Nats aim to secure playoff spot vs. Dodgers

Ross Detwiler and the Washington Nationals look to secure the franchise's first postseason berth in 31 years on Thursday evening, needing a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the finale of a three-game series.

The Nats lowered their magic number for clinching at least a wild card spot to one after splitting Wednesday's doubleheader with the Dodgers. Washington actually had a chance to lock up the postseason spot in the nightcap after taking the first game 3-1, but lost 7-6 when Los Angeles' Matt Kemp hit a go- ahead solo homer in the ninth inning.

Kemp's winner came after Washington scored six runs in the eighth inning to erase a 6-0 deficit, but Kemp nullified the rally when he took a high fastball from Washington reliever Tyler Clippard over the wall.

"I think everyone in the ballpark, including myself, thought we were going to win this game tonight," Clippard said. "It's tough to swallow knowing that I made the pitch I wanted to make and got hurt on it."

The Nats lost for the fourth time in five games, but still seem likely to lock up just the second playoff berth in team history. The Montreal Expos claimed the first in 1981.

Washington still leads the NL East by five games over the Atlanta Braves and its magic number to wrap up the division crown is nine.

Detwiler will try to pitch his club into the playoffs and is 2-0 over his last four starts. He did log his second straight no-decision on Friday in his team's 2-1 loss to the Braves, allowing a run on seven hits and a walk in six innings.

The 26-year-old lefty is 9-6 with a 3.16 earned run average in 30 games (24 starts) this season and that includes a loss to the Dodgers when he made his second career start against them on April 27. Detwiler yielded three runs over six innings in the 3-2 defeat.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, are fighting for their playoff lives as they sit two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL's second wild card spot. They won for only the third time in nine games on Wednesday.

"At the end of the day, we split (the doubleheader) and have a chance to win a series (Thursday)," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We have five series left. If we win five series, we like our chances."

Left-hander Chris Capuano will try to better those chances tonight with his first victory since Aug. 12. He is 0-2 in six starts since, though the Dodgers have won his last three outings.

Capuano lasted just 4 1/3 innings versus the Cardinals on Friday, charged with four runs -- two earned -- on six hits, three of those homers. He is 11-10 with a 3.60 ERA in 30 starts this season.

The 34-year-old hurled 6 2/3 scoreless innings and fanned nine to beat the Nationals in L.A. on April 29, making him 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA in seven lifetime encounters.

Los Angeles swept a three-game series from Washington back in late April and has won six of the last seven encounters between the clubs.