Nationals win again, but playoff hopes fade

Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchangeSeptember 12, 2013


NEW YORK-No matter how well the Washington Nationals play, the mathematical reality of their long-shot pursuit of a National League wild card berth grows less favorable by the day.
"I don't know how many more games we can lose," Nationals pitcher Dan Haren said after he threw six innings of one-hit ball Wednesday night to lead Washington to its fifth straight win, a 3-0 blanking of the New York Mets at Citi Field.
The Nationals are 16-5 since Aug. 20, but their elimination number shrank to 10 earlier Wednesday, when the Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs, 6-0.
Washington (76-69) remains six games behind the Reds (83-64).
"The math keeps getting smaller and smaller," Haren said. "It's like we could lose 10 and then, OK, maybe we can only lose eight. I don't know how many more games we could lose, but it's not many."
The numbers haven't been pretty this season for Haren, whose 5.02 ERA is almost a run-and-a-half higher than the 3.66 career mark he had entering the season.
Haren posted a 6.15 ERA in his first 15 starts before spending two weeks on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. He returned on July 8 and posted a 2.53 ERA over his next 10 games (nine starts), but he allowed 12 runs in just 5 2/3 innings in his two starts prior to Wednesday.
The first start in that stretch was against the Mets on Aug. 31, when Haren gave up six singles in a seven-batter span in the third inning of the Mets' 11-3 win.
But he produced one of the finest outings of his career Wednesday on an unseasonably warm and humid evening in New York. Haren struck out eight, two shy of his season high, and allowed just two baserunners -- a walk to Josh Satin in the second and a leadoff single to Juan Lagares in the fourth.
"I went up to him after the game [and] I said ‘That's the first time I've pulled a guy with a one-hitter," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "But it was hot out there. He pitched a great ballgame. Quality pitches all night long. Good hitters couldn't hit him."
It was the second time in 313 career starts that Haren has limited an opponent to a single hit. As a member of the Angels, he threw a one-hit shutout against the Indians on April 12, 2011.
"There's no explanation [for Wednesday], it's just the way this season has gone," Haren said. "I had better stuff with the strikeouts. I can tell that. Was getting a lot of swings and misses. I knew my stuff was better, Just happy I could come through for the team."
Ryan Zimmerman's seventh homer in his last nine games - a leadoff blast off Zack Wheeler in the sixth - snapped a scoreless tie. Anthony Rendon went 2-for-4 and provided the Nationals a pair of insurance runs with a two-run double in the eighth.
Zimmerman and Ian Desmond each had two hits while Denard Span extended his hitting streak to a career-high 22 games by leading the game off with a single.
Xavier Cedeno, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard combined for two innings of one-hit relief before Rafael Soriano notched his 41st save with a one-hit ninth.
Wheeler took the hard-luck loss for the Mets (64-80) after allowing one run on eight hits and one walk while striking out six over seven innings. Of the nine runners Wheeler allowed, seven were stranded in scoring position.
Wheeler has a 2.44 ERA and a 40-to-12 strikeout ratio over his last seven starts.
"I'm really impressed with the way Zack Wheeler goes about things, I really am," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's gonna be really good."
Lagares had two hits, including a bunt single in the ninth, for the Mets, who have lost eight of ten and have been outscored by the Nationals 18-3 in the first three games of the series.
Both Haren and Wheeler were in fine form early on an unseasonably humid night. Each pitcher recorded at least one strikeout in each of the first five innings.
Haren didn't allow a hit until Juan Lagares' single leading off the fourth. Wheeler, meanwhile, stranded four runners in scoring position over the first five frames.
NOTES: The two teams lined up along their respective baselines for a 9/11 ceremony that included a moment of silence and a stirring national anthem by Alyssa Curcio, who was performing on behalf of the 9/11 family service organization Tuesday's Children. ... Mets 3B David Wright, who has been out since Aug. 5 with a Grade 3 strain of his right hamstring, ran the bases before the game. He hopes to return to action sometime next week. ... Mets IF Justin Turner missed the game and is expected to sit out Thursday as well with a strained right hamstring he suffered while scoring a run Tuesday night. ... Span's hitting streak is the second-longest in baseball this season behind Michael Cuddyer, who had a 27-game streak for the Rockies from May 28 through June 30. ... Nationals LHP Ross Detwiler (herniated disc in his back) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Wednesday afternoon. He is hopeful he can pitch in relief for Washington before the season is over.