The Nationals may yet secure home field advantage over the Dodgers in next week's National League Division Series. But they aren't quite there yet, and they're going to bring this race right down to the final weekend of the regular season.
With a 7-4 loss to the Marlins tonight, the Nationals missed an opportunity to potentially ensure Games 1, 2 and 5 of the NLDS would be played in the District. They needed a Dodgers loss in San Francisco as well, but now the best they can do is reduce their magic number to one by night's end.
What had been a tie game turned Miami's way in the sixth and seventh innings, when the Nationals' bullpen surrendered a couple of runs that proved the difference. Dee Gordon's infield single off Oliver Perez with two outs in the sixth brought home the go-ahead run. Christian Yelich's second-deck homer off Sean Burnett in the seventh added a key insurance run, and Blake Treinen gave up another run in the ninth.
The Nationals couldn't muster any offense against the Marlins bullpen, which at one point retired 12 batters in a row, seven via strikeout.
Today's forecast was supposed to be more promising than the previous two days, but a steady rain fell most of the evening and turned heavy enough to delay first pitch by 1 hour, 34 minutes.
Once they got going at last, the Nationals dug themselves into an early 4-0 hole. Four hits off A.J. Cole in the top of the second brought a pair of runs home. Some sloppy defense - Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew let a popup fall between them, Jose Lobaton let a pitch scoot under his legs - helped set the stage for two more runs to score in the top of the third.
The Nationals, though, bounced back and got all four runs back in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to back-to-back homers by Anthony Rendon and Drew.
Rendon's blast was his 20th of the season, and that gave the Nationals six 20-homer players this year. Only two other National League clubs had ever done that before, the 1965 and 2003 Braves, but those teams and the Nats were quickly joined about 20 minutes later by the Cardinals, who saw Matt Holliday come off the disabled list to blast his 20th.
Drew only has eight homers, but he reached that number in only 138 at-bats, no small achievement for the backup infielder.
Lobaton's RBI and Trea Turner's RBI single drove in the inning's other two runs, and left this game tied 4-4.