PITTSBURGH - The Atlanta Braves' hopes of winning the National League East ended Monday night with a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that clinched the division title for the Washington 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 when the postseason begins 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.
The Braves had been stubbornly tracking the Nationals for the last four months, refusing to wilt despite Washington's hot pace. They came to Pittsburgh with an 8-2 record in their last 10 games to draw within 3 games of the Nationals.
Their September surge put to rest the memories of their nightmarish collapse last fall when they blew a huge cushion over the season's final month and missed the playoffs entirely.
Still, Atlanta's chance of winning its first division crown since 2005 ended when it couldn't muster much offense against a team in the midst of its own personal nightmare.
Locke has spent the last month auditioning for a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation next spring, his miserable results falling in lock-step with the team's freefall through the standings. The 24-year-old left-hander came in winless in his previous five starts and - even worse - the Pirates had lost every game this season in which he made an appearance.