Washington, which already clinched a postseason berth, has a magic number of four to clinch the division title. No matter how close the race gets with the second-place Braves, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said there isn't necessarily any added pressure in the season's remaining games.
"They're all big games," Johnson said. "The first game we played of the year is a big game. I never try to get too upset or too giddy when you win a bunch. ... One-hundred sixty two games is a long time, so you need to maintain an even keel."
It's easy for Johnson to remain calm because he's sending left-hander Gio Gonzalez to the mound. Gonzalez became Major League Baseball's first 20-game winner this season and hasn't allowed an earned run in three of his last five starts, a span in which he's posted a 0.79 ERA and .155 average against.
Thursday's series finale also is an important game for the Phillies. Although they're nearly out of the NL Wild Card race -- Philadelphia is 5 1/2 games out -- there is a streak the Phillies would like to keep alive.
Philadelphia is 40-40 at home this season, with Thursday marking the club's last game at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies have finished .500 or better at home in each of the last 11 seasons.
Despite Wednesday's loss, the Phillies have been on a roll against the Nationals. Philadelphia has won seven of its last nine against Washington, outscoring the Nationals, 37-22, with a 1.69 ERA in that span.
"They've got a lot of quality players over there," Johnson said. "Great pitching staff. Good team."
Nationals: LaRoche, Zimmerman near century mark
With two more RBIs, Adam LaRoche would become the third National to record a 100-RBI season, joining Ryan Zimmerman (2006, 09) and Adam Dunn ('09-10). Zimmerman needs to drive in six more runs to post his third 100-RBI season.
Danny Espinosa received Wednesday off because Johnson thought the second baseman was pressing. Espinosa is expected back Thursday.
Phillies: Cloyd gets the start
Right-hander Tyler Cloyd gets the start for the Phillies on Thursday, his sixth since getting called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Cloyd has tossed three quality starts in his five Major League outings, his latest coming in a win against the Mets last Thursday. He allowed three hits and struck out six in eight innings of one-run ball in that outing.
Jimmy Rollins is two runs shy of posting his sixth career 100-run season. Only five Phillies have had more than Rollins: Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson (eight), Mike Schmidt (seven), and Billy Hamilton and Bobby Abreu (six).
Gonzalez is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season. He has struck out 23 in 19 innings.
Phillies starters have a 2.23 ERA against the Nationals this year.
Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper is the first teenager in Major League history to hit at least 17 home runs and steal 17 bases. His 20 homers as a teenager are only topped by Tony Conigliaro's 24.