- - Wednesday, September 5, 2018

If a casual fan wants to know what has plagued the Nationals this year they only needed to watch the first 30 minutes Wednesday night, as visiting St. Louis looked more postseason worthy and won 7-6 over the reigning division champs.

Washington starting pitcher Tanner Roark gave up a three-run homer to the third batter he faced in the top of the first — former teammate Matt Adams, who added another homer in the fifth.

Then Bryce Harper, who had doubled, failed to score from second on a two-out single by Anthony Rendon in the bottom of the first.

To make the optics look worse Harper (3-for-5) was thrown out at the plate without a slide even after St. Louis center fielder Harrison Bader dove to the ground and got up and fired to catcher Yadier Molina.

Harper allowed a fly ball to drop for an RBI double by Matt Carpenter in the top of the second and Jose Martinez followed with an RBI to make it 5-0. Cardinals starter and winner Mike Mikolas (14-4) scored the first run that inning after reaching on infield single after third baseman Rendon double-clutched his bouncer.

The defensive lapses continued in the third inning. Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman caught a fly pop near his team’s dugout and no coaches or players helped stop him, giving the Cardinals an extra base when he stepped into the dugout.

The rest of the evening followed a pattern, as the Nationals lost their sixth series in the last eight sets in a game that lasted three hours, 35 minutes and featured 31 hits.

This performance came just hours after general manager Mike Rizzo expressed support for rookie manager Dave Martinez, who inherited a team with World Series aspirations but is fading like an old T-shirt.

The good vibes wore off quickly as the Cardinals scored three in the first off Roark as he gave up singles to Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez before Adams blasted a three-run homer to right.

“It is something special going on with this team and it is nice to be a part of it,” Adams said.

The Nationals once again rallied late as Zimmerman had a three-run double and Wilmer Difo added an RBI single in the seventh as the hosts cut the lead to 7-6.

But Harper fanned to end the eighth with a runner on base and the Nationals were retired in the ninth with two runners on base as Michael A. Taylor struck out to end the game.

The Cardinals had built a 7-1 lead as Yairo Munoz of the Cardinals hit a solo homer in the sixth. The homer came off Washington reliever Kyle McGowin, who was making his big league debut and gave up the 71st homer by the Nationals bullpen this year.

Difo of the Nationals had an RBI double in the last of the sixth to make it 7-2. Washington got on the board as Adam Eaton had an RBI double to drive in Victor Robles in the fifth as the Nationals trimmed the lead to 6-1.

Losing pitcher Roark (8-15) gave up 10 hits and six runs before he was taken out after throwing 111 pitches in just five innings.

The third-place Nationals (69-71) remained 7 1/2 games back of first-place Atlanta and 4 1/2 games behind second-place Philadelphia in the National League East. Washington fell nine games back of St. Louis for the second wild-card spot.

NOTES: Zimmerman was named the Nationals nominee for the 2018 Roberto Clemente Award. Zimmerman was recognized before the game and the Nationals also celebrated Hispanic Heritage Day … Stephen Strasburg (7-7, 4.09) is slated to start Thursday for the host Nationals against Kyle Hendricks (11-11, 3.37) of the Cubs … Marcell Ozuna of the Cardinals was 4-for-5 after hitting two homers Tuesday.

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