WASHINGTON (AP) – The Washington Nationals continued their surge into the playoffs by stretching their winning streak to a year-high eight games with an 8-2 victory Sunday over the eliminated Cleveland Indians in a regular-season finale that meant nothing to either club.
Washington will host the NL wild-card game Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Making a push to start that win-or-go-home game, catcher Kurt Suzuki – who missed most of September with a bad right elbow – hit his 17th homer, a two-run shot in the third inning. Juan Soto delivered an RBI double in the first, and Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra each drove in two runs in the sixth. Parra tacked on a run-scoring hit in the eighth.
Parra, whose spot on the postseason roster has been in doubt, is 7 for 9 with 11 RBIs over the last three days.
Joe Ross (4-4) went six innings for Washington, allowing four hits, including Francisco Lindor’s 32nd homer leading off the third inning, and striking out eight batters.
Mike Clevinger (13-4) was charged with six runs over 5 2/3 innings and failed to collect what would have been a career-best 14th win.
The Nationals, who were just 19-31 in May before turning things around, finished second to Atlanta in the NL East at 93-69 – an 11-win improvement over 2018, when they missed the playoffs in Dave Martinez’s rookie year as a manager. They did it without a winning streak longer than five games until now.
Asked whether the fact that Sunday’s result had no bearing on his team’s standing meant it would be a stress-free day for him, Martinez replied: “No. They’re all stressful.”
He juggled his lineup a bit, resting a handful of regulars and allowing others – such as Suzuki, Soto, right fielder Adam Eaton and shortstop Trea Turner – to depart after two or three plate appearances.
Before Sunday, Washington didn’t know whether it would face Milwaukee or St. Louis on Tuesday. But St. Louis wrapped up the NL Central title by beating the Chicago Cubs 9-0, relegating Milwaukee to a wild-card spot.
The Indians, meanwhile, were officially knocked out of postseason contention Friday and closed with a five-game losing skid. Still, their 93-69 mark is not only the same as Washington’s, but better than Cleveland’s 91-71 record a year ago, when Terry Francona’s team won its third consecutive AL Central title.
“They fought,” Francona said, “until they were literally out of gas.”
The announced attendance at Nationals Park of 36,764 Sunday gave the team a season total of 2,259,781, an average of 27,899. Those numbers are down from 2018, when Washington had 2,529,604 spectators, an average of 31,230 – and represent the worst season figures since 2011, when the team drew fewer than 2 million fans.
BARRETT BACK AT HOME
Washington RHP Aaron Barrett entered in relief in the seventh, his first appearance at Nationals Park since August 2015. He had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery later that year, then broke his pitching arm in 2016 and missed all of 2017 and 2018. He was called up from the minors this month to make his return to the majors and pitched in two games for Washington – both on the road.