The Nationals edged the Phillies, 3-2, on Wednesday night, a victory that, coupled with a Reds loss, moved them to 6 1/2 games back of Cincinnati for the second wild-card spot with 23 games left to play. The Nationals won because of the base running of September call-up Jeff Kobernus that scored the go-ahead run, and two stellar and zany defensive plays — Jordan Zimmermann’s no-look-scoop at first base and Jhonatan Solano’s diving play at home after a wild pitch. But it certainly didn’t need to come down to those three things.

Despite a second-half surge by the Nationals offense, they were at fault for making Wednesday’s game only a one-run game. The Nationals produced 12 base runners — six hits and six walks — but only three runs. They stranded 11 base runners and went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. In the first inning, they loaded the bases against starter Roy Halladay with one out and scored only one run; Wilson Ramos’ double play the rally-killer. An inning later, the Nationals had two on with two outs — and produced nothing.

“I don’t think we zone-hit, because [Adam] LaRoche swung at a ball,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He could’ve got him 3-0 then he would’ve got a real cookie. And Ramos, same way, swings at a ball around his ankles and hits into a double play. We just got to be better. We’ve got to zone-hit when that guy’s in that kind of trouble. Got to make him throw it right down the middle, then swing.”

The Nationals offense have been much improved since the all-star break, but on Wednesday the same old mistakes seeped back into their play. To escape his jams, Halladay turned to his offspeed pitches — his curveball, actually — and the Nationals struggled with them. Once the Phillies had a 2-1 lead in the second inning, the Nationals’ hitting approach changed.

“Their at-bats got a little bit different, a little bit anxious,” Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Maybe trying to do too much. But these last three outings [Halladay] had to rely on his breaking stuff as he’s gone along. When he’s gotten ahead of hitters that’s still been a pitch for him.”

In the second half, the Nationals are hitting .269 as a team, fifth best in the majors, and have scored 192 runs, the 11th highest total in baseball. After sitting near the bottom of the league in runs scored per game, the Nationals are inching up. They now rank 20th in the majors with 3.95 runs scored per game, approaching the league average of 4.2 runs scored per game. Their on-base percentage (.312) is no longer second-to-last in the baseball. But, of course, there has still been some struggle in crucial spots; the Nationals rank 25th in the majors with a .239 average with runners in scoring position. On Wednesday night, it reared its head.


The Nationals make all the plays that matter in a zany 3-2 win over the Phillies, writes Adam Kilgore.


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Harrisburg 5, Erie 4: In the first game of the Western Division Championship Series, Steve Souza smashed a solo shot in the top of the ninth inning. He finished A.J. Cole allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out four over seven innings. Richie Mirowski allowed one run on one hit and struck out two over two innings. Tyler Herron picked up the save with a scoreless ninth inning that included three strikeouts.

Potomac 2, Lynchburg 1 (14): In the first game of the Northern Division Championship Series, Michael Taylor laced a walk-off single in the bottom of the 14th inning, snapping an 0 for 6 game with three strikeouts. Randolph Oduber went 3 for 5 with an RBI. Sammy Solis allowed one run on three hits over five innings and struck out five. Colin Bates tossed three scoreless innings, and Rafael Martin and Brian Dupra each tossed two scoreless.

Hagerstown 6, West Virginia 1: In the second game of the Northern Division Championship, Austin Voth tossed five scoreless innings and allowed only thee hits and two walks while striking out five. Ian Dickson allowed one run and Ronald Pena tossed 1 2/3 scoreless. Wander Ramos went 1 for 4 with two RBI. Tony Renda, Shawn Pleffner and Estalin Martinez each drove in a run.

Mahoning Valley 2, Auburn 0: Nick Pivetta tossed five scoreless innings and struck out seven batters. Jake Joyce tossed a scoreless inning. Wilman Rodriguez went 2 for 5. Andruth Ramirez finished 2 for 4.