WASHINGTON -- As recently as Wednesday night, the Dodgers enjoyed a brief seven-run outburst. But in true blink-and-you-missed it fashion, Los Angeles' prolonged offensive struggles resumed Thursday night at Nationals Park.
Matched up against a dialed-in Ross Detwiler, the Dodgers needed an equally brilliant outing from Chris Capuano to pull out a series win against the Nationals. But the left-hander was unable to oblige, and a 4-1 loss to the Nats clinched Washington's first playoff berth since baseball returned to the nation's capital.
Subdued as Washington's celebration was on the field with the NL East still to be won, Los Angeles' clubhouse was even more so afterward. The Dodgers fell to three games behind the Cardinals, who beat the Astros earlier the day, for the final National League Wild Card spot.
In essence, the Dodgers can feel their first postseason berth since 2009 slipping through their fingers.
"Honestly, it does. It feels like it is a little bit," manager Don Mattingly said. "I just don't think there's any way for us to look at it other than that. We're going in the wrong direction."
Capuano lasted five innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits. He also surrendered a run on a two-out wild pitch in the third that allowed Ryan Zimmerman to score from third base. Capuano had earned a no-decision in each of his past three starts, all Dodgers wins.
His start was an example of the sort of miscues unaffordable for a team unable to reliably produce runs. The Dodgers have now scored just 47 times in 17 September games, the second-fewest among NL teams ahead of only the Mets' 46.
"I felt good, I felt strong," Capuano said. "I just kind of made a couple of mistakes with runners on base tonight."
That need for a strong effort from Capuano was also magnified after Detwiler's dominant start to the game. The 26-year-old left-hander kept Los Angeles without a baserunner until the fourth inning, which Mark Ellis led off with a home run into the Nats' bullpen in left-center field.
The Dodgers also put two runners on base in the sixth, when pinch-hitter Elian Herrera walked and Matt Kemp singled him to second. But both runners were stranded when Adrian Gonzalez ended the inning with a groundout to first.
Detwiler went six innings and allowed only the home run to Ellis and two other hits. He also struck out five Dodgers while walking one.
"It's not so much that you don't score tonight, but just again, the lack of fighting and making a guy really work for his outs and things like that," Mattingly said. "Again, when you don't get hits, it looks bad, it looks like there's no energy. It feels like that in the dugout, too, when a team is kind of shutting you down."
Capuano escaped trouble in the first and second before caving in the third. After Bryce Harper reached base on a forceout, Zimmerman brought him home with a sharp double to center. Zimmerman advanced to third on a groundout by Adam LaRoche and scored on Capuano's wild pitch to Michael Morse.
In the fourth, Ian Desmond walked and came around to score on a double by Danny Espinosa, who advanced to third on an error by Hanley Ramirez. The miscue soon proved critical, as Espinosa scored on a sac fly by Kurt Suzuki in the next at-bat.
Right-hander Jamey Wright relieved Capuano before the sixth and allowed only a single to Desmond. Left-hander Paco Rodriguez started the seventh and recorded two strikeouts and a walk before Kenley Jansen entered with two outs. Jansen had been inactive since Aug. 27 after he was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. He retired Zimmerman on three pitches with an inning-ending groundout.
"It definitely felt just a little weird," Jansen said. "It's been a while since being out there. You've just got to control yourself and slow it down a little bit. But I feel really good."
Randy Choate and Shawn Tolleson combined to handle the eighth, but the Dodgers' offense went quietly as Nats right-hander Drew Storen struck out the side in the ninth.
With the Nats finally in the playoffs, fireworks were launched from the top of Nationals Park -- a sore sight for the Dodgers, whose bats have been anything but explosive in September.
"We've theorized this thing to death at this point," Mattingly said. "It is one of those chicken or the egg things for me. You never know if it's a team that's a little bit flat, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or it's a team that's not hitting and it makes you feel flat."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.