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WSH@KC: Zimmermann fans seven for 15th win

The chance for the Nationals to make up ground in their own division may be long gone, but if they're going to have a shot at the playoffs, it's still going to have to come by going through the National League East.

The Braves have all but wrapped up the division title, with a 13-game lead over the second-place Nats, but Washington still has a fighting chance for one of the two NL Wild Card spots. Washington trails Cincinnati by 6 1/2 games for the second spot.

To get there, the Nats will have to play exceptional baseball down the stretch, and the majority of those games come against division rivals. They just swept a mid-week series from the last-place Marlins, giving them a 14-5 record since Aug. 9. Now they'll host the Mets for a three-game set at Nationals Park, beginning Friday night.

"It's not gonna be easy, and we've got a long ways to go," right fielder Jayson Werth said after Wednesday's win. "But we've got to grind it out and win tough games and come from behind if we want to give ourselves a shot in the end. But nobody said it was going to be easy, so we've just got to keep going."

Nats right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will try to keep his team's run going as he takes the ball against Mets righty Dillon Gee. It's the teams' first meeting since late July, when the Nationals took three of four in Washington.

Following this brief homestand, the Nationals will embark on a three-city, 10-game road trip that culminates with a four-game set in New York. All three of the series -- in Philadelphia, Miami and New York -- come against NL East teams that are trailing the Nats in the standings. Overall, 23 of Washington's remaining 29 games come against division rivals.

Gee has fared well against the division-rival Nats in his career, with a 6-2 record and 2.86 ERA in 10 ballgames. He took the losing decision in his last start, a 11-3 loss to the Tigers, on Sunday at Citi Field. He matched a season high with 10 hits allowed, but still held Detroit to four runs in six innings.

"I feel like I was behind a lot of guys, wasn't throwing any of the off-speed stuff for strikes and it makes it tough facing a team like that," Gee said.

The Mets have lost six of their last eight.

Zimmermann has been up and down since a terrific start that earned him an All-Star nod. Over his past 16 starts, he has a 4.55 ERA and has surrendered at least five runs on five occasions. That includes his most recent outing against the Mets on July 26, when he gave up five runs over 6 2/3 innings at Nationals Park. Zimmermann was solid on Saturday, however, holding the Royals to two runs over 7 2/3 innings for his 15th victory.

"Not only was he making good pitches with his fastball, he had a good slider," manager Davey Johnson said. "He wasn't flying open. He used his changeup better than I've seen him use it all year. He probably threw 12-15 changeups, outstanding changeups to the left-handers. It was a great effort."

Mets: Murphy closing in on RBI high mark
After a 4-for-5 afternoon with two RBIs on Thursday -- which matched a Mets season-high for individual hits in a game -- infielder Daniel Murphy moved even closer to matching his career-high RBI total of 65, set last year. He is four shy.

Murphy is one of 16 players in franchise history to have four seasons of 20 or more doubles. He has a hit in 13 of his 15 games this month.

Nationals: Clippard a force out of the 'pen
Right-hander Tyler Clippard is enjoying a stellar year, with a 1.94 ERA over 60 1/3 innings, striking out 63 and giving up only 28 hits. He has put together six straight perfect appearances and 29 this season, in 61 chances, and his .136 opponents' batting average leads the NL.

"He has been the most consistent pitcher I've had in some time," Johnson said. "His numbers are off the chart. With what we have to do from here on out, I'm going to have to lean on him heavy."

• Shortstop Ian Desmond smacked his 20th home run on Thursday and sits two stolen bases away from his second consecutive 20-20 season. The only other Nationals player to accomplish the feat was Alfonso Soriano, who had 46 homers and 41 steals in 2006.

Worth noting
• The Nationals are 5-1 in one-run games dating back to a 15-inning win on Aug. 17 in Atlanta.

• The Mets are heading out on a three-city, nine-game road trip to Washington, Atlanta and Cleveland.

• Nationals center fielder Denard Span matched a career high by extending his hitting streak to 12 games on Thursday. Left fielder Bryce Harper extended his career-best streak to 11 games.

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