Coming back home, still looking for the clincher

ST. LOUIS - Each of the last two days, I’d brought a bag containing a change of clothes with me to Busch Stadium. If the Nationals happened to clinch the division and I ended up with champagne all over my button down and pants, I didn’t want to then have to spend the next couple hours working while stinking like alcohol.

My college friends can insert their own jokes here.

The change of clothes never left the bag, however. Saturday night, a Braves win prevented the Nationals from popping champagne. Yesterday, the Nats lost to the Cardinals, foiling their plans to break into the bubbly.

When the Nats left for this recent six-game road trip, their magic number was five. After a 3-3 trip coupled with a 5-1 stretch out of the Braves, the number to clinch remains one.

One Nationals win or one Braves loss in six combined games. That’s all that’s needed.

Taking this even further, the Nationals essentially now have four shots to win one home game in order to clinch the NL East. They have three games against the Phillies these next three days, and if they happen to drop all three and Atlanta wins out, the Nats would host a one-game tiebreaker on Thursday to determine which team gets the division title and which team will play in the Wild Card play-in game.

The Nats want no part of that, of course. They’d love to lock this thing up tonight, allow some key guys a chance to rest and give manager Davey Johnson an opportunity to align his rotation for the Division Series (or at least do so as best as possible without knowing who or when the Nats will play).

Getting the ball for the Nats tonight will be John Lannan, he of the 4-0 record this season.

Call him “Big-game John.” Call him “The Lanimal.” Whatever you call him, don’t call him Shirley.

Lannan has been money for the Nats this season, winning four of the five times he’s gotten the ball. He beat the Phillies his last time out, allowing two runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday night. Now he’ll face the Phillies again with the chance to wrap up the NL East title.

“We have all the confidence in the world (in him),” Ross Detwiler said. “What is he, 4-0? There you go. He threw against them last week and did really well. He got us a huge win after I lost the game, and he came back and did what he needed to do to get the win.”

In some ways, it’d be fitting if Lannan got the win tonight given all he’s been through this season. He spent the bulk of his year at Triple-A Syracuse after a surprise demotion at the beginning of the season. He stuck it out, got back to the big leagues and has pitched well when given the chance.

The Nationals’ starters have hit a bit of a rough patch lately. Detwiler and Edwin Jackson got hit around in St. Louis. But given what they’ve seen much of this season, the Nats have little doubt their starters will get the job done, starting with Lannan tonight.

“How do you not have confidence in anybody pitching?” Ian Desmond said. “Our pitching has been great all year and they’ve gotten us to the position we’re at.”

Lannan has a chance to get the Nats to the next position. And I’ll have my change of clothes on hand in case he does.

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