The Washington Nationals' late charge at the second wild card has come at the expense of the lightweights of the NL East, and they hope to continue that run Thursday by completing a four-game sweep of the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Washington (76-69) has won a season high-tying five straight and 11 of 15 during a 19-game stretch against the three clubs below it in the division - sub-.500 teams New York, Philadelphia and Miami. After this game, the Nationals will play the Phillies and Marlins seven times as part of a 10-game homestand around a three-game set with eventual division champion Atlanta.
The Nationals have momentum on their side after Wednesday night's 3-0 win - their second shutout in this series. Dan Haren and four relievers combined on a three-hitter as Washington remained six games behind Cincinnati for the NL's last wild-card slot with 17 to play.
"The math keeps getting smaller and smaller," Haren said. "I don't know how many more games we can lose."
Tanner Roark (5-0, 0.94 ERA) will try to follow up a positive first major league start and help the Nationals potentially gain a half-game on the idle Reds. The rookie right-hander scattered four hits in a crisp 71-pitch effort over six scoreless innings in Saturday's 9-2 win at Miami to start Washington's current win streak.
"The story really was Roark. He really pitched a great game,'' manager Davey Johnson said. "It's one thing to have great stuff, but he has great command. He throws it like Satchel Paige.''
One of Roark's other nine appearances came Aug. 31 against the Mets (64-80), who reached him for one run and three hits with three walks in 3 1-3 innings. He is trying to become the first rookie in franchise history to win his first six decisions since Kirk Rueter began 10-0 with the Expos in 1993-94.
Center fielder Denard Span will try to extend the majors' longest active hitting streak to a career-high 23 games after getting a first-inning single Wednesday. He has never faced Aaron Harang, who will make his Mets debut.
Harang went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts this year with Seattle before being released on Aug. 30. New York signed the veteran right-hander to a minor league deal the next day, giving him the opportunity to use the season's final weeks as an audition for teams needing a starter in 2014.
"We had some other teams, but the biggest thing here was getting to finish off the season in a rotation," he told the Mets' official website. "Just to finish out my season on a strong note I think was the biggest thing."
Harang is 1-3 with a 3.92 ERA in eight starts versus the Expos-Nationals franchise, suffering a 3-1 loss in his most recent outing on Sept. 19, 2012. Adam LaRoche is 7 for 31 with three homers and three doubles lifetime versus Harang.
Washington's last four-game sweep at Citi Field came Sept. 12-15, 2011.