The Cardinals rallied from two down in the top of the ninth inning to win the game 9-7. Rookie shortstop Pete Kozma sealed the Nationals' fate with a two-run single to give St. Louis a two-run lead.
It was nothing short of a fantastic season for the Nationals. While improvements were expected of them this season, not many ever thought that they would win 98 games and be the first seed in the National League for the postseason.
Bryce Harper emerged as a viable major leaguer, and Ian Desmond cemented himself as one of the best shortstops in the National League. The pitching staff was stellar and arguably the most important component of the team this season.
With some playoff experience under their belts, the Nationals should have high hopes for next season. All of the pieces are in place for another run, and they now have the motivation to come back with a vengeance in 2013.
Like I mentioned just a slide earlier, the Nationals should be as motivated as ever entering next season.
Both teams played well in the NLDS, but the Cardinals were simply one clutch-hit better. The Nationals were unable to hold a 6-0 lead in the game, and closer Drew Storen imploded in the ninth inning.
The loss should not be blamed on Storen, however. The Nationals failed to keep pouring it on after starter Adam Wainwright left the game, and really none of the team's pitchers were capable of quieting the Cardinals' offensive attack.
A loss like this will motivate veterans Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth to lead the young team back to the postseason again in 2013. Now that Zimmerman has gotten his first taste of postseason baseball, there's no doubt that he'll want to make it back.
Bryce Harper will probably be the most motivated to make it back to the playoffs. With one out in the bottom half of the ninth, Harper stepped to the plate and struck out on three straight pitches. The final strike saw Harper swinging at a high fastball well out of the zone.
His anxiousness at the plate didn't help the Nationals this postseason, and he'll be looking to atone for his shaky play.
Motivation will play a key factor in Washington in 2013.
It was easy to see which of the two teams had the most playoff experience.
In clutch situations, the Cardinals never quivered. They knew that through patience and focus they could get the job done.
For the Nationals, players were pressing and got anxious in clutch situations. Nationals pitchers were often seen overthrowing, which resulted in missed locations.
Five games of playoff experience can really go a long way for a club, especially for one with as many young guys as the Nationals have.
The young pitching staff will benefit the most from the five-game series against St. Louis. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen didn't exactly perform up to expectations.
The shaky performances by many of the team's pitchers can likely be attributed to nervousness and a lack of composure in win-or-go-home situations.
Should the Nationals make the postseason next season, however, look for all that to change. A little postseason experience can work wonders for a young team.
It's not fair at all to blame the series loss on the absence of Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals were given every opportunity to win the series, they just failed to capitalize in certain situations.
That being said, it's obvious that a healthy Strasburg will make the Nationals an even tougher competitor next season.
There's almost zero chance that he's put on another innings limit, so Washington will reap the benefits of having their ace for the entire season—playoffs included.
Even though he didn't have the most dominant second half in the league, Strasburg's presence on the mound alone is enough to strike fear in the opposition. He has the potential to go out there and dominate every time, so having a guy like that in the postseason is invaluable.
Lining up Strasburg, Gonzalez and Zimmermann in a playoff series is a scary thought. As the top three starters in the regular-season rotation, it's even a safe prediction that each of them can win at least 16 games.
That kind of pitching is what wins championships in baseball. Unfortunately, the Nationals may have been just one arm short this season.
In the past, general manager Mike Rizzo had some difficulties attracting high-profiled free agents to Washington.
Now, that shouldn't be the case.
Bringing back both of those guys will be a big focus of this offseason. Also on the list of attractive options for the Nationals is Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton.
Not many around the league expect the Rays to scrounge up enough cash to bring back the eldest Upton brother, and the Nationals are considered one of the top suitors for him.
Other free agents will surely want to play in Washington, but there really aren't all that many holes to fill within this club. Assuming LaRoche and Jackson return, the Nationals won't need to search for a power-hitting bat and a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Throw Upton into the mix, and Harper would be able to slide over to a more natural corner outfield spot. An outfield of Harper, Upton and Werth would instantly become one of the best in baseball.
This would, of course, make Michael Morse expendable, and the Nationals could potentially bring back some top young talent for his services. Needless to say, Rizzo has options heading into next season.
The Nationals were one of the most surprising teams in all of baseball this season. Around the season's second month, they adopted the phrase "Natitude" to describe the way they approach the game.
All teams approach baseball with a certain attitude, but the Nationals' approach to baseball is unlike any other. The team plays with such ferocity and focus, but also has fun at the same time.
The Nationals are the epitome of the word team. Veterans and young guys alike were able to gel together this season and contribute to the winningest team in baseball.
While the magical ride is over for now, Nationals fans can rest assured that the Natitude will be back in 2013. This approach to the game is something that makes the Nationals franchise special, and it will be one of the biggest factors to their success next season.
This, of course, is a mentality that starts from the top down. Manager Davey Johnson deserves all the credit in the world for building a winner out of this once-miserable franchise, and he'll likely be the top candidate for National League Manager of the Year as a result.
Washington is a team on the rise, and this year's early exit from the postseason should make the Nationals hungry in 2013. The rest of the league better watch out, because the Natitude will be back at full force.