For the second time in three seasons, the Washington Nationals are champions of the National League East. 

Tanner Roark pitched seven innings of shutout ball, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen closed up shop, and Ian Desmond sent a home run deep into the Turner Field seats Tuesday night as Washington became the first team in baseball to clinch a division with a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves.

(The Baltimore Orioles likewise wrapped up their East championship in the American League within mere minutes of Washington’s victory.)

Roark struck out four, walked none and scattered only five hits over his seven innings of work. The win brought him to 14-10 on the season and lowered his ERA to a very solid 2.85. He’s turned in a quality start in five of his past six appearances, helping the Nationals open up a massive lead over their scuffling division.

Coming into Tuesday night, Washington clinching the NL East was a matter of when, not if. The Nationals boasted an 11.5-game lead over the Braves with 13 games remaining. Atlanta expedited the process by dropping each of its last five games and getting off to a 3-11 start in the month of September.

While expected, the Nationals’ playoff-clinching win is only further proof of a lasting culture change that’s happened in recent seasons. The franchise, which came to the nation’s capital in 2005 after years of futility in Montreal, did not have a winning season for the first seven years in its new home.

Washington has now compiled three straight winning campaigns for just the third time (including the Montreal seasons), while making the playoffs for the third time in franchise history. 

“I guess you could say that we kind of expect it a little more now,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche told Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. “Two years ago, it was almost like—I don’t know if you’d call it a shock. But it was like, ‘Wow, we must be pretty good.’ Now, I think we’re a pretty established team.”

The Nationals spent most of 2014 trying to keep Atlanta at arm’s length. The Braves, who outpaced Washington last season to earn the NL East crown, came into the season as co-favorites, having built what looked like one of baseball’s best all-around teams. 

Tuesday night proved an interesting microcosm of the ills that have derailed Atlanta’s season. Neither team could hit for the first five innings. No baserunner touched third base, and just a few were even able to get into scoring position. Weak singles were only filler between can-of-corn fly-ball outs and cleanly fielded dribblers.

But unlike Atlanta, which sits near the bottom of every major offensive category, Washington has shown a penchant for getting hits when it matters most. Desmond took Aaron Harang deep two batters after an otherwise innocuous Jayson Werth walk in the top of the sixth. The Nationals shortstop plated the team’s final run before the postgame champagne bath as well, taking advantage of a David Carpenter wild pitch to score in the ninth.

Storen needed only seven pitches to close it out, with each Atlanta hitter meekly grounding out. Justin Upton, one of the few Atlanta hitters who has not totally gone off the rails in 2014, jogged out his grounder to second as Nationals players were already descending on the infield to celebrate.

At that point, this happened:

Then this:

And I hope people were wearing their safety goggles for this:

That does not seem like an environment conducive to children:

It does seem like a fun one, though: 

It’s a good time to be a Nationals fan. Actually, check that. With the Orioles clinching, it’s a great time to merely be a beltway baseball fan. Those closest to the heart of the nation may soon be seeing a series between two teams within a drive of the White House.

We’ll see come October whether they can keep this momentum going.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

(Credit to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post and the Nationals’ Twitter feed for setting the scene.)

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