVER -- Even though they had already been eliminated from postseason contention, the Nationals arrived to Colorado with plans to make sure this weekend's final regular-season series against the Rockies would remain competitive. They still filled out their regular lineup, aligned one of their aces to start Saturday and prepared to play the unfamiliar role of spoiler.
On Saturday night, Washington did its part to ensure the final day of the regular season will be an exciting one in the National League. The Nats beat the Rockies, 12-2, snapping their eight-game winning streak in front of a sold-out crowd at Coors Field and dropping them into a tie with the Dodgers atop the NL West. Along with the NL Central between the Cubs and Brewers, two division titles will be up for grabs for Game 162 on Sunday.
The victory also ensured a winning season for Washington for the seventh consecutive year dating back to 2012.
"You compete every day and you just want to win," manager Dave Martinez said. "I'm proud of the guys coming out there today and competing and playing really well."
The Nats won Saturday after ambushing Rockies starter Jon Gray for five runs in two innings and a strong start from Stephen Strasburg. After Strasburg struggled in his last outing, the team wanted him to make one final start before the end of the year to enter the offseason on a high note. He looked sharp and dominant at times, striking out seven in six innings of two-run ball.
"You always want to finish the season strong," Strasburg said. "I don't think my work is done by any means. I'm going to assess this season. I think I've done a lot of that already. But I'll definitely want to go into the offseason and hit the ground running."
And the Nats' offense provided plenty of breathing room. Juan Soto collected four RBIs, including a solo homer in the fifth inning, Trea Turner hit a two-run homer and Adam Eaton had three hits to raise his batting average above .300 on the season.
Strasburg finished with a 3.74 ERA in 22 starts during an injury-plagued 2018 season, the highest mark of his career. The results were more encouraging in this final month after returning from the disabled list with a 2.60 ERA in six starts.
"I think it was important just to finish strong in general," he said. "It hasn't quite been what I'm accustomed to, but at the same time, I think it shows that when I get older, and the stuff does tend to go down, that it still plays. It's just a little bit of confirmation, and I think I've got more in the tank for sure. I've got to get it back this offseason."
FEDDE OVER SCHERZER FOR FINALE
If Sunday's game carried postseason implications for the Rockies, the Nationals were initially planning to send Max Scherzer to the mound to make his final start of the year. But when the Dodgers clinched a postseason spot before the start of Saturday's game, Scherzer met with Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo and they decided to go with Erick Fedde instead.
If one team could have been eliminated Sunday, the Nats said they were planning to start Scherzer. But with both the Rockies and Dodgers already having secured postseason berths, Washington decided Scherzer's heavy workload -- a Major League-leading 220 2/3 innings -- was enough.
"I was mentally ready to pitch, but I completely understand where Rizzo was coming from with this decision," Scherzer said. "I said from the beginning that this was his call, because of the nature of the beast that we're playing for nothing. So at the end of the day, he felt this was the best thing to do for the Washington Nationals, and that's all there really is to say."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Soto hit his 22nd home run on Saturday, a 440-foot moonshot into the second deck in right field in the fifth inning. He is now tied with Bryce Harper for the second-most home runs by a teenager in MLB history, trailing only Tony Conigliaro, who hit 24 homers in 1964.
HE SAID IT
"I was hitting in the cage, I felt good and I told [hitting coach] Kevin Long, let's play another month, why not?" -- Soto, on how he feels physically after his first Major League season
The Nationals wrap up the 2018 regular season against the Rockies with Sunday's finale at 3:05 p.m. ET at Coors Field. Fedde will start for the Nationals as the team hopes he will gain valuable experience pitching in front of a postseason-like atmosphere at Coors Field with Colorado aiming to secure its first division title. This could be also be Harper's final game in a Nationals uniform as he is set to become a free agent this winter.