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Well, the first three of those nine games are scheduled for the next three nights. And unless the Nationals can do something really significant against Atlanta, this "thing" might just actually be over by week's end.
A frustrating, 8-5 loss in Milwaukee yesterday afternoon — combined with the Braves extending their winning streak to 10 games last night with a 4-1 triumph in Philadelphia — leaves the Nationals staring up at their biggest deficit of the year. They trail Atlanta by a daunting 12 1/2 games in the NL East, with only 51 remaining on the schedule.
In other words, even if they did the unthinkable and went 9-0 against the Braves from here on out, they'd still sit 3 1/2 games back in the division.
But there's no sense thinking that far ahead right now. That's the last thing the Nationals should do. Their focus need be only on the immediate task: Trying to win tonight's series opener on South Capitol Street, then trying to win Tuesday night and again Wednesday night.
That's easier said than done, in part because the Braves are suddenly playing their best baseball of the season.
For more than three months, Fredi Gonzalez's squad was wholly average, going 45-44 from April 17-July 25. The Braves practically begged the Nationals to catch them during that prolonged stretch of mediocrity. The problem: The Nats went 41-47 during that same time frame, losing 3 1/2 games in the standings.
They've been better since, winning five of their last eight. But Atlanta has been unbeatable, winning 10 straight to open up its biggest lead of the season.
So, not exactly the best time to catch them.
Davey Johnson does have his rotation lined up perfectly, with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann set to start the next three nights against Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen. Then again, none of the three is in peak form at the moment. Strasburg is 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA over his last five starts, Gonzalez surrendered a record-tying 10 earned runs his last time out and Zimmermann was 1-3 with a 7.18 ERA in July before tossing six scoreless innings Friday against the Brewers.
The Nationals will need all three aces to turn in high-level pitching performances, and they'll also need their lineup to produce at the kind of level we've seen at times in the last month but not consistently enough.
They'll need lock-down work out of their bullpen, not what they got during yesterday's loss in Milwaukee, in which Fernando Abad allowed two inherited runners and then two more self-made runners cross the plate and Craig Stammen allowed two more runs (one earned) after that.
And they'll need mistake-free play from their defense and a clutch hit or two from their bench, two problem-areas all season.
In other words, the Nationals need to play their very best baseball the next three nights if they have any hope of gaining ground in the NL East.
If not? Well, Harper may be eating his words come Wednesday night, because this "thing" will be over.