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The chopping stopped. And the idea that this could be the end of a drive for the divisional crown seemed to creep into the minds of the 41,797 announced to be in attendance.

On a night when the Nationals scattered just five total hits, Harper’s homer wasn’t enough. Their other four hits were left on the bases harmlessly and their late-inning attempts were thwarted. They were blown away by Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth and they never got another shot.

They’ll still arrive at the ballpark on Saturday for the first of two nationally televised games — one they’ll enter with a commanding divisional lead and mere inches from a playoff berth. Those were the reminders that made Friday night’s loss easier to stomach, and to refocus toward the future.

“You play all season to build up that (7 ½-game) lead, and we’re right in the thick of it right now,” Werth said. “We’ve got a nice little cushion, but we’ve got all playoff teams the rest of the way. We’re going to be tested, but I think we’re ready for that test, I really do.

“I think probably the last two weeks you can really tell a difference in this team. We’re a championship-caliber ball club. I like where we’re at.”