The Nationals, even with so much to consider about their place in the league and teams surrounding them, play each game with blinders. They don’t focus on the standings or evaluate milestones, like the end of their 8-2 road trip yesterday. Much later, perhaps this winter, they will allow themselves to relive it all. “I think we can look back and say, ‘Man, that was a nice stretch,’ ” first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
When they look back on the past 10 days, the Nationals will review what has been, to date, the most significant stretch of Washington baseball of the past 79 years. In one road trip, the Nationals established their dominance and all but ensured a trip to the postseason. Barring a horrendous collapse, the Nationals may look back to their three-city romp against the Astros, Diamondbacks and Giants as the time they cinched a playoff spot.
Back on the morning of Aug. 6, the Nationals left for their road swing three games ahead of the Braves and 3 ½ games in front of the second wild card with 54 games to play. Right now, they are 4 ½ games ahead of the Braves and nine games clear of the final playoff position with 44 games to play.
The crucial part of the trip is the “games to play” part. The Nationals exhausted six percent of the season without giving the Braves any chance ground. If the Nationals go .500 from here on out, the Braves will have to go 27-18, .600 ball, to equal them.
The division still promises to be a dogfight. But here’s the part that makes meaningful October baseball a virtual certainty: If the Nationals finish out the string at .500, the Braves would have to play .600 ball AND either the Cardinals or the Pirates would have to finish at least 31-14 to put the Nats on the outside looking in.
Say the Nationals bomb out and go 18-26 down the stretch. The Braves would still have to go 23-22. Atlanta would probably pass them, but they would still win 91 games. Either the Pirates or Cardinals would still have to finish 27-18 to catch them.
You can see how important each game becomes this time of year, and how meaningful running off eight of 10 on the road is. Because of that, the players on the field will not be doing any such calculations. “What we need to go back to is, it’s one game at a time,” Stephen Strasburg said. “We can’t focus on the finish line. We’ve got 40-something games left.”
But fans can dream. After the Nationals’ latest road trip, it probably feels a lot more like reality.
FROM THE POST
Dan Steinberg reports on the booming ratings for the Nationals games on MASN.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 1, Toledo 0: Sandy Leon went 1 for 1 with a home run and a walk. Jeff Mandel allowed no runs over six innings on two hits and a walk, striking out five. Christian Garcia allowed no runs in one relief inning on one hit and no walks, striking out one.
Toledo 4, Syracuse 3: Corey Brown went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. Eury Perez went 1 for 3 with a walk.
Akron 5, Harrisburg 2: Anthony Rendon went 0 for 4 with a strikeout. Jimmy Van Ostrand went 2 for 3 with a walk. Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a double. Trevor Holder allowed four runs in one innings on seven hits and two walks, striking out none.
Wilmington 9, Potomac 1: Blake Kelso went 2 for 4. Matt Skole went 1 for 4. Rick Hague went 2 for 4. Robbie Ray allowed six runs in 2/3 of an inning on three hits and three walks, striking out none.
Hickory 14, Hagerstown 7: Adrian Nieto went 2 for 3 with two doubles. Khayyan Norfork went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk.
Mahoning Valley 5, Auburn 4: Estarlin Martinez went 3 for 5. Brandon Miller went 1 for 3 with a double and two walks.