Nats discuss lopsided battles with Cardinals and a recent mental dropoff

ST. LOUIS - Davey Johnson readily admits the Cardinals kicked the Nationals' butts this season.

Denard Span doesn't disagree. In fact, he agrees 100 percent.

"I think they just flat-out kicked our butt. You lose six games, they just were better than us," Span said.

On paper, the Nationals and Cardinals seemed to match up pretty evenly this season. They both have talented, deep rotations. They both have lineups filled with run-producers. But the Cardinals outplayed the Nats by a wide margin in their head-to-head meetings this year, which surprised guys in the Nationals' clubhouse.

"I can't put a finger on it, to be honest with you," Span said. "I mean, for whatever reason, I feel like early in the season when we played them, they just whenever they had guys in scoring position, they got a hit. I think they've got to be up there in the league leaders as a team."

Span was informed by reporters that the Cardinals will actually finish with the major league record for best team average with runners in scoring position. After today, their average in such situations stands at .330.

"That's what I'm saying," Span said. "Whenever somebody gets in scoring position, they bring it in. They don't let any opportunities go by them."

Then there's the pitching. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller combined to allow just four runs over 21 2/3 innings this series, and the Nats couldn't touch the St. Louis relievers that they happened to get to.

"They've done a good job with their pitching staff," Jayson Werth said. "They've got some good starters, but I think really what sets them apart is their bullpen. They've got, even last year in the playoffs, Game 5 for example, we chased the starter and then for five or six innings they bring in guys to throw 96-plus. I think that really sets them apart. Their bullpen is good. They've got a lot of velocity and a lot of depth."

In essence, the Cardinals have a potent lineup filled with guys adept at driving in runs when guys get into scoring position, and they have a talented, deep pitching staff, filled with young arms that light up the radar gun.

"You mix those two together, you're going to have success," Jordan Zimmermann said.

The Cardinals might have beaten the Nats during this series, but in some ways, the Nats feel they beat themselves.

A couple of players noted that after having their hopes of a postseason berth squashed Monday night, they felt that the effort level dropped a bit. Werth commented that it's hard to make the transition mentally when you go from fighting for your playoff lives to playing games that mean nothing in terms of your team's overall standing.

"I mean, after that first night (this series), I think all bets were off," Werth said. "That one stung a little bit. We were pretty flat yesterday and we weren't much better today."

Span was on board with that line of thinking.

"All I can say is I think it took a lot out of us on Monday, when we lost," he said. "The last six weeks, we've been climbing, scratching, playing good baseball, trying to get back into this thing, and I think once it hit us that it was over, I think it took a lot out of us.

"Still no excuse. We're still professionals. We've still got to finish the season off as best as possible."

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