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Nationals at Cardinals leads crucial late-season NL battles

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The Sports Network
9/29/2012 11:30:39 AM
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(Sports Network) - Neither Kyle Lohse or Jordan Zimmermann would likely be too excited about a possible playoff series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals are still trying to lock up their berth to the postseason and turn to Lohse on Saturday evening in the second of three straight meetings with the NL East-leading Nats, who have a chance to lock up the division.

Lohse and Zimmermann squared off in a Sept. 1 meeting in Washington and neither had outings to remember in a high-scoring 10-9 victory for the Cards that netted both starters no-decisions.

The right-handed Lohse had the longer effort of the two, going 5 2/3 innings but yielding eight runs -- five earned -- on nine hits. Lohse gave up one of his two homers to Adam LaRoche, a two-run shot, in the second inning after having already been touched for four runs in the first.

Zimmermann, though, could not hold that early lead, charged with eight runs over 3 2/3 innings. He served up two-run homers to David Freese and Matt Holliday in consecutive innings before getting charged with another four runs in the fourth.

The Nationals right-hander remained winless in his career versus the Cardinals, 0-2 with a 10.71 earned run average in four starts, while Lohse is 4-2 with a 5.16 ERA lifetime in this series.

That outing was a rare hiccup this season for Lohse, who is 16-3 with a 2.77 ERA in 32 starts this season. He has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of 10 and 19 of his last 21 starts while losing just one of his past 11 decisions.

The 33-year-old won his second straight start on Sunday at the Chicago Cubs, giving up three runs on five hits and a walk over six innings while fanning five.

Lohse is 8-1 with a 2.12 ERA in 15 outings at home this year.

Zimmermann, meanwhile, has settled down since his rough outing versus the Cards. He is 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in four starts since and won his second straight outing on Monday, holding the Milwaukee Brewers to a run on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.

"I was throwing the fastball and getting ahead, and when I do that, I feel like I can control the game," Zimmermann said. "I'm glad I'm having a few good ones here as the regular season is coming to a close."

Zimmermann, 26, is 12-8 with a 2.90 ERA over a career-high 31 starts and 189 1/3 innings.

Washington was routed in Friday's opener by a 12-2 margin, trailing by eight runs after the first two innings, but still saw its magic number to win the NL East fall to two thanks to the Atlanta Braves' loss to the New York Mets. The Nats lead the Braves by four games for first place with five to play and can lock up the crown with a victory tonight and another Braves setback

The Cardinals, meanwhile, lowered their magic number for clinching the league's second wild card spot to three. They are three games up on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are hosting the Colorado Rockies this weekend.

"We have to take things one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves," said St. Louis' Allen Craig, who went 4-for-4 and drove in two runs. "We need to just focus on playing god baseball and get into the playoffs."

The Cards, who have won nine of their last 11, did lose Holliday in the sixth inning after he was hit by a pitch on his left elbow. He has a contusion and is considered day-to-day.

Roger Bernadina hit a solo home run and LaRoche drove in the other run for the Nationals, who had won their previous two and are tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in the majors.

"It's getting down to the wire and we know that," noted Washington starter Edwin Jackson. "We like our chances, but nothing is done until it's sealed up so we're just staying positive and will keep playing hard."

Jackson lasted just 1 1/3 innings, yielding nine runs -- eight earned -- on six hits and four walks to take the loss.

The Nationals have won nine of their past 13 versus the Cardinals, including three of four at home from Aug. 30-Sept. 2.

Houston Astros at Milwaukee Brewers

(Sports Network) - Right-hander Marco Estrada takes the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers tonight with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread as they host the Houston Astros in the middle game of a three-game series.

Milwaukee dropped a 7-6 decision to Houston in Friday's opener while St. Louis was winning against Washington, which pushed the Brewers to five games back of the Cardinals in the chase for the final National League postseason berth.

Each team has five games remaining.

Houston goes with rookie lefty Dallas Keuchel, who's aiming for a third consecutive victory.

The 24-year-old was 1-7 through his initial 13 starts before beating Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in his last two outings while giving up a run on nine hits in 12 1/3 innings.

The Brewers won eight of the initial 14 games between the teams in 2012, though Houston won two of three in a home series from Aug. 10-12.

New York Mets at Atlanta Braves

(Sports Network) - Coming down the stretch this season, Mike Minor has been one of the best pitchers in the Atlanta Braves rotation.

Minor aims to win his fifth consecutive decision tonight when the playoff- bound Braves continue their three-game set against the New York Mets.

The left-hander, who is unbeaten in his last six starts and hasn't lost since Aug. 19 to the Dodgers, has given up three runs over his last four starts. Minor is 2-1 with a 7.56 ERA in five games against the Mets.

Chris Young, who has just one victory over his last eight starts, counters for the Mets. The righty is 2-3 with a 7.36 ERA in seven contests versus the Braves.

Atlanta heads into Saturday trailing the Washington Nationals by four games with five left to play for the NL East lead. The Nats have a magic number of two to clinch the division, meaning they can do so on Saturday with a win coupled by a Braves loss.

Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers

(Sports Network) - Even though they are on their longest winning streak since the beginning of the month, time is running out for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They'll try to do their part to keep their playoff hopes alive on Saturday night in the continuation of a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies.

Los Angeles will try to win four in a row for the first time since Aug. 12-15 with Joe Blanton on the hill.

Blanton is just 1-4 with a 5.57 earned run average in nine games since being acquired by the Dodgers in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. He is 0-1 in his last four starts, but did keep his club in the game last tie out on Sept. 21 against the hosting Cincinnati Reds.

Taking the hill for the Rockies will be Tyler Chatwood, who snapped a four- start winless drought (0-2) with a win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.

The 22-year-old righty lasted 5 2/3 innings, his longest outing in eight starts, and gave up two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out three. He improved to 5-5 with a save and 5.49 ERA in 18 games (11 starts) this season.

Kyle Lohse (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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