With just five games left in the regular season, the National League East remains the only division in the league without a clear-cut winner – odd when you consider the fact that the team leading the division is also tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in baseball. But after an Atlanta Braves loss to the New York Mets, which came on a three-run home run from Mets outfielder Lucas Duda, the Washington Nationals’ (95-62) magic number finally fell to two.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals (85-72), who are fighting for the league’s second Wild Card, are looking for some combination of three wins or Los Angeles Dodgers losses to reach a one-game playoff with the Braves.
Both teams hope to take one step closer to clinching their respective playoff spots tonight in the second of a three-game series that will pit Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann against Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse in a rematch of their September 1 meeting.
The last time Zimmermann (12-8, 2.90 ERA) faced the Cardinals, he allowed a career-high eight runs in a 3 2/3 innings effort that came in the midst of a slump that kept him from pitching through six innings for four consecutive starts.
In his four starts since, Zimmerman is 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA after having struck out 26 batters through 24 2/3 innings pitched while allowing just six earned runs.
“I’m glad I’m having a few good ones here as the regular season is coming to a close,” Zimmermann said. “I feel if I stay on my fastball, I’ll be able to throw what I want. I’m not going to be walking guys.”
In four career starts against the Cardinals, Zimmermann is 0-2 with a 10.71 ERA through 19 1/3 innings pitched.
Lohse (16-3, 2.77 ERA), keeper of the highest winning percentage among qualified starting pitchers, did not fare much better in his last start against the Nationals. Opposite Zimmermann’s poor showing, Lohse managed just 5 2/3 innings and surrendered eight runs on nine hits while striking our four on his way to a no-decision.
Lohse has pitched well all season long and his last four starts are no exception. Since his outing at Nationals Park, Lohse is 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA. As such, it does not come as a surprise that Lohse’s schedule is set up so that he will be on the mound should a one-game playoff with the Braves take place.
In 13 career appearances against the Nationals, Lohse is 4-2 with a 5.16 ERA through 66 1/3 innings pitched.
A strong start tonight coupled with a Braves loss will give Zimmermann a chance to lead the Nationals to their first NL East division title. But to do so, the Nationals will have to excise the Busch Stadium demons that have held them to a single win in their last 12 games in St. Louis.