WASHINGTON -- Thanks to strong pitching from Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper's burst of energy and Adam LaRoche's slugging, the Washington Nationals won enough from April through September that even a loss on the first day of October could not stop them from clinching the NL East.
Despite being beaten 2-0 by the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night, the Nationals earned their first division title since moving from Montreal in 2005, because the second-place Atlanta Braves lost 2-1 at the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Washington, in first since May 22, leads Atlanta by three games with two to play in the regular season. The Braves' loss finished as the top of the ninth inning ended in Washington, and the Nationals celebrated in their dugout with hugs, high-fives and spiked gloves.
PIRATES 2, BRAVES 1
PITTSBURGH -- The Atlanta Braves' hopes of winning the National League East ended with a loss to the Pirates that clinched the division title for the Nationals.
The Braves, who needed to sweep the Pirates and have first-place Washington drop three games to Philadelphia to tie for the division lead, will instead be the top wild card team and host the wild card game Friday.
Starling Marte hit his sixth home run of the season and scored twice to lead the Pirates.
Atlanta managed just two hits against Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke (1-3), who picked up his first major league win. Jared Hughes worked the ninth for his second save in place of regular closer Joel Hanrahan.
Paul Maholm (13-11) gave up two runs in seven innings while losing to his former team for the first time, striking out eight and walking three.
CARDINALS 4, REDS 2
ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia homered off Bronson Arroyo and pitched into the seventh inning, helping the Cardinals clinch a tie for the second NL wild card and spoil Dusty Baker's return from a mini-stroke.
The defending World Series champions have won 11 of 14 and led the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing at home later against San Francisco, by 2½ games. The Cardinals have two games to go, the Dodgers three.
Arroyo (12-10) threw 73 pitches while allowing three runs over five innings in a tuneup for the postseason. He topped 200 innings for the seventh time but is 0-3 in his last four starts.
The Reds are 96-64, tied with the Nationals for the best record in the National League with two games to go, and must finish ahead of Washington to get home-field advantage throughout the postseason after losing the season series.
ASTROS 3, CUBS 0
Four Houston pitchers combined on a two-hitter and Fernando Martinez homered for the third consecutive game. The Astros avoided their franchise-record 107th loss in the opener of their final series in the National League before they move to the American League next season.
The Cubs lost 100 games in a season for the first time since 1966 and were shut out for the 14th time this season. Chicago has lost more than 99 games twice, setting the franchise record of 103 losses in 1962 and 1966. The Cubs have dropped 12 of their last 14.
Houston has matched its franchise record for losses with 106, but the Astros have won four of their last five and are 14-14 since Sept. 1.
MARLINS 3, METS 2
Heath Bell (4-5) pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Steve Cishek pitched the ninth for his 15th save in 19 chances. Cishek issued a two-out walk to Fred Lewis before Ike Davis grounded out to end the game, giving the Marlins their second win in 11 games.
BREWERS 5, PADRES 3
Shaun Marcum gave up two runs and six hits in six innings as Milwaukee clinched a winning season for the second straight year.
Clayton Richard (14-14) gave up five runs and 10 hits in seven innings for his second straight loss after winning five straight decisions.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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