ST. LOUIS — First, they got eliminated. Then, they barely avoided getting no-hit. Jordan Zimmermann's foiled bid for 20 wins was the final disappointment for the Washington Nationals in a series sweep that was all Cardinals.
"I kept my regular lineup in there because I wanted us to stand up and show them that we were better, and we couldn't do that," manager Davey Johnson said after a 4-1 loss on Wednesday that clinched a tie for the NL Central title for St. Louis after Pittsburgh lost to the Cubs.
"There's pride that comes into it when you play these games and there's a lot riding on it for them. This club is used to being a spoiler but we didn't play that well and I wanted to beat them bad," he said.
Rookie Shelby Miller won his 15th game and Yadier Molina had the go-ahead hit for the Cardinals, who swept the season series 6-0. It's the first time that's happened to the Nationals.
"They've got some pretty good starters over there," Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "And like I said they have a really powerful lineup, so you mix those two together you're going to have success."
Zimmermann (19-9) allowed four runs in seven innings. The Nationals had five hits one day after breaking up rookie Michael Wacha's bid for a no-hitter in the ninth inning.
Zimmermann took pride in topping 200 innings, reaching 213 1-3.
"I'm not really disappointed, 20 wins is a lot of wins and 19 is not too far off," Zimmermann said. "This year I came to do one thing really, and that's going deep into ballgames."
Matt Adams hit his eighth home run since replacing injured Allen Craig and doubled for the Cardinals, who lead the Pirates by three games with three games to go. The Reds lost 1-0 to the Mets on Wednesday and were eliminated from the divisional race.
The Cardinals (94-65) are a season-high 29 games above .500 and have a day off before 14-game winner Lance Lynn faces the Cubs on Friday night to open the final series.
Miller (15-9) was wild high early and walked two of the first three hitters to set up Bryce Harper's RBI single. The Nationals had no other runners in scoring position against the 22-year-old Miller, who allowed a run in six-plus innings and beat them for the second time this season.
Rookie Trevor Rosenthal saved all three games and struck out Adam LaRoche to cap a perfect ninth.
Zimmermann had won his previous four appearances and had been coming off a two-hit shutout of Miami. But he is 0-3 with an 8.27 ERA in six career starts against St. Louis, and lost Game 2 of the NL division series last fall.
"They're good one through nine," Zimmermann said. "Every one of those guys are hitting over .270, .280, everyone's dangerous and you can't make any mistakes.
"I don't know really what their game plan is but they obviously see me pretty well."
Daniel Descalso doubled leading off the third and scored on Matt Carpenter's groundout to tie it. Zimmermann hit Matt Holliday to open the fourth, and Adams doubled ahead of Molina's two-run single that made it 3-1.
Adams hit his 17th homer on a 1-2 pitch in the sixth.
The Cardinals were 15-2 against the NL East and swept Miami and Philadelphia.
NOTES: Zimmermann has 43 career wins, one shy of the Nationals' franchise record held by Livan Hernandez. ... Miller leads all rookies with 15 wins, also the most by a Cardinals rookie since Dick Hughes won 16 in 1967. ... Lynn (14-10, 4.09) faces Travis Wood (9-11, 2.98) on Friday. Stephen Strasburg (7-9, 3.02) gets his final start on Friday at Arizona against Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.28).