Nationals looking to clinch in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH -- It might feel like a do-over Saturday when the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates play the second game of their three-game series at PNC Park.

Thanks to Pittsburgh's 11-inning, 6-5 win Friday, Washington is still trying to clinch the National League East title, and the Pirates are still clinging to long odds that they will get into the postseason.

Actually, even if the Nationals had won Friday, they would not have clinched because their magic number was two and the New York Mets won. But a win would have left Washington in control and needing just a win Saturday -- or in any of its last nine regular-season games -- to capture its third division title in five years.

Pittsburgh also has nine games left, but a 3 1/2-game mountain to get into a wild-card position might be insurmountable.

Still, getting the win Friday to help keep their hopes alive and avoid a scenario where Washington gets to celebrate at their home park was something positive for the Pirates -- and especially for rookie Jacob Stallings, who hit a walk-off pinch-hit RBI single with two outs and a full count in the 11th.

"Obviously, it's a big win for us trying to make the playoffs," Stallings said. "It was pretty cool."

Washington's Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48 ERA) is slated to start Saturday, his second start since coming off the disabled list after recovering from a shoulder injury.

After being out 2 1/2 months, Ross allowed one run on six singles in three innings on Sunday, throwing 51 pitches, in the Nationals' rain-shortened loss against Atlanta the Braves.

"I felt good, and that was what I was mainly concerned with," Ross told the Washington Post after that game. "Just going out there feeling good and competing."

The Nationals hope for a little more from Ross, and look for him to go longer Saturday. That is particularly true now after Washington used seven relievers Friday.

Before he got hurt, Ross struck out a career-best 11 in 7 1/3 innings in a 4-1 Washington win over Pittsburgh that was Ross' third major league start.

Ross will be matched against one of the Pirates' steadiest starters over the past seven weeks.

Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.19 ERA) has been more than steady since the Pirates acquired him from the New York Yankees Aug. 1.

In his first nine starts with Pittsburgh, he is 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA with 46 strikeouts and just three walks.

He has made just one career start against Washington, a 4-1 win while pitching for the Yankees in 2012.

Nova has been so good that reports abound that the Pirates will not be able to afford to re-sign him despite their interest in doing so.

For now, Pittsburgh needs him to keep its playoff hopes alive Saturday.