Phillies-Nationals Preview

The Washington Nationals have probably known since a five-game losing streak earlier this month that playoff baseball wasn't in their immediate future. Now that it's a certainty, they'll get on with the rest of the season with eyes on 2016.

The first of eight consolation games comes Sunday at Nationals Park in the conclusion of a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies, though Bryce Harper still has some individual business to attend to.

Washington (79-75) ended a four-game losing streak with Saturday's 2-1 win over the Phillies (58-97) in 12 innings, but the New York Mets won earlier to clinch the NL East.

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"I'm more surprised than anything else, I think," Jayson Werth said. "I never thought we'd end up here. Obviously, we've underachieved."

The 22-year-old Harper has not. Possibly headed for his first MVP award, he was 3 for 5 with a walk-off double, boosted his MLB-best average to .339 and got within four RBIs of 100 for the first time. However, there might be more notoriety in failing to get there.

If he doesn't reach 100, he'll join Barry Bonds (2003), Ken Griffey Jr. (1994), Hank Aaron ('69) and Mickey Mantle ('58) as the only players to hit at least .300 with 40 or more home runs and fewer than 100 RBIs. Seattle's Nelson Cruz could also join them.

Of that group, only Bonds went on to win the MVP, but he hit .341 - the only average higher than Harper's - and no one on that list won a batting title.

Philadelphia (57-96) has lost nine of 11 and fallen within a game of going 40 under .500 for the first time since 1997. The Phillies have matched their losses from 2000 and 1972 - their most since dropping 99 in 1969 - but still see some value in the season.

"Some of us haven't even played this long," rookie Aaron Nola said. "It's a good experience for us."

They'll face Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.94 ERA), who began September impressively but regressed into his preceding struggles in Tuesday's 4-1 home loss to Baltimore. The left-hander gave up four runs and six hits in 4 2-3 innings after going 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in his previous three starts.

Gonzalez is 2-4 with a 5.23 ERA in his last eight starts while giving up four earned runs or more in half of them. He figures to end the year with his highest ERA since posting a 5.75 mark with Oakland in 2009.

In the latest outing, the 30-year-old blamed himself for straying from catcher Jose Lobaton's plan.

"Lobby had a great plan. I tried to reinvent the wheel. I tried to change it up on these guys," Gonzalez told MLB's official website. "... My mistake making bad choices of pitches."

Gonzalez is 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last four starts against the Phillies, though Darin Ruf is 8 for 21 with three home runs, two doubles and seven walks against him.

Aaron Harang is headed for free agency, so the right-hander would like his final two starts to be as impressive as possible. Harang (6-15, 4.93) pitched seven innings in Tuesday's 6-2 win in Miami, surrendering two runs and seven hits to earn his second win in 19 starts since May 14. In that time, he's 2-12 with a 6.37 ERA.

The 37-year-old has been better against Washington in his two full seasons in the NL East, going 3-3 with a 2.60 ERA in seven starts. Werth has gone just 3 for 26 against him with 11 strikeouts, but Harper is 10 for 22 with a home run, triple and double.