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STL@CHC: Lohse tosses six solid frames in 16th win

Despite a 12-2 thrashing at the hands of the Cardinals on Friday night, the Nationals are in position to clinch their first National League East title since returning to Washington.

With the Braves losing to the Mets, the Nats' magic number for winning the division fell to two games despite their own mishap. Jordan Zimmermann gets the start for the second of three games against the Cardinals having already secured the first winning record of his four-year career.

The 26-year-old right-hander is 12-8 with a 2.90 ERA and is coming off two straight quality starts after a slow beginning to September. Against the Brewers on Sept. 24, Zimmermann allowed just one run on four hits over 6 2/3 innings of a 12-2 win over the Brewers.

"I'm glad I'm having a few good ones here as the regular season is coming to a close," Zimmermann said after that last start. "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."

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are closing in on their second straight postseason appearance. Three games ahead of the Dodgers for the second Wild Card spot in the NL, the defending World Series champs have two more games against the Nats before closing out the regular season with three at home against the NL Central champion Reds.

Right-hander Kyle Lohse gets the start for St. Louis on Saturday, sporting baseball's best winning percentage (.842) at 16-3 with a 2.77 ERA. Lohse has also already thrown 24 quality starts, and should the Cardinals end up in the NL Wild Card playoff game, Lohse's schedule suggests he'll take the mound.

"I think we're heading in the right direction that we want to be at this time in the year," Lohse said. "We're just getting confidence in what we've got, knowing we can all go out there and do the job. We talk a lot here -- where we have such a close-knit rotation -- about competition. If one guy is good, it's my turn to be better. This game can be like that, too, where it gets contagious and we can have runs like this."

Nats: Johnson not shying away from division battle
Though a postseason berth is already locked up, Nats manager Davey Johnson has his team pushing for a NL East title. If the Nats clinch, Johnson could then begin setting up his rotation for the playoffs. Washington's skipper has already said he's not afraid to rest his starters for the playoffs, but with the Braves lurking not far behind in the division race, that hasn't yet been a possibility. Entering Saturday, Atlanta trailed Washington by four games with five left to play.

"It'd help us a lot more if [the Braves] played worse," Johnson said. "But I like these games all meaning something. I think it's a good education. It makes it more fun knowing the [Wild Card-pursuing] Cardinals have got a lot riding on it, and we've got a lot riding on it."

Cardinals: Holliday day to day after taking pitch off elbow
Matt Holliday left Friday's series opener with the Nats after taking a pitch from Christian Garcia off his left elbow. St. Louis says the outfielder has a contusion on the elbow and is day to day.

Shane Robinson took over for Holliday, who is batting .294 with 27 home runs and 100 RBIs despite an 0-for-10 skid over his last three games.

• David Freese is hoping to return to the Cardinals' lineup sometime this weekend. St. Louis' third baseman rolled his right ankle in an indoor batting cage on Monday and missed all three of the Cardinals' games against the Astros. Freese took batting practice before Friday's series opener with the Nats.

Worth noting
• Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper has hit 21 home runs this year, three shy of Tony Conigliaro's record for the most in the single season by a teenager. Conigliaro set the record with the Red Sox in 1964.

• Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is vying to become the third outfielder in franchise history to play errorless defense for an entire season. Curt Flood (1966) and Orlando Palmeiro (2003) are the only others to have done so.

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