(Charles Krupa/AP)

“Speaking from experience, being on the bottom and now facing a first-place team coming into your park, you always kind of rise to the occasion,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I feel like when we are at the bottom, playing teams in first place, we always rose to the occasion. We just got to turn it up a little bit.”

The Nationals have played one of the toughest schedules in the majors, and against teams that are .500 or better, they have gone 27-20, fourth-best in the league. But they have failed to take advantage of bottom-dwellers. They are 14-10 against teams under .500, which is only 19th on the majors. So this series lacks the kind of marquee opponent the Nationals faced over the past month, but it’s just as important.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s letting your guard down,” Desmond said. “I know that in the situation when the game is on the line, or we’re playing a first-place team, or I’m facing an ace pitcher, I feel like I rise up to the occasion. I feel like I really bear down. I’m working on it. It’s not letting my guard. There’s a certain adrenaline that comes with the game. We’ve got to find our focus. I’m working on it. But I can’t fake the adrenaline.”