But Sunday's 10-4 loss gives the Nats a chance to wrap up the division at home, and it also gives John Lannan another chance to come through in a pivotal moment. Lannan, Washington's wins leader in 2011 and their Opening Day starter in 2009 and '10, spent much of this season with Triple-A Syracuse before being summoned for spot duty in a pair of doubleheaders. Lannan was recalled to the Major League roster for good on Sept. 1, and he'll bring a 4-0 record and a 4.23 ERA into Monday's series opener with the Phillies.
It all gives the Nats a chance to clinch the division under their own terms, something manager Davey Johnson and his players are enjoying.
"It's been under our control, if we play like we're capable of playing," Johnson said. "Now that we're down to that last one, this is what we've been shooting for from Day 1. I really like the energy level on our ballclub during the games leading up to this one. It's been great."
The Phillies, meanwhile, enter the series having won back-to-back games to close out a weekend set with the Marlins. Sixteen games back of Washington in the NL East, Philadelphia still has a chance to finish .500, just as it has for every season since 2002.
Phillies: Kendrick takes mound for final start
The only other time Kyle Kendrick collected 10 wins in a season was back in 2007, when he finished 10-4 as a 22-year-old rookie. With his record at 10-12 this season, Kendrick can set a new career high in wins against the Nationals.
Kendrick's last start on Wednesday also came against the Nationals -- and also with Lannan opposing him. The 28-year-old right-hander lasted only two innings in that start, picking up the loss after allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits, including three home runs.
Nationals: Rest coming once division is clinched
Johnson has already professed his desire to rest the Nats' regulars once the NL East is clinched, though that may have taken longer than he expected. But despite having lost two of their last three series, the Nats can still wrap up the division on Monday, giving them the regular season's final two days to rest -- a luxury, considering their recent stretch of good health.
"I'd say we are [the healthiest we've been]," Johnson said. "I haven't even seen our trainer [Lee Kuntz]; he hasn't come around. Although he also knows -- I also told him, 'I don't want to know, so don't come and talk to me.'"
With the Phillies' final series of the year ending in Washington this week, it marks the third straight year in which they end the regular season away from Philadelphia.
Nats center fielder Bryce Harper homered on Sunday, giving him 22 on the season. That number is just two shy of the most hit by a teenager in a single season, as Tony Conigliaro hit 24 in 1964 with the Red Sox.