St. Louis had forged a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh on David Descalso's two-run homer against Sean Burnett, but the Nationals responded in the next half-inning.
Michael Morse and Chad Tracy each singled with two out against Lance Lynn (13-6), with Eury Perez coming in to run for Morse. Perez stole third base and then scored the go-ahead run when Desmond sent a single up the middle.
Tracy went to second on the play and came home with what turned out to be the decisive tally on Espinoza's hit for a 4-2 Nationals lead.
Ryan Mattheus (5-1) earned the victory despite yielding a run in the eighth and Tyler Clippard notched his 29th save as National League East-leading Washington took 3-of-4 games against the Cardinals.
Kurt Suzuki went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and two RBI for the victors.
St. Louis, which held a 1 1/2-game lead for an NL wild card spot coming into Sunday, lost for the fourth time in five contests.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]