He's not Strasburg, but he doesn't have to be

Bring the magic numbers down another couple notches.

The Nationals keep grooving while seemingly everyone else around them in the National League with the exception of the suddenly unstoppable Phillies (what's up with those guys?) is faltering.

With last night's win over the Mets and another Atlanta loss, the Nationals' lead in the NL East is up to a season-high 8 1/2 games and their magic number to win the division is now 11. Toss in another Dodgers loss, and Washington's magic number to clinch the first playoff spot in team history is just five.

As nice as it would be to see the Nats clinch a postseason berth at home in front of a D.C. crowd, it's now a distinct possibility that they'll do so before they fly back from Atlanta on Sunday night. Each Nationals win and each loss by the wild card contenders bring that playoff spot even closer.

Unfortunately, the Nats needed to leave New York after last night's game, although they probably wouldn't have minded staying around and facing the sinking Mets a handful of more times.

With last night's win, the Nationals now have six victories at Citi Field since the All-Star break, which remarkably is two more than the Mets.

That's right, since the break, the Nats have won two more games at the Mets' home stadium than the Mets have themselves.

Citi Field might have felt just a tiny bit like a home ballpark to John Lannan last night, as the Long Beach, N.Y., native took the mound in front of a nice group of family and friends. It was just the third major league start for Lannan this season, but he sure did look comfortable back on the big stage.

John-Lannan2.jpgLannan went 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and a walk and striking out two. He registered 11 ground ball outs to just three fly ball outs, evidence that his patented sinking fastball had its good movement and was keeping Mets hitters from squaring it up.

Not one of the Mets' hits was for extra bases, and when he left the game with two outs in the sixth, Lannan had allowed just a single runner to reach third base.

It certainly was a much different style of outing than what we would have seen if Stephen Strasburg had ended up making his final scheduled regular season start last night. The fastballs were coming in at 90-92 mph, not 95-97 mph. The game plan was to let hitters beat the ball into the ground, not throw the ball by them.

But you can't argue with the results. Lannan delivered, lowering his ERA to 2.41 and making him 3-0 in his three major league starts this season. That's why general manager Mike Rizzo held on to Lannan despite his initial request to be traded back in April and that's why the Nationals' brass had faith all along that Lannan would be their guy once Strasburg was shut down.

No one will confuse John Lannan for Stephen Strasburg. No, they definitely won't do that. But Lannan showed once again that he can be counted on to win big games down the stretch.

He'll get to enjoy some champagne in the coming days, something which I'm sure will help wash away the bad taste of a season spent almost entirely in the minors.

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