ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Washington Nationals simply took too long to get started this season.
Despite an NL-best record of 30-13 since Aug. 9, the Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention Monday night with a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
After winning 98 games last year, the defending NL East champions could not overcome a slow start.
"If we would have played the way we played in August and September earlier in the year, we wouldn't be in this situation," shortstop Ian Desmond said.
The Nationals hovered near the .500 mark for the first four-plus months of the season before winning eight of nine in August and nine of 10 during a late charge Sept. 3-13.
The push just came too late.
"We dug a hole and we just couldn't dig out of it," manager Davey Johnson said. "It doesn't feel too good. We gave it a good fight, we just came up short."
The Nationals were eliminated by St. Louis in the division series last season. One year later, they were knocked out by the Cardinals again.
"Now, we're spoilers," Johnson said. "So it's not over for us."
Washington rookie Tanner Roark (7-1) gave up four runs and five hits in five innings for his first loss in four starts. He went 45 2-3 innings before allowing his first home run.
"I didn't have fastball command and I was getting behind hitters," Roark said. "If you do that against a good team, they're going to hit your mistakes."
Carlos Beltran hit a tiebreaking homer and Adam Wainwright earned his 18th win for St. Louis.
Looking for their first NL Central title since 2009, the Cardinals maintained a two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with five to play.
All three teams are headed to the postseason. The Reds and Pirates both won Monday night, clinching at least a wild-card berth when Washington lost.